What is leadership? That's a great question because depending upon whom you ask, the answer will vary. Yet each person's answer will swirl around common themes. And the common themes typically make the person providing the answer smile, get a glint in their eye, sit a bit straighter, and act as if they got a jolt of energy infused through them. Just the thought, the memory, or the image of a strong leader causes others to feel stronger, confident, and energized.
So what is leadership? What does it look like? In a recent leadership training session, as I typically do, I asked the participants to: Describe leadership. I heard the standard replies: It's providing a clear picture of the future. It's being a stabilizing force when things get chaotic. It's the person who rallies the troops when their motivation is flagging. It's bringing out the best in people. It's making the tough decisions, as well as I can't describe it but I know it when I see it.
My take on leadership is simple: Leadership isn't a position; it's a mindset. It's a standard of beliefs, values, characteristics, and behaviors. It's being the type of person others want to work with, be challenged by, be accountable to, and succeed with. It's being the type of person others count on to make decisions that are tough, big-picture focused, and have impact. It's being the type of person who first admits his or her own limitations as a leader and continually seeks knowledge to improve and be a better person and leader going forward. It's the type of person who wants to succeed and be successful with others -- not at the cost of others.
Given that, what do organizations with strong leadership look like? Unlike the answer above, "I can't describe it but I know it when I see it," I can and I don't mean to sound pretentious when I say this. I've just seen too many examples of good, bad, and ugly leadership in my 20+ years of business. Organizations with a strong leader or a strong leadership team have a positive energy that exudes the moment you talk on the phone with the receptionist or walk through the front door. It's an organization where the staff easily mix, mingle, talk, debate, collaborate, yet produce, produce, produce. It's an organization, where people laugh when "the boss" is in the room and he or she is, at times, the brunt of jokes. It's an organization, where if put to the test, the "troops" would run through fire to help the leader because the leader has helped them time and time again. It's an organization where the team is happy to spend time, learn, grow, and succeed.
Organizations with weak leadership wallow. They're "quieter." Their physical environment might be beautiful, but there's an emptiness to it. There's a lack of positive energy, instead there's an over-riding tension. The staff work and interact, but their interactions are routine and timeline driven. They do what they have to do to get the job done, while in their minds they're focusing on getting the heck out the door at the end of the day. When "the boss" is in the room, the conversations are stilted, cautious, and limited. There's a underlying current of tension that someone, at some time, will say something incorrect and be lambasted or fired because of it. It's an environment where everyone focuses on protecting themselves and their jobs by doing just enough to get by. It's an environment where, if put to the test, I doubt there'd be many running through fire to help "the boss" or anyone but themselves. The team has been trained to protect themselves.
How would your team answer: What is leadership? What does it look like? Would they describe you and your organization? If not, why not? Do you create an environment where your team feels comfortable challenging, growing, debating, failing, and succeeding? Does your team relax while they do their jobs, or are they constantly "on alert?" Would your team run through fire for you? Have you been there for them?
Copyright MMXIII - Liz Weber, CMC, CSP - Weber Business Services, LLC – www.WBSLLC.comThis article by Liz Weber, CMC, CSP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license are on our copyright page.