Thoughts on Leadership

When in doubt, google. I found the definition for leadership from about.com – “Leadership, a critical management skill, is the ability to motivate a group of people toward a common goal.”

I would guess that this definition is innocuous enough, but I just can’t seem to completely agree. I know that a lot of people think that leaders are great motivators. While this may be one of the by-products of leadership, I have always maintained that great leaders do not motivate others but create the environment whereby self-motivated people will be able to flourish.

In other words, to be an effective leader entails two very simple concepts that are easy to list but very difficult to implement. The first thing a great leader does is to chose the right people. There are a few things to look for when choosing your team. Does the person have inner motivation? Does the person have some kind of passion? If you are a business person hiring a janitor, for example, do that person show some innate enthusiasm or sense of pride in the work of keeping things clean and in good repair? In my field of software development, should you hire the person who has grabbed the most certifications (showing the desire for minimum qualifications) or the person who might be less-seasoned but has taken initiative to learn things on their won in the past? Is the person a follower or a leader? Chose the leaders because you will need more than just your own leadership. Leaders not only can lead but they can be led. Choose people who see problems and solve them. Don’t choose people who are looking for someone else to tell them how to do everything.

Once you have wisely chosen the right type of person, stay out of their way. Provide the soil in which they will grow. Give them the chance to succeed. Help them to learn. I always tell my people that I really cannot do anything to motivate you, but I sure as hell can do things not to motivate you. Most managers do things to sap motivation. Once a self-motivated person has been de-motivated, you may have to just let them go on their merry way. Do not micro-manage. Know what they are capable of and offer support when needed. Realize that some folks have to learn by trying and failing. Let them experiment and fail in a controlled environment. Allow them to learn and grow from their experience. Challenge them. People like challenges and if you haven’t de-motivated them, they will rise to the challenge. Trust your people to do the right thing.

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.

George S. Patton

Most importantly, lead by example. Never expect anyone to do something that you would not do. Pitch in when you can as long as by doing so you don’t get in their way. Have integrity. Always do the right thing even if it is not popular or leads to short term loss. In the long term your consistency will pay huge dividends. Leadership is all about consistency. Some say that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” but they are not only wrong, but have misquoted as well. Emerson said that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Then again, who the hell would be foolishly consistent? Not a true leader.

One more thing. Never forget to be brutally honest – with yourself. Your people will make mistakes and they need to acknowledge and own them. You have to do the same. Being a great leader is not about always being right and never making mistakes. Being a great leader involves realizing when you have made mistakes, acknowledging them and then correcting them (funny how this is exactly what a leader would expect from their own people).

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

Peter F. Drucker

If you ever wonder what motivates people and how you can be the best leader you can be, please read Drive. It is all about motivation. Once you finish this wonderful book you will realize that while about.com is right about leadership being a critical management skill that involves getting people to work toward a common goal, they misspoke when they said a leader motivates.

Any other thoughts on leadership are welcome.

Categories: Blog, Leadership

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