We have all seen or
worked with people unfit to lead. Many times these folks are well intentioned -ambitious people who do their level best; unfortunately for the rest of us, they can leave a trail of chaos and dysfunction – the products of poor leadership and unintended consequences. Before you seek a leadership role, consider what is motivating you. Management- like leadership - is difficult and complex. Your motives need to be aligned with strong leadership principals. Seeking leadership based solely hubris or a desire for social advancement and monetary gain is self - deceptive or self-deception: regardless of the size and scope of your organization , this mistake can have far reaching and significant effects. Here is a test for aspiring leaders: if these points describe you you’re not a leader!
Someone told me our ability
to succeed is congruent to our ability to fail. To be sure, there are great successes and great failures. As Theodore Roosevelt stated in 1910 –“ ….his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat” More often than not, we overestimate the probability of something going wrong. Similarly, we exaggerate the consequences of what might happen if and when it does happen. In too many workplaces, our greatest challenge is that we deny or discount the cost of inaction and continue on with the status quo. This leads to an organization feeling restricted and people feeling stuck in unsatisfying careers. The great American poet Henry David Thoreau described this condition best when he wrote “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Poor leaders look at risk mitigation first – but we know perfection is the enemy of good. Follow Cardinal Newman’s advice regarding perfect plans: "A man would do nothing, if he waited until he could do it so well that no one would find fault with what he has done."
Empathy is the ability to
identify and understand another person’s feelings or situation. Leaders need to understand the needs of the people following them in order to be effective. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Empathy is the ability to appreciate someone else’s perspective. This is a critical trait because when you truly understand the needs of your staff, you can provide the support they need to succeed – ultimately leading to greater productivity , collaboration and success.
If the only way you
can solve the challenge is through unethical behavior, Machiavelli was talking about you in his political satire The Prince when describing the cynicism of the autocrat or one – man- rule leading them to believe “the ends justify the means”. If you abuse your position of authority, fail to treat people with respect, or confuse manipulation with leadership, you will win nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory. Optics over ethics is illusory and short term – malleable fools and sycophants will be your only fans in the long run.
Indifference is a characteristic not
well suited to leadership. You simply cannot be a leader if you don’t care about those you lead and the vision your following. The real test of any leader is whether or not those you lead are better off for being led by you.
If you value self-interest above
service you have misunderstood the concept of leadership. A look into the etymology of the word “leadership” proves instructive; the term originates in the ancient root “Leith” which means to go forth and die – usually in battle. Leadership is about caring about something beyond oneself, and leading others to a better place – even if it means subordinating your self-interest in the process. Power often comes as a derivative of leadership, but it’s not the source or summit of true leadership.
Leadership isn’t about a narrative;
it’s about one’s actions. Leadership might begin with articulating a vision or objective; however, the leader must lead out of one suboptimal state to a more perfect state. To some degree this can be measured in terms of freedom. In other words, the true leader must make people to one extent or another more free.
Don’t think for a minute
explaining why subordinates can’t do one thing or another is leading. Leader’s demonstrate how things can be done. Leaders teach people how to reach places they previously believed were beyond themselves. As Robert Browning observed, “a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?”
Real leadership serves as a
talent magnet and career accelerator – not a talent repellent or career mitigator. If you can’t acquire talent, can’t develop talent, or can’t retain talent you are not a leader. Will your direct reports be going on to bigger and better things under your mentorship? Or will you be managing down and keeping people under your hyper- critical eye?
Leaders don’t seek all the
attention. The great leaders lift others up-help them shine and that is their victory. “There are 2 types of people: those who lift you up and those who pull you down.” ~ Lou Holtz
Autocrats, like all misguided utopians,
think they know better than everyone else in the room. If you’re the head of cardiac surgery at University Health Network or a physicist at McGill University, maybe you always are the smartest person in the room. But most of us are closer to the mean. Ask questions, be collaborative and be humble.
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