Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What Does It Mean to Be a Leader?

One of the biggest challenges of leadership occurs when you try to understand what it means to be a leader. Whether you’re a manager, head of a movement or the CEO, you are bombarded with leadership principles that may or may not have merit. Those principles are categorized by time period, title, what’s good, what’s bad, gender, etc. I ask that you consider all of these categories are simply
someone’s conversation about leadership. They are not facts that are written in stone. 

Yet, even though there is a wide range of conversations about what leadership is, there are still people who are uncomfortable serving as a leader. And there are others who don’t do a good job as a leader.

Perhaps it is the fact that there is an overwhelmingly large network of conversations that pontificate “the right way” to lead. For example, some philosophies say the leader is supposed to be the smartest person in the organization. In others, they should be an intimidating person. They are believed to have the right answer when everyone is stuck. They should always be confident, tough, shrewd, etc. The list goes on ad nauseam. As a result, people spend more time trying to figure out whether or not they are getting it right, instead of providing effective leadership. If you consider this, you start to understand why so many people are challenged by the role of leader.

If you have studied leadership and the infinite permutations, there is a chance you are more confused with the limitless possibilities for who you should be and what you are supposed to do. While you have answers to the question of what leadership means, you still face many situations for which there are no solutions in sight.

Perhaps the very problem is the question: what does it mean to be a leader? As long as we ask the question, we will depend on someone else’s conversation to give us the answer. There lies the problem.

Leadership is something you become. Asking what does it mean is analogous to asking what it means to be you.  Whether you know who you are or not, you are still you. While no one can definitively tell you who you are, it is possible to know how you became who you are. If you understand how you arrived where you are, you can choose to stay the same or to become a different person.

If you look closely, you became whom you are as a result of a sequence of events that occurred throughout your life. You made choices as a result of those situations and shaped your personality and thought processes because of them. If for some reason you don’t like who you have become, you can undo what you have become by choosing a new path. However, you will first have to know who you would like to be and what you would like to accomplish. Without that understanding, you are feeling your way through the dark and depending on luck.

The process of becoming the leader you want to be is analogous to becoming the ‘you’ that you want to be. For example, if you want a culture of ‘yes men’ in your organization, always being the smartest person in the room could help you get there. If you want a collaborative culture, you have to be collaborative and reward people for their collaborative efforts.

Ultimately, no one can tell you what it means to be a leader. Just as no one can tell you what it means to be you. In both cases, you have the possibility to make it up or invent a network of conversations for the kind of leader you are committed to being.

However, if there is one common theme amongst leaders, it is that they are committed to making that which would not have happened without them being there, happen.

What kind of leader do you want to be? What steps will you take to develop yourself into that leader? 

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.

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