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What is Leadership?

Promoting the development of leadership qualities in those around us.

That’s a question that brings much debate and is viewed passionately from many different perspectives with a variety of commentators sharing strongly held views based on quite different experiences.

My intention here is not to try to provide a definition of leadership, rather to provide a few thoughts for us to consider as we seek to promote the development of leadership qualities in those around us.

Leadership – driven by Purpose or by Popularity

A topic of current interest in national politics and political leadership at this time has to do with the rise of so-called populism, and it seems that some commentators wish to compare and contrast that as we look back at past leaders with the fondness and the blurred vision of half-recalled history.  Whatever our political views and persuasion may be, or our views on the emerging language of politics, an important measure of leadership has to do with the passion that drives our leadership.

In his “Law of Navigation” John Maxwell says, “Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.”  What is the leader using to map the territory, and to define the destination?  Is it a desire to be popular with those that elect or appoint them, leading people where they want to be led; or is it a higher calling of purpose to lead them where they need to go?

“A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do”
~ Leroy Eims

The leader has to have vision that goes beyond the horizon, to see where they need to be, where they can be and where they will be.  The leader needs to mentally travel ahead and see the future clearly enough to articulate and cast a vision of where they could and should be that helps to motivate, enthuse and inspire those she leads.  The leader needs to be driven by the compelling purpose of transition from the present to reach for the vision of the future reality that is a more fulfilling, fruitful and rewarding place for all to inhabit.

“Vision is a picture of the future that produces passion in people”
~ Bill Hybels

Leadership – focussed on Values or on Vanity

What is the currency of leadership?  By this, I don’t mean the currency of the country in which the leader lives of course, but rather how is leadership effectiveness measured.  Is the measure found in the currency of personal profile, in flattering headlines, in “easy wins”, or in honours or titles?  Or, is it measured in terms of respect for all, for adherence to a greater goal, of integrity and longevity of purpose, and based on a true understanding of yourself and those you lead?

“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

In “From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership, Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr. centres on what he calls the four principles of values-based leadership.  The first is self-reflection, the second principle is balance, the third is true self-confidence, and the fourth principle is genuine humility.  To have leadership based on sound values requires a leader that knows their own strengths and weaknesses, and makes sure to account for these in charting the destination and the course needed to reach that destination.

Leadership – underpinned by Character or by Charisma

We have all seen the charismatic leader that seems to gain a following wherever they go.  With winning smiles and easy conversation they have practised the charismatic arts to perfection, and seem to be able to turn every situation into a success they personally managed to bring about despite all odds.

“To enjoy the things we ought and to hate the things we ought has the greatest bearing on excellence of character.”
~ Aristotle

Stephen Covey suggests in “7 habits of highly successful people” that most of the success literature published in the 19th and early 20th Century focused on The Character Ethic as being the foundation of success, however, he asserts that more recently the basic view of success shifted from the Character Ethic to The Personality Ethic.  Things like integrity, humility, simplicity, fairness, modesty, love, courage, justice, have been replaced by an individual’s personality (or charisma).

The contrast is made here between two groups of leaders; those that led the way by taking people to the place they actually needed to go because that was the right thing to do, versus those that took the people where they said they wanted to go because that would get them voted into office.

“Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”
~ Jackson Browne

Leadership – Commandments or Calf

We can read about just such a contrast in leadership styles described in the book of Exodus in the Old Testament.  Moses is the leader of the people of Israel and is leading the people having taken them out of captivity in Egypt on the journey to the promised land.  At the time this event takes place Moses has gone to collect the 10 commandments and left his brother Aaron in charge.

“When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”” Exodus 32:1 NLT (http://bible.com/116/exo.32.1.nlt)

Moses has been “looking beyond the horizon”, and taking his people on a journey from slavery through the wilderness on the way to their destination.  For the last few chapters of the book he has been talking with God about the law, and about the covenant between God and his people, and the passage above shows that Aaron was under some pressure to take over.  It doesn’t go so well for Aaron; he encourages the people to bring him all their gold and proceeds to make them a golden calf, and “Aaron saw how excited the people were” and so he continued to lead them where they wanted to go.

The difference between the two leaders is that Moses was driven by a passion and a purpose: to lead the people in the way that God was revealing to him, to lead them towards the destination he had already envisioned.  Aaron, on the other hand, listened to the people and proceeded to lead them where they wanted to go.

Moses: listens to God and takes the people where they need to go
Aaron: listens to the people and takes them where they want to go

Which sort of leader do you want to be, which sort of leader do I want to be?  A leader trying to stay one step ahead of the people and leading them where they want to go, or a leader following an inspired vision and taking the people where they need to go?

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.