Since leadership involves working with other people, personalities and types in various situations, it is complex, but leadership itself is not complicated. You don’t need to read a thousand publications or have a Ph.D. to be an effective leader; in fact, having a Ph.D. may put you at an extreme leadership disadvantage. Leadership is elementary – in fact, it’s not even that hard.
Walk into any pre-school classroom and within minutes, you’ll easily identify who is the 30-inch, four-year-old leader. Now, obviously, this kid didn’t attend some elite, global leadership summit to learn the five secret strategies, 20 principles or 13 leadership musts of being a great leader. So, how is it possible that this pre-schooler – who likely can’t even read – can easily be identified as a genuine leader? Simple: this pre-schooler demonstrates the one must have of leadership in any setting – especially business.
Challenging the Mindset:
Heads-up – the one must have of leadership is NOT communication skills as our pre-schooler can barely form complete sentences. Neither is it passion, listening skills, intellect, happiness, life-balance, interpersonal skills, experience, empathy, teamwork, self-confidence or any other “go to” answer used to describe leaders. In essence, there is no “it factor” for being an effective leader. Consider that within the wide body of leadership literature, there is not a shred of evidence indicating a commonly threaded trait or characteristic rooted in the psyche of history’s great leaders. Rather, exceptional leaders vary in their styles and approaches: the tempered demeanor of President Abraham Lincoln contrasts to the bombastic leadership approach of President Teddy Roosevelt. And certainly, President Trump’s direct leadership flair starkly contrasts from President Obama’s more casual approach.
So, there is no common “it factor” among leaders; but, there is one must have of any leader – followers. By mere definition, a leader must have followers. President Dwight Eisenhower put it this way, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want because he wants to do it.” In other words, a leader must have followers! And, sorry, your social media followers don’t count – research shows many of our social media “followers” are just being friendly when they connect with us (and in some cases are even foes and trolls).*
Now, before you say, “I have lots of followers,” please understand there’s a great divide between having followers and having prisoners. It’s an acute distinction I share with my clients that is rooted in two common leadership mis-steps:
- Managers who believe their title actually entitles them to followers.
- Subject matter experts who believe their knowledge commands followers.
I’ve lost track of how many times a resident expert within a company claims to be a leader based on the fact that, “people come to me all the time on their own.” Yes, people may often seek out the “expert.” but that’s because they have to; it doesn’t necessarily mean they want to. Note: this is where having a Ph.D. could actually put one at a leadership disadvantage if intellect is confused with influence.
About 10 years ago, a young consultant revolutionized a world-renowned firms’ hundred year-old business model renewing its approach and success in the marketplace. This rising star was ranked as one of the best within the global firm. Colleagues would approach this producer to learn and enhance their own techniques and performance. The consultant – feeling extremely valued – believed his successful track-record and popularity signaled his arrival as a leader. But, to his surprise, when reaching out to his colleagues for information or resources, they were often reluctant to engage and help him. This is because they found the young subject matter expert to be obnoxious, arrogant and, at times, even unhelpful. In essence, they only engaged me because they had to – they certainly didn’t want to deal with me. Talk about a punch in the gut – thinking I had mastered the art of leadership only to realize I hadn’t even begun.
Performance Mindset and Development:
Would you rather have followers or prisoners? Decades of research and business case studies show increases in performance, productivity and a positive culture when the shift from prisoners to followers happens. If it doesn’t happen – well, aren’t prisoners always looking for ways to escape and undermine the system? Can your business afford talent that is looking to escape or employees who are demoralized.
So, to be a true leader, ask yourself each day how you can get more of the only must have of leadership – followers!
*Dunbar, Robin. The Royal Society Publishing: Oxford Univeristy:
January 2016: http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/3/1/150292