Excellent leadership isn’t hard… but it can be difficult.
There are probably hundreds of thousands of books on leadership written in every language on earth. In these books you will find words like “character”, “strength”, “wisdom”, and any number of words that define what competencies a leader should possess.
What makes an excellent leader?
It is always great to observe the rare occasion when all of the core competencies come together in a person that make them the one people choose to follow. This can happen regardless of their age, sex, race, background, or physique. They just managed to build the needed skills and competencies that help them to offer a path forward for the group they are leading. They are the ones who found the North Star, understood its significance, and show others the way to use that guiding element for success.
I have observed good and bad leaders for most of my life. I am sure that I am not alone. Whether it was in school or the military or the work life that many of us have experienced, the examples are all around us.
I have seen the best and the worst imaginable forms of what is loosely described as leadership. There have been many studies over the years that try to place leaders on a spectrum that ranges from rigidly autocratic to grossly accommodating. Many people possess skills that could place them at any point along the scale at any given time (situational leadership) but to be honest, most people choose one style or another.
The rigidly autocratic style is best demonstrated by the “leader” who uses any means necessary to achieve their own personal vision. They become so laser focused on what it is they want to gain that they are not interested in who has to suffer on the path to achieving those gains. They often use deception, control of facts and information, intimidation, threats, vocal disruptions and underhanded methods to manipulate anything they need to. They are the bullies, the pompous jerks, the grenade that has no pin, and the canon that has broken free from its lashings on a rolling deck, careening madly about while taking out everything in their path.
The grossly accommodating “leader” is one who makes few decisions and lets fate take the wheel in nearly every case. They are everyone’s friend while not really being anyone’s friend. They are loose with the compliments and nearly impossible to hold accountable for actual results. They are the consummate politician who use survival skills to make sure that their position is protected with no real concern for achieving a goal.
Somewhere in the middle is the assertive leader. They are the ones who find the careful blend of accommodation and achievement. They value the people whom they are honored to leave yet still find the way to hold them accountable. Instead of tearing down, they focus on building up. This leader recognizes that without a team working together in common harmony, too much effort is wasted on distracting issues that keep the group from achieving their next goal. They recognize that to be successful, you need some key elements in place:
- A shared Vision. This vision is having a shared understanding between all involved that there is a vision of something greater than just today and a temporary moment of satisfaction. It may mean working hard together; it may mean sacrificing short term comfort together; or it may mean each person giving up their own selfish interests so they can achieve a common goal together. But the key word is together.
- A group that works together as a team. There is a huge difference between a group of people and a team. A group may come together because of a common need, but a team comes together to combine their resources, their commitment and their belief that together they can achieve more than they could if they remained apart.
- An ability to turn the vision into a plan and the plan into action. The North Star may never change but the obstacles along the way do. Leadership means that you can develop a plan with enough structure to get the job done but enough flexibility to overcome the barriers that emerge. It means you develop the people on the team while learning from them. Never forget that even though someone may not be the leader, they may possess knowledge and skills that the leader does not have. You might be smart enough to be the leader, but you aren’t smart enough to know everything.
With so many examples to choose from, why do so many people choose poorly?
There are so many reasons people choose substandard leadership behaviors. Examples from their past, lack of understanding, lack of training, maybe even selfish motivation all lead people to choose less than optimal leadership styles. In the end, those people who never get “it” get “gone”.
Throughout history, people eventually throw off the yoke of poor leadership. Individual rebellion almost always leads to group rejection of the ones who take the low road. The “curing” process often leads to a better place for the group.
Sadly, it can also lead to extinction.
I have a theory that the dinosaurs were once lead by a very autocratic leader named “Paul”.
Day after day, the storm clouds gathered and the winters were longer and longer. The sound of the approaching ice masses must have been a warning but “Paul” bullied and harangued all of the other dinosaurs to stay where they were. He browbeat them and made their lives miserable while never really providing leadership that could have led them forward.
Even when a few Notoceratops tried to warn the group of the impending doom, “Paul” would remind them that he was a Tyrannotitan and told them all that he was their Last Chance for survival.
“You must fear me to survive” was his favorite mantra.
“Paul” of course was wrong. I like to think of him as I fill up my gas tank these days. The creatures who adapted and overcame were the ones that actually survived.