If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
~John Quincy Adams
What has become of leadership? This word seems to get tossed around like the word “great” to the point that it has lost its essence. The quote above from John Quincy Adams defines the essence of leadership. Elegant in its simplicity, the language Adams uses gets to the heart of what it means to be a leader.
Separate authority from those you would follow. Are they the same people?
Again, elegant in its simplicity. A leader is someone you would choose to follow. Inherent in this perspective is the notion that you do not determine whether you are a leader or not, those who choose to follow you do. Your title or authority may put you in a position to be a leader. Whether you are a leader brings us back to John Quincy Adams’ quote on how you show up to create better with and for others from that position.
Yet, we have become so conditioned to be management-focused that we too often view leadership through the tried and clung-to lens of management language, behaviors and metrics. For many, determined to remain rooted in the ideologies of the Industrial Age and the command and control leadership style so often representative of it, leadership and management have become dehumanizingly synonymous.
Here is my invitation to you: stop using language that reinforces the outdated and erroneous notion that people are to be managed. Support this by living values and practices that support the development and success of leaders who expand human capacity, invite and engage different perspectives and inspire people to create better with and for others.
We manage budgets. We manage calendars. We manage projects. We lead people. Beyond simply leading people, leadership is about leading people to create positive outcomes together.
To those of you who may see yourself as a “people manager”, what if you reframed this to “I am a people leader”? You may manage the employee roster or human capacity needs for your organization. You might be in charge of a functional team of people responsible for delivering business support or solutions for your clients. Your role may be to manage projects and the associated work assignments and delivery for your team. These are tasks you manage. To create value and successfully deliver the project, you lead people to be and bring their best contributions so you can create better together.
A leader’s role is to create the conditions that enable growth and success, such as:
- psychological safety
- proactive, transparent communication
- setting clear expectations
- defining clear roles and responsibilities
- being the calm navigator through the challenges and uncertainties that might arise
- inviting the perspectives of others to interdependently co-create solutions that best serve your clients’ needs
Leadership requires you to be in the fray with your team, interdependently working to solve problems and deliver value. Leadership requires that you lead from the front during difficult times, you celebrate and recognize your people and their contributions to success, and you model what you seek to inspire and see from others to create an interdependent, creative, innovative team that aspires to be and create better together.
Leadership at its core is human, requiring genuine connection, vulnerability, courage, humility, and emotional intelligence. Leadership is the epitome of caring. It is rooted in love, compassion, humility, and belief. Strong leadership does not happen without these essential human elements that create connection with one another, inspire and unite people behind a shared vision and purpose, and unleash human greatness to expand human capacity, ignite greater contributions and multiply impact.
Leadership is the nexus of heightened presence, self-awareness, intentional other and situational awareness, emotional intelligence, relationship-building, and influence.
Questions you might often hear from a strong leader include:
- What do you see?
- How might we?
- What else should we be considering?
- What are we missing here?
- How would you approach this challenge?
- Who else should we invite into this conversation?
- What other perspectives would be valuable to our decision-making process?
When we are experiencing strong leadership, there is an energy of “we” and “us” that is consistent, strong, yet vulnerable. It is compassionate, welcoming and inspiring. It brings forth the unique brilliance of each team member and the collective to expand human capacity, creativity, innovation and purposeful action to create better solutions and outcomes, together.
The time is now to overwrite the outdated, dictatorial, self-serving and suppressive management paradigms espoused as leadership with truly human leadership that meets the demands of 2020 and beyond. The practice of, obedience to, and myopic focus on the short-term, on 90-day cycles of earnings reporting, is a pattern that needs to be broken. Slavishly being beholden to delivering shareholder value, to extracting results from people no matter the mental health, physical health or other human tolls this takes, is no longer desirable nor sustainable to meet twenty-first-century global business and societal demands.
We can do better. We must do better if we are to create a world where the planet, businesses, communities, and families thrive. The world needs more willing, caring, strong servant leaders than ever before. Leaders, as Adams says, whose actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. Will you be one of them?