This should probably have been the first article of this blog really, but hey, better late than never.
For a lot of people leadership is a fuzzy concept. I know it was for me.
In fact it is common to have it blurred with culture and social values on top, and it sure makes it more challenging to imagining where to start to become good at it.
Leaders are like people performing magic tricks. We see the effect, label the performer as magician, but don’t know how they managed to do it in the first place.
For some people, leading is about having followers (no leaders without followers, right?), for others it’s about carrying a vision bigger than themselves. Everyone has a different definition based on expectation, mostly driven by society. I find those approaches difficult concepts to act upon as they are often consequences of good leadership, vary in time and from leader to leader.
Internet is not really helping here either with all those scam articles like “The 6 traits of successful leaders” or “5 habits great leaders have”, and so on… Those articles are flawed and pretty useless when it comes to becoming a leader yourself. If all good leaders happened to wear blue ties, wearing one will not make you a leader but a trend follower.
Would you say that Gandhi was a leader the same way that Steve Jobs was? Jobs was a total jerk, leading by fear, while Gandhi was full of humility. Finding common traits won’t get us very far.
Sure you can pick up a role model and try to emulate him or her, but looking at the end result will only get you so far, it can be inspirational but that’s about it really.
The definition I came up over the year and found helped me clarify my thinking is that leadership is the ability to influence people. That’s it. No more, no less. No magic.
That is probably not as glamour as having a grand vision, being a genius or having herculean perseverance in face of adversity, but it’s actionable and measurable.
If you think about it, having influence on people can be achieved by sharing a vision with them. It could also be done by demonstrating great confidence or great courage. See, now you can lead people with your style as long as it influences people.
Leading has no good or bad meaning. You can be a nasty leader, influencing with the tools of fear and arbitrary decisions, or a great leader, influencing with trust and empathy. You chose, but in both case, it is about influencing people: leadership.
Although I hope I simplified leadership to its simplest form, practicing leadership however is not easy and required great self-awareness and mastery, but it’s the subject of another article.