I consider myself a student of leadership. I keep reading several books and articles on the subject, I have browsed thru research material on the various models of leadership, heard many experts give their perspectives on the topic. And to be honest, I am a bit overwhelmed, just like you. To the extent that I sometimes feel I understand leadership a bit lesser each time.
But wait, that could be a good thing. Because being unsure could be the starting point for better curiosity. That curiosity could lead to better discovery.
For my own clarity, I came up with a simple map to help me understand leadership. If I were to lead, be it in my personal life, family, or organization, what must I absolutely know? What’s the prism I can use to look at people and events that require my leadership? What map can I use so that I can be effective, while avoiding the pitfalls and mistakes leaders often make?
Here’s the model I came up with. Hope it helps in your own journey.
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- The Platform of Leadership: (What’s the foundation of leadership?)
Leadership begins and ends with two essentials – Integrity and Courage. These are not values, as people often mistakenly call them. They are self-evident principles. Because your values (whatever they may be) are meaningless in the absence of these two principles. Integrity: The root word for integrity is Integer – meaning Whole. So, the leader is someone who is Whole and remains Whole, no matter what. This means, he stays true to himself; his words, actions, and thoughts are always congruent. He holds himself answerable first and foremost to that still silent voice within (known as conscience). Courage: Tell me – will you stick to your promises, your values and your commitments if you don’t have the courage to follow thru? Courage actually makes sure that other values are lived by. Courage ensures commitment to everything else. In the context of leadership, there is a bigger opposite of courage than cowardice – and that is convenience. I have come across a lot of so-called leaders who swear by principles and values as long as life is easy, but make a complete u-turn on them, when the going gets rough. In other words, they lack the courage to stick to their principles when it’s not convenient.
- The Structure of Leadership: (What are the basic elements of leadership?)
Forget positions, forget power. Forget control, and forget the admiration that comes with any form of leadership. None of these prove that you are a good leader. If you want to have any shot at leading effectively, consider developing and keeping the following: Influence: John Maxwell says, “Leadership is Influence, nothing more, nothing less”. The word influence has an interesting root – “Flu” which basically means “Flow”. So influence is a sort of power that flows into another person. Early definitions of the word conveyed ethereal power that could decide another man’s character or destiny. Hmmm. Isn’t that true? If your words and actions don’t inspire a positive change in another person, are you really leading that person? The ethereal power here is not the coercive kind, rather the kind that inspires a character or destiny transformation from within the other person. Responsibility: The master Stephen Covey said it best about responsibility – it’s the ability to choose one’s response. The belief that whatever the condition, there’s always something that’s in my control, and there’s always something I can do to try to influence it (there we go about influence again!). But responsibility is actually more than that. True leaders I have seen seem to believe in their hearts that they have a responsibility, a sense of duty to everything, to life itself. They feel responsible to people, to their surroundings. They feel a moral sense of duty to make things better. They can’t help it. They can’t throw their arms up and walk away. It’s those two things – a sense of duty and the belief that they can do something that sets them apart. Example: We don’t do as we hear, we do as we see. Leaders make an example of themselves, thru how they conduct themselves. Thru what comes out of their mouth. They know that they are being watched, and that their words and actions are being soaked up. They also know that by their words and actions, they can create tiny ripples that will add up eventually and create a wave. And so, they are fanatic about being exemplary. They obsess about being role models to others. They want to be the benchmark. Being a worthy example is the biggest source of influence, isn’t it?
- Process of Leadership (What’s the journey like for a true leader?)
Lead self: The first person I must lead is me. The most difficult person to lead is myself. If I can lead myself effectively, I will have developed the tools and confidence to lead others. Otherwise, I will just be a fake, looking for position, power, control and manipulation to hold onto my false identity as a leader. And how do you lead yourself? Thru relentless self-awareness, learning and disciplines. (Notice I said disciplines, not discipline. While ‘discipline’ is an essential quality for leadership, here I am talking about rituals for personal effectiveness). Lead others: Once I fully understand the importance of self-leadership (leading myself), I can start the journey of leading others. It’s part art and part science. Set the process in motion by first adding value to others. Then, the foundations start to be laid based on trust and growth, both of which have to be mutual. And yes, leading others means leading up, leading down, and leading equals (whoever said leadership is easy!) Equip others: There is no leadership without followership. In fact, as a wise person said, followers are more important to leaders than leaders are to followers. But, if you were to conclude your leadership journey there, it would be incomplete. The true test, of course, is how many people I can equip to be and do better. (This is where most managers fail to step up to leadership). Because they are masters of doing, but fall short in equipping others to do well. It’s hard to choose which of the 3 steps is the toughest. But hey, that’s why there are few who attempt, and fewer still ever make it in leadership. Outcome of Leadership: (How do I know that I have been an effective and successful leader?) The journey is more important than the destination. The process is more important than the outcome. Cliche, right? However, if you never pause to evaluate how you are performing, you could get easily deluded into believing your own press. And you would be running around in circles for a long time. Meaningful change: All leadership is about some form of change. If there is no change, there’s no leadership. The question then is, did your leadership create some meaningful change? Are people and situations better off because you existed? Has there been a meaningful change in you as a result of the leadership journey? Duplication: The real challenge of leadership really is not how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create through your leadership. The exemplary leaders of all generations are the ones who left behind a second rung of capable leaders to carry on their work, values and legacy. So, in this moment, the question you ask yourself is, are my actions of today worthy of crafting a capable leader? Journey metrics: If you were to look back at your leadership journey, or simply evaluate it from time to time, there are certain measures that can tell you how well you are doing. In that case, how do you know if that journey is or has been worthwhile? I believe, the following questions help:
- how many people are with you on that journey?
- Is everyone moving in the same direction?
- Is everyone moving at an optimum pace?
- Is everyone aware of the destination, or at least the right direction?
- Is everyone (including yourself) learning constantly on the journey so that you can continuously make it better and more enriching?
- Is everyone enjoying the journey?
The 2 transitions on the leadership journey I believe as you go up in your leadership ability and effectiveness, two transitions must definitely happen:
- Self-focused to people-focused:
Call it the weight of leadership or the beauty, you can’t help but turn your gaze from yourself to others if you wish to grow as a leader, whether at home or at work. The leader who continues to be self-focused is on very shaky ground.
- Technical skills to people skills:
As you grow in leadership, your technical skills begin to matter less, and your people skills begin to matter more. Why? It simple – leadership is about leading. Leading people. And leading people is a skillful art – one that must be worked on and refined continuously. Technical skills can put you on the leadership joinery, but people skills make the journey worthwhile.
Based on your experience, what would you add to this framework? Get the latest posts in your inbox and receive a FREE eBook Send me the eBook