February 6, 2010

Why Be Led By You?

To be a great leader, you have to have the qualities that make others want to be led by you. Obviously, a leader without followers can’t lead anything.

A classic article in Harvard Business Review called “Why should Anyone Be Led By You?” by Goffee and Jones starts this way: “If you want to silence a room of executives try this small trick. Ask them, ‘why would anyone want to be led by you?’”…without fail, the response is a sudden hush. All you can hear are knees knocking.”

It’s humorous, but also right on. There are lots of people out there who are appointed, anointed, or otherwise advanced to positions of responsibility over others, but this does not make them leaders. To be a leader, a person must not ‘rule’ by authority alone, but by their ability to move people and organizations to greatness.

Most people say that what makes a leader is vision. And yes that is a vital trait, but there is a lot more—here are some others that differentiate the real leaders from the frauds:

· Wisdom—having the knowledge as well as ability to apply it to the specific situation. A leader knows what to do and when to do it. There is an implication of timely and relevant action. Finally, wisdom implies openness to new ideas and ways of doing things—innovation—and the customer-centric application of those.

· Integrity—a leader is reasonable, upright and equitable in his dealing with others. In contrast, corruption, dishonesty, greed, and nepotism undermine the very fabric of leading by example and preclude the possibility of creating a better world. Following a leader with integrity of being and of purpose is inherently meaningful and just.

· Compassion—some people call it empathy, but it is really more than just feeling for others, it is feeling altogether. It includes having the passion and determination to help the people and the organization innovate, modernize, and transform while being sensitive and responsive to all stakeholders affected.

· Humaneness—a leader is human being subject to frailties and failures, and is not to be confused with G-d (although some seem to think themselves almost nothing short of divine). Understanding that we all have weakness and vulnerabilities is critical to accepting risks, mistakes, and learning from these and growing past them. While we should demand and strive for excellence, we cannot expect perfection at every turn.

· Harmony—leading people means creating harmony between competing and conflicting people and points of view, so the organization can move forward in unity of purpose and the strength the comes with it. Often the biggest obstacle to success is not the competition, but the division or fighting from within. A leader brings people together and synergizes them so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

· Communication—While people are sensitive to non-verbal cues, they are not telepathic, so clear, consistent, and compelling communication is essential to building the common vision and action plans to achieve the goals set out upon. A gifted, articulate leader can move people to action with urgency, purpose, and undying belief that neither reward nor retribution alone could rouse.

A leader with these six traits does not need to worry next time someone asks them “why should anyone be led by you?” The answer for them is clear.


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