Clarifying Thoughts on Leadership

Defining Leadership

A quick internet search for the definition of leadership will reveal that it means “the act of leading a group of people or an organization” or “the state or position of being a leader”.

So, what does that mean?

Practically speaking, we can think of leadership simply as the ability to get things done, either on your own or through the cooperation of others. This implies that a leader knows what needs to be done and is capable and willing to either do it or work with other people (subordinates, peers, superiors) who are capable and willing to get it done.

Leadership is Not Authority nor Management

This working definition does not reference authority nor management, i.e., a leader does not necessarily have to hold a position of authority or management within an organization. A leader may be someone who is able to get things done individually or collectively with others, while not having a management position or title. Conversely, a person having a title and position of authority within an organization may not be able to get things done either individually or collectively with others. This person may be in a leadership position, but their behaviors do not reflect those of a leader.

So, to be clear, leadership is not the same as…

  • Authority, which denotes having the right to make decisions, have control, give orders, and force others to comply with your commands.
  • Management, which denotes directing and controlling a group of people and operations, as well as other resources within an organization.

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Leadership Styles

We should not confuse the act of leadership with styles of leadership, or the way in which someone leads. While several styles have been identified, let’s consider three examples.

  • Some people in positions of leadership display an autocratic style where they assume they are smartest, know the most, and have the answers and therefore believe its best if people just do whatever they say without questioning decisions and instructions.
  • Some people prefer a democratic style where they get input from other people, asking for opinions, often generating a collection of ideas from which decisions are ultimately made and people know what to do.
  • Some people operate with a laissez-faire style where they may seem quite uninvolved, allowing employees considerable freedom to think and act on their own, without providing much direction.

It might be tempting to assume that leaders consciously choose a style and adopt it for themselves, but it’s probably more accurate to believe that the styles pick the leaders. In other words, leaders, being people, have certain values and beliefs that determine how they think, make decisions, behave, and treat others. So, people in leadership do what they do because they are who they are, and these style labels are ascribed to them by others.

Characteristics of Leaders

Likewise, we should not confuse the act of leadership with the characteristics of individual leaders. Consider this: Would you rather work with a person who is…

  • Honest or dishonest?
  • Kind or mean?
  • Generous or stingy?
  • Decisive or uncertain?
  • Humble or arrogant?
  • Knowledgeable or clueless?

This list of personal characteristics could go on and become quite long. However, it’s important to distinguish between these qualitative descriptors of individuals and leadership itself, which involves getting things done either individually or by working with others.

To be sure, styles of leadership and individual characteristics matter significantly and will have a bearing on the degree of success one may have in a leadership role, i.e., the degree to which a leader is able to accomplish goals and tasks through the cooperation of others.

Essentially, the success of a leader is supported by their personal style and individual characteristics, but they are not definitions of leadership nor measurements of that leader’s success.

The Value of Leadership

Of course, every business and nonprofit organization desires people on their management team to be good leaders, having the ability to get things done and influence others in a positive way to do the same, while managing their area of operational responsibility, along with other resources.

To appreciate the value of good leadership capabilities within the management team, just imagine a past personal experience, or perhaps a current one in your company, where a person with a management title or position of authority did/does not possess good leadership skills. Yes, most of us have had this experience and know how many problems can occur when this is the case.

On the other hand, imagine working for a leader who knows what needs to be done, communicates that effectively, shares the workload appropriately, provides encouragement and support as necessary, and then gives credit (fairly) for a job well done. This is a much more motivating scenario.

Effective Leadership Teams

So how do you build an effective leadership team within your organization? The answer depends on the situation, and every situation is unique. But here are a few thoughts that might be helpful as you consider this very important question.

It has been said that organizations rise and fall on their leadership. In other words, leaders affect everything within your company, including the planning, the people, the operations, the customers, the culture, etc. which means they affect the outcomes as well.

If you intend to fill a management position, or any other key position requiring leadership ability within your company, consider the following:

  • Leadership starts with a person. So, make sure there is a process for identifying and selecting people who already have the personal characteristics you desire in your leadership team. This means you get what you want, and they don’t have to become somebody they are not.
  • An individual’s personal characteristics will heavily influence their leadership style. So, make sure there is a process for identifying and selecting people who have demonstrated a leadership style that is consistent with your company’s values and culture.
  • Leadership involves the ability and willingness to get things done, either individually or by working with others. So, make sure the process includes a way to identify people who understand this, possess a track record for getting things done, influence and work well with others, and demonstrate the attitude necessary to be a member of your management team.
  • Even the best leaders need to continually learn and grow. So, make sure there is a solid training and development program for your leaders. This should include opportunities to increase knowledge (both job-specific and leadership knowledge), which is necessary to perform the job and lead effectively. It should also include opportunities for personal development, keeping in mind that leaders are people, and people must grow in order to remain vital to your organization and effective as leaders.
  • Focus on being the best leader you can possibly be, as you work to build an effective management team. Most managers desire to be effective leaders… and they want to be on a team with other good leaders… and most of all, they long to report to someone who is a great leader.

The subject of leadership deserves our focused attention because it’s foundational to organizational success, impacting every aspect of your business or nonprofit. The ability and willingness of leaders to get things done, while influencing others to do the same, affects how well your organization performs and grows. So, let’s take steps to equip our businesses with the types of leadership they need and give our employees the leaders they deserve.

For more information or help on this and other topics, contact our team.


Now is the Time…

A message from Jeff during the COVID-19 pandemic, April 2020…

Dear Clients & Colleagues,

Now is the time to focus on innovative business strategy and proactive marketing.

It has been a strange several week period for businesses and nonprofits alike, and much has been said about the importance of leadership during these challenging times. It is true that effective leadership is essential, given the need for re-evaluating situations and circumstances, making necessary adjustments, and then making things happen. Of course, leadership can only go so far without other people, processes and plans in place, not to mention customers who want to buy your products and services.

Many factors contribute to business performance and growth, but two areas of particular importance right now include strategic planning and proactive marketing, along with increasingly creative sales initiatives. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves merely reacting to overwhelming circumstances which appear to be beyond our control. And often times during a crisis, right when we must be most effective as leaders, it becomes most difficult to think strategically about growing a business. Further, when so much around us seems uncertain and sales are down, any attempts to proactively market the company and its products and services are often put on hold.

Actually, it is during such times that it’s most important to devise a solid business strategy and marketing plan, keeping in mind the need for both short- and long-term objectives. It might not be as easy as it would have been otherwise, but it is necessary. We can’t be like the proverbial ostrich and bury our heads in the sand until the scary thing goes away and it’s safe to come back out and continue operating as usual. It may not be “as usual” again for a long time, and maybe never will be.

Be encouraged though. Now is the time to take action by thinking strategically about how to improve key areas of performance, market more intentionally than ever, grow your business as much as possible under the circumstances, and become better positioned for future growth when the situation returns to “normal”, whatever that may look like and whenever that may be. Regardless of what it is and when it occurs, you and your company will be ready.

We’re here to help. Remember, initial phone consultations are always complimentary.

I look forward to talking with you soon.

Sincerely,

Jeff