no kings

I was talking about leadership recently with a friend who has a strong theatre background. She spoke with warm recollection about one of her professors from her college theatre program. During our discussion, she commented, “Each of us would have done anything to make his shows better.”

That kind of loyalty and commitment does not happen by chance. It is the product of a leader who understands that the core of being a great leader is serving the needs of others. In fact, choosing to serve others, rather than lording it over them, will make you a better leader.

The credibility of great leaders comes not from their position but from who they are. Positional leadership allows one to lead and direct people. However, it does not bring the motivation and commitment to the team goal that true leadership inspires.

True leadership transcends position. It is based on the core values and beliefs of the leader. It is reflected in how they view their role as a leader. It shows that they are motivated by the right things and that they understand that the key to leading is to serve the needs of the people you are leading.

Leadership is the ability to get ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It is the beliefs, attitude, and skills of the leader that allows the leader to make each person on the team reach their potential. Good leaders recognize the talents of each person on their team and match each individual to the roles that suit their skills. They coach each member of the team to get better, and they work with the team as a whole to become more than the sum of its parts.

Good leaders also accept the fact that not everyone on the team is likely to be able to remain on the team. Each person should be provided with an opportunity to buy in to the vision and commit to work hard to achieve the goals, but it is rare when everyone gets on board. Great leaders understand this and they work with each person to either get them to commit to the team’s goals or they assist them in moving on.

Successful leaders also look for other people who can lead. They invest in people with leadership potential. They mentor them and teach them the skills they need to become better leaders.

I am often asked if one has to be born a leader or if leadership can be learned. The answer is that some people are born with more innate leadership ability than others. At the same time, everyone can learn to lead. In fact, almost everyone serves in a leadership role in some phase of their life. Whether this is as a parent, with friends, in the workplace, or in social life, most of us will play a leadership role at one time or another.

Whether or not you were born with any leadership skills, you can learn to be a good leader. Great leaders are adept at leadership because they constantly work on becoming a better leader. They consistently study and learn more about leadership. They step back after every leadership disappointment and analyze the situation to figure out what they need to do differently the next time.

For just a moment, let me contrast poor leadership with good leadership.

Poor leaders believe that being a leader is about the power they have, their personal rights, and what they deserve. That version of leadership is not effective and leads to the failure of the organization and the person in charge.

Being a leader does not mean being a maverick or a renegade. It does not allow for using the organization to advance your personal goals. It does not mean getting as much as you can for yourself and your cronies while the organization suffers.

Good leaders are committed to execute the vision of the organization that they have been charged with. They are willing to lead by looking at all aspects of the organization with the intent of changing what needs to be changed to make the organization successful.

There are four primary areas that good leaders must address to be effective.

  • The first of these is relationships. Good leaders get to know the people they lead. They get to know the people on their team on a personal basis. They care about them. They protect them. They are supportive but are also willing to deliver tough messages when needed.
  • The second function of a good leader is to take responsibility. A leader is a good steward of what they have been put in charge of. They treat the assets of the organization as if they were their own. They make decisions that reflect the responsibility that has been given to them. When challenges and issues come up, they confront them and make the changes that are required to move forward.
  • Third, leaders must be able to look to the future and paint a picture of where the organization is going and how they are going to get there. They must cast a vision and then communicate clearly the fresh direction to the people. Good leaders are able to communicate in a way that connects lessons learned from the past to the present situation and to their vision of the future.
  • Finally, as mentioned above, great leaders understand that they must be servants. They give up their personal agenda and adopt the tasks that are required to improve the organization. They proclaim the vision that has been set, and they communicate this vision to the people with conviction and compassion. They are not focused on rewarding themselves as leaders but are committed to doing what is needed to make the organization successful. They serve the organization by doing what is required to motivate their team. They focus on helping their managers grow and building leadership depth on the team.