What Is Leadership?

Leadership is a broad concept and it is expressed in varying ways within several environments; the specific tasks may differ between a mom trying to ensure her son makes it to soccer practice and a moderately successful tech entrepreneur looking to launch her company on the stock market. However at the nucleus of their task would be these two concepts: a specific goal and mobilising other people towards this goal. Leadership therefore can be simply defined as the ability to mobilise, coordinate, motivate, direct and manage people towards achieving a specific goal. And the core competence to getting this done is; Influence.

The Most Common Misconceptions About Leadership

Leadership is actually one of those concepts that can be easily misunderstood; for some; it is seen as lording over people; commanding their respect and forcing through the achievement of a specific goal. For others it is creating jovial connections with others and hoping to cajole them towards a particular goal. On whichever side of this pendulum your choice swings in defining leadership; if your goal is to be a true leader, you would find immense value in adopting a functional approach to thoroughly understanding the concept.

Despite it being one of the most important roles, shaping the face and personality of a company, not many people understand what leaders actually do. To better understand what leadership is, let‟s first take a look at what it‟s not.

Here are some of what people think about leaders; which are not entirely correct.

Misconception 1: Leaders have titles According to John C. Maxwell, Leadership Authority, “True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned. The only thing a title can buy is a little time – either to increase your level of influence with others or to undermine it.”

Leadership is often associated with seniority and impressive titles. While being in a position of power can make leading easier, it is not enough. It‟s also not necessary – you don‟t have to be the Chief Executive of your company to lead. Leaders exist on all levels of society. A leader can be anyone with a great idea, a particular talent, who can think creatively or has a vision and a passion to make other people follow. Some are employees, teachers, parents or football coaches. Some are CEOs, Presidents or Sergeants. The ability to exercise social influence is what matters. Have you not seen those groups where the leader with the title, is not the one the group follows? If leadership were about positions then there would never be dissent, countries would not have coups and everyone would simply flow in the direction of the group head who would have somehow gathered influence because of a promotion or appointment to lead. If you are given a position; your job as in attaining leadership is not done, in fact, it may just be starting.

Misconception 2: All leaders are extroverts Some personality traits tend to be associated more with leadership than others. The extroverted personality is one of them: Openness, outspokenness and sociability are valued traits in today‟s society often associated with a strong will and ability to lead. However, nothing indicates that extroverts should make any better leaders than introverts. Abraham Lincoln, one of the most visionary and loved leaders, was for example a known introvert. Leadership doesn‟t only require good people‟s skills (something that can be learned) but also demands deep thought, willingness to listen carefully and a high level of focus; something that introverts tend even be better wired for. No matter what your personality type is, it has no proven direct correlation with your ability to lead.

Misconception 3: There can be only one leader Another common misconception about leadership is that there can be only one leader. Even though many companies adopt this approach, it is far from the only or most beneficial way to run things. As Tom Peter observed, “the best leaders don‟t create followers; they create more leaders.” Supporting emerging leaders is a strategy that in the long run will result in better quality work as more leaders will unburden each other while giving a second opinion on difficult matters. Leading often involves moving through unknown territory with no definite answers or fool proof strategies. While a single, authoritarian ruler can only deal with one obstacle or short lived opportunity at the time, multiple leaders can share the workload and ensure that nothing is overlooked. As mentioned before, leaders don‟t need to be appointed. They might simply be great employees with a vision who can help inspire and direct fellow employees. Creating more leaders can help everyone learn together and support each other in ever faster changing surroundings. Top-down leadership is an out-dated style that works with authority, not influence, and it will only get you so far. Sharing leadership makes us smarter and better capable of handling change in the long run.

Misconception 4: Leaders do better if they are rewarded more highly than others. Even though some leaders get a higher wage and have authority over others, this isn‟t what makes them leaders. Followers tend to dislike leaders who care too much about their luxurious hotel rooms and only go to work to decide over others. Good leaders aren‟t motivated by perks but by their passion for what they are doing.

Misconception 5: Leadership is the same thing as management Leadership and management are two terms that are often used interchangeably as if they are the same. Nothing could be more wrong. Leadership and management are two completely different things that need completely different skillsets. Management is about planning, delegating, coaching and making things happen. They ask themselves how they can make something work. What processes and tools do we need? Who needs to do what? While leaders need to do many of those things, too, their most important task is something else. They ask themselves why. Working from a philosophical perspective, they dream up visions, influence people around them and empower and inspire them to come along. They don‟t deal only with the practicality of models and systems in the same way that managers do.

Warren Bennis, a professor at the University of Southern California, brilliantly explained the main difference between managers and leaders: “Managers do things right but leaders to the right thing.”

So, even though management could be a role played by the leader, the task of leadership transcends the technicalities of management to border on certain higher intangibles that decide influence and determine success. We would now give a more detailed definition of leadership in the next section.

The definition of Leadership

Even though Warren Bennis‟ definition describes the essence of leadership, it still does not capture the concept holistically. To define it with everything it entails, it‟s important to look at all aspects of what a leader is supposed to do.

According to serial entrepreneur Kevin Kruse “leadership is a process of social influence, which maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” He believes that all three aspects of this definition – social influence, others‟ effort and the achievement of a goal – are important parts of being a leader and that none of them should be left out. Let us explore this definition in more detail:

Exercising social influence Social influence is the ability to create a general acceptance of your view point within a group of two or more people. It is the uncanny ability to prevail in thought and therefore influence their wilful actions. Social influence can be expressed in several ways; from focusing the attention of a team on a specific goal or simply just getting people to dress different. At its best; social influence is the ability to have people independently own the specific aspirations and perspectives of the influencer as their own. It is therefore the job of a leader to find the ways the predetermined goals are important to each individual within a group such that working towards the achievement of the vision is primarily seen as working for one‟s self. Social influence therefore transcends the positional authority of any single individual but has to do with the authority wielded in the hearts of others. For example; a military commander is not necessarily a leader if he can only make his followers obey from the authority his title gives him. Good leaders know how to influence their followers in other ways.

Maximising effort It is one thing to convince people about a specific goal and make them want to do it; it is another thing to have them do their very best towards achieving it. In life people have moments; their highs and lows. Sometimes at the end of a very well-articulated speech; people tend to feel motivated to do certain things. This motivation often turns out to be false and when reality bites, so often, their commitment begins to waver. If they have already agreed to be a part of the leaders goal; they may be unwilling to affect their relationship by doing a U- turn on that decision; but then they decide to approach it with very low energy, they are uncreative and are all but inactive within the group. A leader has the responsibility of fixing this; leading shouldn‟t just be about getting involved in the process; a true leader is able to make his followers maximise their effort by ensuring the goal is actually relevant to them and remains so.

Moving towards a common goal Leading would be pointless without a goal. A leader is someone who leads his followers towards a goal they all believe will result in a better future for them. As such, a leader‟s responsibility would be to keep the goal in the consciousness of each individual within the group. This would entail painting a clear picture of the expected outcomes of the goal and how it would improve the reality of every member of the group.

Big Question; Are Leaders Born or Made? In this chapter we have looked at what defines a leader. We now know what he looks like and can tell him apart from other authorities and managers. He is a visionary, capable of influencing the people around him to move towards a common goal. The big question now is: Are leaders born or are they made? Can anyone exercise social influence, go in front and inspire followers or is it reserved for just a few natural talents? Erika Andersen, founding partner of Proteus International, have observed that even though some people are born leaders, most of them learn over time through practice. Leadership is a skill: In the next chapter we will look at how you too can begin cultivating this skill for yourself today.

Why You Should Step Up To The Leadership Challenge

Leadership? I know you might already be thinking; leadership is a tough job and you are not far from the fact. But you also realise that we do not do things with ease because they are simple; but because we got used to them. I can bet; very few people can twist themselves into various shapes like gymnasts do; but then gymnasts do it with a smile. Why? They have learnt how to hide their pain? No. They have trained themselves to get used to it. It is probably as natural to them as driving to work is to you. So the question of taking the leadership challenge has precious little to do with how difficult or simple it is; but if you are willing to learn it enough to have it come to you naturally.

Not everyone needs to be a leader. After all, it‟s a daunting, difficult and time-consuming role filled with responsibilities. It is hard work with inevitable obstacles and challenges but at the same time it can end up being the most rewarding thing you will ever do. Most leaders agree that it‟s worth the pain to step up to the new leadership role. Though its complexity; a number of great leaders today would have their reality no other way: leading, to them, has not only become a habit but the best utilization of their time in this world. Here are the best things about leadership according to successful leaders today:

Responsibility Responsibility is quite a thrill; but most times, only eventually. It entails being in charge to see through a goal. You ever seen those soccer coaches receiving the medal alongside their winning team in a cup tournament? You think of their calm demeanour, knowing smile; obvious joy and slight show of relief? Yes that is the eventual thrill of responsibility. But not forgetting what may have been the case a few minutes before; the same coach; frantic by the touch line, screaming instructions to the players and urging them to go for goals; that is yet another aspect of responsibility. True leaders have learnt to enjoy both phases of responsibility. Responsibility is one of Minda Zetlin‟s top three reasons to become a leader. If you are already in a role with responsibility, you understand clearly the two (and sometimes multiple) phases of responsibility. Responsibility is very often associated with discomfort and fear of failure, but when done right, it‟s a soul lifting and refreshing experience. Companies tend to take after their leaders, influencing everything from culture to profits, so it‟s essential that it‟s done right. Having a strong desire to take responsibility for outcomes is a good indication that you crave the weight of the leadership role.

Goals Making goals come true could feel like a drag, especially when meeting people who can see nothing else but obstacles. Grant Cardone, owner of several companies, believes that “the fact that most agree it is difficult even impossible is exactly why it must be done”. Entrepreneur Greg Alston also loves being the best. As a former coach, he used to think that sport is the only field where you can get that exhilarating rush of winning, but after starting his own company, he realized experiencing victory also belongs in business. Even small wins can create a thrill. Most times the goal starts out as a thought in the head of a leader; with no one else around; it begins to make its way through her mind then a note is made; a plan is designed the team is recruited and the project is paced. It is paced with milestones; big and small; all culminating in the achievement of the goal. This for many is the thrill of leadership; that a simple thought can grow to become a tangible reality that makes the world better for so many others. Achieving goals is one of the greatest rewards for being a leader.

People This is one of the biggest motivations for many leaders. According to T.J. Hines from Mr. Flipper House, being able to bring out the best in people is incredibly rewarding. Most people look for guidance and are scared to be leaders themselves, so they need someone to help them. “There is no greater feeling knowing that you have helped someone conquer their fears by stepping out and achieving their goals and aspirations,” he said. Ben Landers, President and CEO of the successful marketing company Blue Corona agrees that setting seemingly unattainable goals with someone and then helping them achieve them is one of the best thing about being a leader.

Building something Being a leader means building shared cultures, goals, values and relationships within a company. Chris Kilbourn from TOFU Marketing helped create the culture of his work place. Seeing it work makes it all worth it: “Our culture has a „work hard, play hard‟ attitude. We work 60+ hours per week, but break up the stress by including a basketball hoop, Nerf guns, fun office decorations and free food. It‟s been working wonders.”

Ripple effect It‟s an empowering feeling to see the work you do influence more and more people. Kelly Sheets, who coaches caregivers through her business TheSpunkyCaregiver.com, loves seeing her influence spread. When her clients start to use the tools they have learned in her coaching sessions, they don‟t just help themselves but also influence their friends and families. It creates a ripple effect that in the long run creates more happiness for more people. Typically in leadership; it hardly ever ends just with the said goal; the goal has some effects and then some more effects. For example; in leading a project management team to construct a school, the cardinal goal is to get the school building up and standing but then beyond that is the greater access to education it makes happen for the students; the opportunity to build a future. It is more than a block of classrooms; it is a place where students learn what they need to be relevant to their society in the future and there is no telling how far these students would go as individuals within society; the ripple effect keeps going on and on.

Passion Good leaders get to do what they love every day, because they believe in their vision. Even though it‟s hard work, it doesn‟t come with the mind numbing boredom most employees are used to. Instead, it‟s a role filled with risk and creativity. It‟s always hard to expect exactly what you are going to be doing on any particular day, which makes it an exciting and stimulating job. Dallas Cowboy Head Coach Jason Garrett loves his leadership position because he gets to do it again every day. He goes to work every morning, not to be held accountable by anyone but because “We have work to do.”

Is leadership for you? As Minda Zetlin said, if you are motivated by the right things, leadership is for you. It comes with a sense of purpose and a chance to see things in people and situations no one has seen before. If you believe in your vision, have a love for bringing the best out in people and a desire to take on more responsibility, knowing you can do it better, leadership is for you.

Leadership Styles

If you already know a bit about leadership, you may have heard about leadership styles. Traditionally, they have been used as a sort of personality test, making it easier for leaders to analyse what kind of leader they are, creating a better understanding of themselves and what they can accomplish with their own personal style. We are going to use a different approach and instead look at the different leadership styles within the context of The Situational Leadership Theory.

The Situational Leadership Theory According to the situational leadership theory developed by Paul Hersey, there is no single best leadership style. Instead there are a variety of different styles or strategies that all can be useful in different situations. A good leader will adapt his style to the needs of his team and project. As each team and project is different, a good leader will be able to analyse his company to combine the styles in a way that makes sense for them. The situational leadership theory offers a solution of how to properly decide which leadership style to use in which situation. The model is based on the relationship between leaders and followers and so can prove beneficial for everyone who is seeking to influence others. The strategy of the individual leader depends on various factors such as the amount of direction as well as emotional support given, the nature of the tasks involved, the organizational environment and the team members‟ skills, experience and level of motivation to perform a specific task. The situational leader will adapt his behaviour based on these factors. With practice, you can learn how to switch instinctively. However, in the beginning it makes sense to analyse each case consciously to pick the right style. Here are four steps to remember when picking a leadership style for a specific situation:

  1. Diagnose the situation and understand the circumstances of the people you are trying to influence.
  2. Adapt your behaviour to those circumstances.
  3. Interact with others in order for them to understand and accept the changes.
  1. Advance by managing the influence you are trying to exercise.

Whilst the situational leadership theory is widely used and agreed on, the different leadership styles vary. In this book we will introduce you to six of the most common leadership styles and explain when and how to use them. Maybe you already use some or more of these subconsciously but if you know about them, you can switch between them strategically according to the situation.

Goleman’s six leadership styles A Harvard study led by Daniel Goleman and his team looked at 3000 middle-level managers and found six major leadership directions:

  1. The pacesetting leader
    The pacesetting leader leads his team by being a good example himself. This works well for a self-directed team already motivated and autonomous. Team members are kept to a high standard as they are expected to follow the example of the leader. Those who need feedback and direction to perform don‟t do well with pacesetting leaders and are often replaced if they can‟t keep up. Used too much, this style can overwhelm team members and result in poor performance. There is usually no patience for learning or adjusting. The style should be used sparingly and only if you need good results in a short time from an already motivated team. If you keep using this style long-term, it will most likely result in stressed and dispirited team members. The Laissez-Faire style is another often mentioned leadership style that is similar in many ways to the pacesetting leader. It involves a lack of feedback and a great level of autonomy. Even though the leader here doesn‟t set himself as an example, the Laissez-Faire style often experience the same problems, resulting in poor production and increasing costs.
     
  2. The authoritative leader
    The authoritative leader defines a common vision and can be used to unite an aimless team. It is then up to each team member to find his own method to get there. This style works well when the team is going in a new direction and have a need for a new vision instead of guidance. It inspires team members to come up with new ideas and sparks enthusiasm for the common goal. In Hay and McBers comprehensive study of thousands of executive, it proved to be the leadership style that created the happiest and most positive work environment The authoritative leadership style isn‟t necessarily the best choice all the time, however. It can for example be difficult for a leader to emerge in a group of experts and make them follow his vision if they –maybe rightly – feel that they know better than him. The authoritative leadership style does well in the right situation but the leader has to use it with care and only when it makes sense.
     
  3. The affiliate leader
    The affiliate leader takes care of his or her team members on an emotional level by praising them and creating a sense of belonging. This style can‟t be used on its own as too much nurture will result in a lack of motivation to work. However, it can be useful in stressful situations when the team feels overworked or have experienced a trauma. It is also more valuable than most people tend to think. Studies conducted by Hay and McBer showed that the affiliate leader actually has the second most positive impact on the work environment next after the authoritative leader. Even with the risk of underachievement, a caring leader results in a happy team. However, it works best together with a more result- oriented leadership style. Positive feedback, while encouraging, may result in underachievement and make team members continue down a wrong path if the leader isn‟t ready to correct mistakes or provide critical feedback.
     
  4. The coaching leader
    The coaching leader trains his team and builds their skills to help them be more successful in the future. He will help them achieve their individual goals as well as create a plan to achieve them. He will assign tasks in agreement with the team members and won‟t mind giving them challenging assignments even if it means that it will slow down performance. Learning is valued more than performance in this case. The coaching leader will listen to the team‟s opinion but will make the final decisions himself. He will encourage and inspire them by creating a positive work environment, guide them and set clear expectations. This style needs a skilled leader, who genuinely cares about his team members improving in a direction that is useful for them, too. The leader has to have proficiency and his team members must be responsible and must be willing to learn and change. Even though it‟s considered a slow and tedious leadership style, its positive work environment actually often improve performance in the end. Team members feel more responsible, have less fear of experimenting, and are motivated to do their best. They often rise to the challenges given to them if they feel that their leader believes in them. As Daniel Goleman himself said: “Although the coaching style may not scream „bottom-line results‟, it delivers them.”
     
  5. The coercive leader
    This style is also called the autocratic leadership style. It‟s all about control and even though it was the most commonly used only a few decades ago, it has its limitations. A good leader is supposed to challenge the status quo, not just impose his or her own mind without regard for anything else. This style usually comes with a lack of trust in team members as they are not allowed to be a part of the process, express their opinions or have influence over their own jobs and it should only be used with care on rare occasions. It just won‟t work in most situations. Only use it if it‟s absolutely necessary, for example if you have to direct a team member who doesn‟t respond to any other leadership style or if he is very new and needs to focus on learning a new skill. It could also be used during an actual crisis such as a company turnaround or a fire. However, in most cases, this leadership style doesn‟t inspire unity or inventiveness but instead creates a rigid work environment that alienates the team members.
     
  6. The democratic leader
    The democratic leader takes the ideas and opinions of his team members into consideration to facilitate a free flow of ideas. The leader lets the team take ownership of the project and involves them in the decision-making process while he sets the frame and guides them. This style is also called the participative leadership style because the members take a more participatory role in the company, but it only works if they are qualified to do so and if they are not working under time pressure. While the democratic leadership style is great to gain the most from a changing environment and explore all the ideas to go in the best possible direction, it‟s a slow process. When changes need to happen quickly, the democratic leadership style is not the way to go. However, if the company has got the time to make positive and lasting changes, the democratic leadership style has proven to create good results. It also has a positive impact on morale because the team members feel appreciated and valued for their opinions. It gives them the feeling that they are part of the process and can influence the future of the company.