What is Leadership?

Google the word Leadership and you will receive 805,000,000 results in 0.85 seconds. Do the same on Amazon and it will return over 214,000 results.  Clearly, there is a lot of interest in leadership. Yet, with the many websites, the various books, and the ever increasing amount of leadership gurus and executive coaches, most of us struggle when asked to take up the leadership mantle.
I was one of those leaders who was losing the battle with leadership. To be honest, the books that I read, the gurus that I listened to, could not have helped me. I’m the type of person who never reads the manual, I just plunge right in, believing that I could do it – how hard could it be?
So I had to stumble, fall, try different things, and then step back from it all, review my failures and successes, compare and contrast my behaviour with that of others and then make a grand conclusion about what leadership meant to me.
From my rumination, observations and experiences, I define leadership as the harnessing of the creativity and the intelligence of the people with whom I work.
This definition works well for me because:
It’s not about me – My role is that of leader, but leadership is not about me. It is about the team members and how I work with them to achieve objectives. My focus therefore needs to be external and not internal, my lens wide and not myopic and my embrace inclusive and not exclusive.
Leadership is not about control – There is a lot of imagery of the Leader taking charge – from in front or behind – of the Leader being in control, or of the Leader making decisions. When I take control of everything, I also take responsibility for all that happens, which leaves me overworked, stressed, and extremely tired with a long list of never ending tasks. Honestly, I do not want to be in control.
What’s with the harness – A horse’s harness provides guidance; a harness on a team of horses ensures that the horses stay together and keep pace. Yes, humans are not horses, but you get the idea. Leaders are to work with the personalities, the characteristics and the ambitions of each team member and guide these at an individual and group level to achieve the team’s objectives. No easy task.
People are Intelligent – Neuroscience confirms that adults are not “old dogs”, we can as we age learn new tricks, since the brain regularly produces new neurons. Psychologists have identified as many as 12 different types of intelligence in humans, and have proven that most humans display more than one type of intelligence and can learn other types. Leaders have a lot of raw material to work with. People are like mirrors, If we treat them as intelligent, they will act intelligently. Be warned, lots of patience, reinforcing words and compassion are needed when working with  persons whose intelligence has been battered.
People are creative –  Give team members permission to be creative – have discussions sans judgement, encourage the generation of new ideas and projects and build an atmosphere that engenders lightness, playfulness and risk taking.
Leadership is about you – You, the leader, are an unique individual with unique perspectives and experiences.  These hold real value and are the purest resources that you have to draw upon. Yes take the advice of others, or  read the books, but know that at the end of the day ,you have some decisions to make. What kind of leader do you want to be? How are you going to lead? What are those aspects of your personality that make you either an effective or ineffective leader? What are you going to do about it ?

Once I committed to my definition of leadership, I became more comfortable in my role as leader.  I saw my effectiveness grow (though the behaviour and results of the team). The task no longer felt daunting, I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else or possess qualities that I did not have. I could operate from my perfectly imperfect self and be an effective leader.

Maxine Attong coaches leaders who want to be more effective. Contact her if you want to enhance your leadership. She is the author of Lead Your Team to Win.

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