What is leadership?

During this day when we reflect upon and are thankful for our military’s contributions to our country, it is fitting to think about the qualities of leadership that make organizations such as the military great. Last week I hosted a tweetchat on the aspects of leadership – what qualities do great leaders possess, are they different than managers, can leadership be learned? All of these questions help us to define what leadership is and who can become a leader.

Leadership ≠ Management

As Beth Braccio Hering said in her article, “A manager accomplishes tasks, but a leader inspires.” Leadership and management are sort of like the chicken and the egg; you’re not entirely certain which comes first, you know that they are related and intertwined, and yet they are clearly something different from each other. Just look up “Manager vs. Leader” on the web and you will find many charts and diagrams aimed at breaking down the subtle differences between managers and leaders (all the way down to their essence – Eau du leadership!). So while it is clear that leadership is not management, what are the key qualities of a great leader?

Leadership =?

  • Great communication: A great leader doesn’t just talk, doesn’t just tell you the plan; they inspire you to want to achieve that plan. But how do they do that? What makes a message more than a message? It is all in how a message is communicated, which takes a careful understanding of the audience and the issue at hand. Be open and honest (more on that to come) and know how your audience prefers to receive information. For example, consultant, Hugh Livengood, pointed out that “effective leadership means using effective communication channels, including social media.”
  • Vision & Charisma:  Of course, a good vision and some charisma certainly don’t hurt the communication process. These are essential to motivating your employees to be part of a change. If you don’t have a vision that you believe in, that you are driving your organization towards, you may need to ask yourself what your role is. But just because you have a great vision, doesn’t mean everyone else is excited to be a part of it, and that’s where charisma really counts. “Displaying charismatic leadership is one of the most effective ways to boost everything from motivation and creativity to productivity and plain old satisfaction,” wrote Nick Tasler in his article on Bloomberg. Charisma takes emotion, a presence, confidence and ultimately an understanding of your audience (sound familiar?). However, it is important to remember that charisma should not come at the cost of authenticity.
  • Authenticity: Transparency and authenticity are a tenet of my own leadership style. That is because people can tell when you’re not being honest. They will recognize and respect a leader who is real, who admits when things aren’t great and explains the whole picture. When employees understand the impact of their actions and the underlying drivers, they are more likely to perform better.
  • Courage: As Founder of the BTM Institute, Faisal Hoque said, “authentic leadership requires courage.” And that’s not all that takes courage as a leader. It takes courage to be passionate about your vision. It takes courage to face critics and to keep going. It takes courage to realize you are wrong and to make changes. Leadership is about having the courage to take many calculated risks and not be afraid of the results.

That brings me to our final topic from the tweetchat; can leadership be learned or is it an innate quality? Rather than tell you my personal opinion. I’d like to hear what you think. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


5 thoughts on “What is leadership?

  1. Leadership can be learned. Having good role models and mentors to learn from is helpful. I’m still working on my vision and charisma.

  2. Pingback: Friday Fast Tip: Be passionate | Monday Musings: Work, Life and Leadership

  3. Pingback: Great Leaders: You, Not Me | Monday Musings: Work, Life and Leadership

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