This traditional definition of leadership is connected to an outdated understanding of what it means to lead. To many, leadership is tied to power, and powerful leaders winat all costs. This Machiavellian perspective ignores key values of leadership and focuses solely on the outcome(s) and not the journey.
I see leadership as much more than “The power or ability to lead other people.” It is a way of being, a preparedness, a process that drives actions and directs behaviors. At its essence:
Leadership is a tool to achieve success.
If one understands leadership as a tool, then, as with all tools, mastery comes from practice, care, and responsible use.
Effective leadership requires a commitment to key values demonstrated through behaviors. The key values of leadership are accountability, character, effective communication, understanding of self, understanding of others, understanding of the objective(s), practice, and patience.
With practice, care, and responsibleuse, the tool of leadership leads to success.
The fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.
In today’s toxic business and politicalenvironments, for some, success means winning at all costs while exploiting relationships and destroying reputations along the way.
The traditional, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-rugged-individualism-win-at-all-cost-take-no-prisoners view of success is flawed and does not reward or acknowledge the broader more attainable idea of success – an idea based on inclusion, shared values, and common goals. Success should not be defined solely by superstars, but by ordinary people working together to make a positive impact on those around them.
These traditional definitions of leadership and success are technically correct, but they do not address the importance of how one achieves success or demonstrates leadership.
I propose an update to these definitions:
Leadership – The ability to effectively and responsibly engage with people, processes, and programs, to achieve organizational, team, or individual goals.
Success – Attaining your dreams while maintaining your dignity.
This new definition of leadership enhances the traditional version by requiring a leader to demonstrate responsibility and engagement with those she leads. The updated meaning of success supports Webster’s definition but adds the guiding principle of maintaining your dignity, as you achieve your dreams.
Nowhere in these new definitions is there a suggestion that leaders should shy away from challenges, have a meek, milquetoast, hat-in-hand attitude or lose all drive, competitive spirit, or the will to be the best. These enhancements to the traditional definitions simply provide a compass for the journey.
Attaining success, or fulfilling your dreams, demands that you fight and struggle and practice and work and fail before you succeed, but you achieve your idea of success with your dignity intact and without destroying relationships.
Leadership necessitates responsibility. It is a skill honed and practiced over time to effectively and responsibly engage with people, processes, and programs, to achieve organizational, team, or individual goals. Effectively and responsiblyengaging others, not destroying, demeaning, or castigating others to do your will, is a cornerstone of the new leadership model.
Take a closer look at your personal definitions of success and leadership. Are they focused solely on the end goal regardless of the impact on you and others, or are you paying attention to the effect you have as you travel the road to achieving your dreams?
As societies evolve, as new technologies are developed, as values shift and new understandings of the needs and wants of individuals change, effective leaders adapt to ensure that they are engaging with people where they are, not demanding that others abandon their values and conform to the ideals of the leader.
Leadership is not about force or control, it is about understanding that all individuals have a choice in how they act, including who they follow.
The most effective leaders recognize that leadership always requires sacrifice and service to the cause, mission, vision, and the people being served. If the sacrifice is perceived as genuine, leaders are rewarded with trust and respect, creating dedicated, committed, and motivated supporters.
Leaders make critical decisions every day. Successful leaders recognize thatany decision that impacts another person is considered critical.
Leadership requires the gathering of facts, not just opinions, developing a deep understanding of process, cultivating courage, and learning the skill of effective execution as described in chapter three. Successfulleaders solicit input from multiple sources. They execute with as much information and understanding of potential outcomes as possible.
A leader’s behavior, how they engage with others, navigate difficulty, recover from mistakes, whether they admit to being wrong or scapegoat others, the CHOICES the leader makes define whether they deserve and/or receive support.
Key Lessons for Leaders
Effective leadership does not require perfection – leaders are as imperfect as the next person, but how the leader works, communicates, and recovers from mistakes determines if they gain, maintain or lose respect and trust.
Leaders are always under scrutiny and will be constantly tested – this fact should not deter or overwhelm leaders. It should serve as a catalyst for positive, meaningful, and intentional behaviors. Successful leaders consistently live by their values but are also open to discovery and growth.
Leaders are like batteries – those around you draw from you as if you were a power source. They draw on your encouragement, strength, compassion, understanding, honesty, courage, and demonstrated humanity. One of the greatest challenges in leadership is learning how to effectively recharge your batteries so that you can continue to offer support to others without becoming so drained that you lose your ability to lead.
Success and leadership go hand in hand – how one achieves success and how one demonstrates leadership is determined by the hands they hold and the moral compass that guides them along the way.
Leadership – The ability to effectively and responsibly engage with people, processes, and programs, to achieve organizational, team, or individual goals, highlights five (5) essential qualities of leadership:
Ability – Skill
Effectiveness – Competency
Responsibly – Trustworthiness
Engagement – Connection
Goal Achievement – Execution
This definition also relies on individuals to choose the values of compassion, strength, conviction, and purpose in their role as a leader and describes the foundation of leadership as developing effective relationships.