I was in a kind of leadership conference not so long ago and someone proposed to clarify the differences between management & leadership in less than two minutes.
The person started off by saying, “management is all about, organising, structuring, planning, prioritising, piloting …………, etc.”; all of which I have no problem with. The person then went on to say, “and now for leadership; a leader is someone who encourages, inspires, motivates …………, etc.”
I find that this happens a lot when people are talking about leadership; there are even leadership definitions (not leader definitions) that read, “A leader is someone who leads by example …………”, or “A leader is someone who has the clarity to know the right things to do”.
It’s almost as though that (for certain people) leadership is only in the hands of leaders. Leadership, as defined by the GLOBE study is “the ability to influence others to contribute to the realisation of the objectives of the “organisation” of which they are members”. Encouraging others, inspiring others and motivating others are things we can all do; we all have a certain leadership capacity but that doesn’t make us de facto leaders.
Here are some examples of leadership in action (note, the “I” in the examples is not me):
I am on in the mountains with some friends and we have decided to be on the summit before 2.00 pm in order to have time to get back down before it gets dark; it’s a lovely day and we have spent so much time looking at the scenery and the wildlife that we now risk missing our deadline. I get everyone’s attention and start to discuss how they see the rest of the day spanning out; do we carry on as we are and risk getting caught in the dark, do we stop looking at the scenery and “yomp” our way to the top or do we do something else?
A group of adolescents has started hanging out on my street corner; they are not doing any harm (yet) but they are occasionally a bit boisterous and noisy. I go up to them and start a conversation with them about what they might like to do.
I am at work with colleagues and it’s the twenty-fifth minute of our fifteen-minute coffee break; there is a heated discussion with regards to the current project and the fact that the deadlines are too short. I suggest to my colleagues that we take look at how we could organise ourselves to use our time better.
I am in a parent-teacher association meeting and almost everyone is criticising the schools choice for its end of term project. I ask those who have yet to express anything that they think about the pros and cons of the project and then get the group come up with concrete improvements to the project.
All of the above are examples of leadership; it may not be MLK at the Lincoln Memorial telling everyone that he has a dream and it may not be JFK telling people to ask not what the USA can do for them but what they can do for the USA, but they are still examples of leadership.
The above examples are simple but not necessarily easy; your group of friends might resent you trying to take control, the kids on the street corner might tell you to “get lost” (or worse) and your colleagues might accuse you of being on the side of management. Making a difference is never easy; the easy way out may be to let you and your friends become benighted, let the adolescents become delinquents and join in the winging and whining with you colleagues – but that’s not what leadership is about!
So, if leadership is about encouraging, inspiring, and motivating others what is being a leader about?
Here’s the definition I use:
A leader is someone who uses her/his leadership capacity in a conscious and consistent manner in order to realise or work towards a vision; either his/her vision or a company (or other) vision.
Some people are formal leaders (Obama, Hollande, Merkel, Branson, et al.) and some are informal leaders (the unsung heads of charities, local groups, sports teams, etc.); all are trying to inspire others towards some kind of vision. However, we don’t all necessarily have a vision and a mission in life that we are trying to get people to buy into, we are not all necessarily leaders (be it informally or formally) but we all have a leadership capacity that we can discover, develop and deploy to help move things forward.
We quite possibly need less leaders and more leadership in society today.