DEFINING LEADERSHIP IN THE 21ST CENTURY:
To lead implies influence and the ability to compel people to follow. In the 19th century that meant to “tell them.” In the later part of the 20th century that was broadened to “sell them.” In the 21st century, the task has become more complex. In the new workplace, to lead is to “serve them.”
First a distinction must be drawn between management and leadership. A person in a management, supervisory or executive position can be a leader, but it is not an entitlement of the position. It is something that is earned and awarded to the individual by the people they lead. There are specific characteristics of a leader that go beyond the management of the company, organization, department or institution.
Integrity, intelligence, the tolerance of risk, the ability to listen, passion, vision and decisiveness are a few of the critical talents that transform a competent manager into an enlightened leader. These are obvious and are part of most people’s formula for successful leadership. What may be less obvious is the relationship that is forged between the leader and those he/she leads. This relationship is based on the philosophy of service and is what distinguishes a good leader from a legendary leader.
For example, I got a call one afternoon from a colleague who was totally exasperated by the lack of cooperation she was getting from her work group. Earlier that day she called a departmental meeting and no one showed up. In addition, her department had multiple deadlines that were flying by with regularity, and no one seemed compelled to use them as benchmarks for project completion.
“They are completely unmanageable!” She lamented.
“Exactly,” I replied. “And that’s the point.”
I recommended that she stop managing and start leading. I give this recommendation to anyone who is building a work unit into a team. I’ve found in my years of consulting that most people are motivated by their jobs, are highly trained, are mature, and thrive in an environment of trust and respect. From clerical to managerial; from entry level to executive level; from baking meals to making deals; from taking out trash to bringing in cash, everyone involved in the enterprise should be defined as a professional.
Micro-management does not work with motivated people, dedicated to their work and proud of their accomplishments. A legendary leader finds out what the team needs, provides them with the resources necessary to succeed, gives them opportunity for personal and professional development, celebrates success, doesn’t ever take people for granted, and expects and gives respect. Leaders secure the time and resources for their team, then get out of the way. Most people do their jobs to the best of their ability. Success feels good. Nothing succeeds like success. The formula for legendary leadership is to help people achieve their goals.
I told her to go to each member of her team and ask them a single, simple question, “What can I do to help you succeed?” She asked if it was really that simple. I responded, “Simple, yes. Easy, no.”
She went back and did just as I advised. She went to each person and asked them what they needed and what she could do to secure it. It took awhile for her team to trust her and to respond to the question with confidence. The atmosphere of suspicion and cynical disbelief faded with her persistence and patience. Now, today. she calls a meeting, they are there. She sets a deadline, they will meet it. She understands that to manage is to plan, organize, direct and control but to lead is to serve.
"Human Nature has been sold short...[humans have] a higher nature which includes the need for meaningful work, for responsibility, for creativeness, for being fair and just, for doing what is worthwhile and for preferring to do it well." Abraham H. Maslow