One of the most interesting topics for me is the subject of Leadership. Before I took up the appellations of “Life Coach” and “Leadership Consultant” I had discovered that helping people discover and develop leadership was something I was very passionate about and it was something that was central to my being.
So, we are about to engage in a topic that resonates very greatly with me.
We will start here with a definition of leadership.
Leadership expert John Maxwell has summed it into one word. He has very simply defined it as “influence.”
That is essentially what leadership is- Influence.
At the risk of sounding a little more technical I will give my definition of Leadership as “the art of influencing people to act out of their volition towards the attainment or accomplishment of a collective objective.”
Read that definition again. Then let’s unpack it.
The first thing you will notice there is that Leadership is an art; it is first a skill that needs to be developed before it is anything else.
I do not accept that leaders are born.
While there are people who are born with traits that can be developed to make them effective leaders I believe genuine leaders are made, and this is largely because when exposed to the necessary environment and guided properly ANYONE can become a leader.
The next component you will notice in our definition is the word “Influence.”
Real leadership is not merely authority or some sort of position anyone has over another person; real leadership is influence. It is the ability to exercise the sort of clout and leverage that precludes constraint and is void of coercion over another person or persons.
The minute compulsion is involved in any process it ceases to be leadership driven or guided.
Authority evokes images of force and compulsion, but Influence is quite different- it evokes thoughts of willingness.
When Authority is involved people act because they have to, but when Influence is involved people act because they want to.
When all a person has over someone else is a position you can safely note that what he has is authority, but like we will see in a later article authority is not an end in itself but simply a means. In fact, authority is an opportunity to build influence. Authority is a means to Influence.
So, we need to ask ourselves a pertinent question at this juncture- “How can one build influence?”
There might be very many ways through which we can build influence but through my years of personal study and experience in the art of leadership I have come to see that I can synopsize or encapsulate these into about three major ways-
(1) Living a life that is exemplary and is a model to others
(2) Being genuinely concerned about people
(3) Getting others to understand they have a future in what you are doing
The first key to building Influence over people is the power of an example. If others see in you what they want to become it will be very easy for them to follow you. If they see their future in you they will have little hesitation in modeling themselves after what you do and say, and this is where a moral burden comes on the aspiring leader. Trust, once violated, becomes harder to build, and so every leader has the obligation to ensure he does not violate the trust reposed in him by those that aspire to be like him.
The second key to building Influence over people is a compound one. It is a mixture of Empathy- the ability to relate to and associate vicariously with the pains of others, Compassion- understanding and having a desire to ameliorate the pains of others, and Care- feeling concern for and interest in others.
All these three can be substituted for Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence can be defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express ones emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships resourcefully and empathetically. It is the capability of individuals to recognize the interplay of emotions both in themselves and in others, to label them appropriately, and to use the information to guide thinking and behavior in a bid to adapt to different environments and achieve ones goals.
It takes emotional intelligence to build influence, and anyone who cannot empathize with others and then act in a compassionate way towards them cannot build influence.
Even the corporate world has started making a distinction.
We now hear about two types of ethics people are taught to distinguish between; Character Ethics, and Personality Ethics.
Character Ethics refers to teaching people and helping them imbibe inner values when dealing with others; for instance there are now modules that attempt to show employees the benefits of loving clients and being genuinely pleasant to them, and these training methods attempt to inculcate and imbue in them these values.
Personality Ethics on the other hand are all about teaching people to develop cosmetic/aesthetic values when dealing with others; so some employees in several organizations are taught to smile even when they might dislike a person. It’s a bit like a “fake it if you can’t make it” type of thing.
But beyond the workplace and in life generally if you will learn to really care for people it will be easy to build influence over them and to get their allegiance.
It is not how much you know as much as it is how much you care that helps you develop influence over others.
People are more prone to following you if they are convinced you have their interests at heart.
The third key to building Influence is what I’ll just call Vision Ownership. When a person can get others to own his vision he will be able to very effortlessly build influence over them. If people will follow you without let, hindrance or reservations they will do so because they see their future in where you are going. If they see you are headed in the same direction as they are it will be very easy to have influence over them, and the average person will be more inclined to contribute his quota to the actualizing of anything he will benefit directly from.
This brings us to the next component of our definition. Leadership is the art of influencing people to act of their “volition”.
To act of their volition is for their actions to be voluntary. If a person feels compelled to do whatever he is doing at anytime then you could be exercising any number of things over him from intimidation, blackmail, and threats; any of all the aforementioned, but anything other than leadership.
Once people are not acting willingly anymore it is manipulation and not leadership that is being implemented.
If in your workplace, church, school, or any point of social activity where you have subordinates people under you feel like they are being compelled or manipulated then what you have over them is not leadership.
If you had it once but have now resorted to such underhand tactics to keep it then you have lost it without even knowing.
The final component in the definition of Leadership I have given above is “collective”. Leadership is the art of influencing people to act of their own volition towards the attainment or accomplishment of a common goal or collective objective.
This sort of brings us back to what we had earlier spoken about concerning how to build Influence. People will not follow you when they do not own your vision, and until they own your vision they will not see what you are trying to accomplish as theirs; they will not consider it a corporate or collective objective.
Leadership is not seen in a bid to attain an individual’s objective, it is seen in an attempt to accomplish a collective goal. So if you cannot sell your vision to others and get them to see their part in it, as well as what they stand to benefit from it, you cannot be an effective leader.
Having defined Leadership we will now move to another important juncture in understanding it.
There are 2 Dynamics in Leadership- The Visionary Dynamic, and the Responsive Dynamic in Leadership. These two are required in effective leadership but unfortunately most people tend to incline towards one or the other.
Any person who learns to strike a balance and draw an equivalence between the two of them will be a very successful leader.
The Visionary Dynamic is that part of leadership that is interested in attaining the objective.
Those who are more inclined towards this are usually fixated on the task and pay very little mind to the people who are critical in its accomplishment. What happens more often than not in this case is they accomplish the task but leave a litany of broken people who feel used. Usually the visionary oriented people damage others wittingly or unwittingly, and so when they have another task to accomplish they do not find those that previously worked with them willing to do so anymore as they would have lost all the goodwill they might once have held.
The Responsive Dynamic is that part of leadership that is focused on managing relationships.
Those who are more inclined towards this are fixated on people and how they feel. The challenge here is that such people do not accomplish very much eventually; you probably are not going to get things done and deadlines met if you are a responsive oriented person or you commit to a responsive oriented person time bound objectives that will require team work.
Such a person will spend all his time mothering and smothering people until the deadline passes; he is the regular Mr. Nice Guy who cares for people but the problem is he cares too much about people’s feelings to be of much use to them or the organization.
A good leader knows the right balance between the two and knows how to put the squeeze just enough on his people as well as the right moment to let it go.
If we place the two in a way in which they are inextricably intertwined we will have the right formula for effective leadership- Building bridges while accomplishing tasks.
The visionary oriented person builds walls and the responsive oriented person accomplishes very little tasks. But the good leader builds bridges while accomplishing tasks.
In the next article we will be looking at the 5 levels of leadership.
See you then.