Over the course of my life, I have developed a pretty clear idea of what constitutes leadership. These ideas have come about because I have been fortunate enough to work with multiple leaders who have demonstrated these qualities and because I have been able to take these qualities out for a spin. Lately, the opportunity to consider what it means to be a leader has arisen because of events at work and, much more prominently, because of events within an organization of which I am a member. I’d like to take this opportunity to share my thoughts on leadership.
First, I believe that a leader should, through his/her own behavior, project the behavior that he wants coming from the people s/he is leading. A leader is not hypocritical. If you are a leader and you want people to take you seriously, your ethos must not be one of do as I say and not as I do, but rather see what I’m doing? do that, too. Behavior modeling helps engender respect from the people you seek to lead and facilitates the strengthening of relationships between the group.
I believe that a leader communicates well. By this, I do not necessarily mean that a leader communicates using proper grammar and with the correct use of the Oxford comma, but rather that a leader communicates with people in a timely manner. Why? I will speak from experience on this. When a leader, without warning, ceases communication and does not respond to messages or phone calls, it leaves other people to wonder what is going on. Is this leader sick? Is this leader ignoring my requests for communication? A vacuum in communication creates a vacuum in information – and it is my sincere belief that a vacuum will create its own information in the absence of other information. These rumors – the false information that appears in a vacuum – can come around to destroy the efficacy of a leader’s position and make s/he an ineffective leader and engenders distrust.
I believe that a leader is visionary, but also a good manager. It is critical to set goals for organizational growth and change, as a good leader should, but equally critical is managing that growth through the delegation of leadership and tasks. A leader needs to communicate a clearly defined vision to his organization and delegates authority to the people around him/her to help bring that vision to life. As the process comes along, a leader must follow up and work with the people he’s empowered to ensure that the vision is coming to life.
I believe a leader takes responsibility for his/her actions. A leader receives criticism, positive and negative, and makes progress. If a leader doesn’t want to commit or isn’t prepared to commit to a promise of change, then promise to change isn’t made and that is communicated to the team. A leader does not promise to improve and immediately neglects that promise. A leader takes the concerns of the people around him/her seriously.
Lastly, a leader knows when to call it a day. There is a season for everything under the sun. A leader knows when the seasons have come and gone and when it’s time to retire for the winter so that another may plow the fields and plants the seeds for success come the spring.
These are all characteristics that I try to embody, but when a leader working with you doesn’t share those characteristics, it is easy to get bogged down in doing that person’s work when it is evident that it isn’t being done. I have been promised on multiple occasions that this leader would improve, and sometimes there is some improvement, and other times it’s just an outright lie that this leader says to stave off any further difficult conversation.
True leadership – a leadership that embodies vision and inspiration – requires tremendous amounts of self-insight. For those of you who know me, that self-insight and careful reflection can either be something that comes naturally or something that requires practice and training. I have found it to be an endeavor worth doing, though, because I wish to see a world that is created with my help. I believe that we all have our part to create a world of our own vision and to work with others to develop a shared vision, for we do not live in a vacuum. And to do so, you must lead, you must inspire, and you must show the way. Our lives on this planet, in this universe, are too short and we must do everything in our powers to impart the meaning of our lives on others and to leave our imprint, no matter how or small, to furthering the cause of life on this planet. We must lead so that others may follow and that they may lead. We must know that we are to pass the baton.
The work is hard, but the work is good. May we do good and do it well with the guidance and foresight of good leaders.