I am constantly intrigued by leaders and the way they impact businesses, communities and non-profit organizations. My daily reading choices have reflected a desire to understand what makes great leaders tick: On Leadership, Delivering Happiness, Reality Check, and Mavericks At Work. All great books that describe not only the outcome of quality leadership, but just how hard it is to be a good, if not great, leader. On Leadership, by John W. Gardner, is an excellent book because the author is very clear on what leadership is not. In the opening chapter, “The Nature of Leadership,” Gardner writes:
We must not confuse leadership with status…Similarly, we must not confuse leadership with power…Finally, we must not confuse leadership with official authority, which is simply legitimized power…Leadership requires major expenditures of effort and energy—more than most people care to make. When I outlined to a teenager of my acquaintance the preceding distinctions and then described the hard tasks of leadership, he said, “I’ll leave the leadership to you, Mr. Gardner. Give me some of that power and status.”
It is my belief that anyone can be a leader. Just because someone doesn’t have status or power does not mean that they can’t lead others toward an expression and communication of shared values and beliefs. Gardner writes that “Leadership is the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers.” What it comes down to is that the defining character traits of most leaders is a multitude of attitudes that are driven towards the active expression and outcome of a shared vision through the enabling of others for the long haul.
Attitude #1: Leaders inspire, are passionate, and enable others
Inspiration, motivation, passion, equipping and enabling others are crucial traits in any leader’s toolbox. Most people need to be inspired. They need to be reminded that what they are working for, the goals they have, and the dreams they dream for their life and their family are worth pursuing. Hard work and sacrifice is fueled by inspired, passionate leaders, because each leader believes and knows that the outcome of their vision is better than what exists today. Leaders know that it is through the development and enabling of others that a dream is brought to life. Leaders need people, they want to be with people, and they know just how to communicate value and worth to each person under their care.
Attitude #2: Leaders are in it for the long haul
Leaders recognize the need to make short-term gains, weather the economic and competitive storms, but most importantly, they are in it for the long haul. They believe in their vision and what could be, not just today, but tomorrow. In Delivering Happiness, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh delivers not only happiness, but some serious leadership skills in the form of the poker term, “going all in.” Zappos was struggling, yet he realized that the company could be great if they could just hold on a little bit longer. He sold pretty much everything he owned to keep Zappos afloat. Sure enough, Zappos would eventually partner with Amazon.com and the rest would be happiness history. Hsieh is in it for the long haul and that reality is evident in every page of Delivering Happiness.
Attitude #3: Leaders foster a spirit of entrepreneurship, not entitlement
The greatest task that a leader has is to train those that they lead to be giants, greater than the leader, better than what they would be if they didn’t work or belong in the community. While not everyone will be successful entrepreneurs, a great leader knows that the attitudes of entrepreneurship make everyone work that much harder, and can make a business, community or organization that much stronger. Entrepreneurs seek to work hard, to have clear goals and outcomes, to measure success, and know exactly where they are going. Conversely, entitled workers work just hard enough to ensure that their standard of living is met. They often don’t seek for what could be, only what they must do as communicated by their manager. Yes, they may work hard, I don’t argue that, but they have set the limit on their abilities and what they wish to achieve for their own lives.
Leaders must be willing and able to transform attitudes of entitlement into a spirit of entrepreneurship for the sake of not only the business, community or organization, but for the sake of the world. A fanciful thought, yes, but being a leader is a high calling, greater than anything else.
Attitude #4: Leaders act, they set an example
It doesn’t get any better than this: Leaders act, they get the job done, they set an example of what it means to live up to their values. Leaders know that their active expressions and commitment to a set of values will only encourage the adoption of those values by others. That is why leaders must daily act. Not to show how great they are, but to show how others that they practice what they preach.
Attitude #5: Leaders pay it forward
Finally, leaders pay it forward. They prepare the way for the next wave of leaders, not only within the organization, but in the schools and in the places that people are waiting to be brought into the fold. Great leaders have their pulse on the community and their organization. They are serving and actively involved, and they are ready, willing and able to lead those that are in need of a strong voice in their life inspiring them, equipping them, and preparing them for a future leadership role.
Where there is a demand, there is hope for all
We have a shortage of leaders. As Gardner writes about leadership not being about power and status, we have become like the teenager in his story, addicted to what comes easy.
I don’t know why we have a leadership problem. But what I do know is that when there is a demand great leadership, there is hope for those that are ready to stand up and fill the shoes that are empty in our City Halls, in our Congress, in our churches, synagogues, mosques, libraries, and schools.