Lessons on Leadership

glass chess set

I spent some time this week with the kids discussing Leadership, and what are the attributes of the great leaders. By listing these attributes and making them known, the children know what is expected of them now, and in the future. The main points that came out of this are as follows;

  1. Great leaders are not necessarily the most popular, and the most popular leaders are not necessarily the greatest leaders.
  2. A great leader is someone who takes a stand, and who is prepared to defend that position.
  3. A great leader has integrity. A great leader would never do something that he wouldn’t be able to go home and explain to his children. He cannot be bribed or lobbied to change his position on a subject just because he is offered money or status.
  4. A great leader has consistency. You have to be able to change with the times, and change when your role changes, but you shouldn’t be turning around every month and picking up the latest fads and fashionable causes.
  5. A great leader gives credit. If an employee comes up with a great idea, a great leader will make sure that everyone else knows.
  6. A great leader recruits better people than himself. “If you employ your successor, you’ll never be succeeded” (me, 2008). If you employ great people, you can rise in the organization because you are no longer indispensable.
  7. A great leader is willing to admit mistakes. There’s a famous saying; “If you’ve never made a mistake, you’ve never made anything at all.” We all get things wrong; or the people working for us get things wrong. But that’s not the issue; it’s what you do about it. You can spend you efforts trying to fix the blame on someone else, or you can admit fault, and spend your efforts on trying to fix the error. Fix the problem, or fix the blame. A great leader will fix the problem, and admitting an error rather than hiding it will engender great loyalty in followers.
  8. A great leader is decisive. He will listen, and then act. All great leaders need a small group of trusted advisers (Hello Kat, if you’re reading!); this group will have many of the same attributes as a great leader, but will also be specialists in their particular fields. When giving advice, their loyalty will be to the leader, not to any outside source. When taking advice, the great leader will listen to all viewpoints, then make HIS decision, and stand by it.

It’s a tall order to match all these requirements, which is why there are so few leaders in today’s society – at all levels.

Note that we didn’t include anything about technical ability in the above. For most jobs out there, technical ability can be purchased; you want to be a great CIO? Employ great technicians. Yes, you’ll need a broad understanding of a business area, but that can come from your team of advisers. In fact, if you have too much technical ability in a field you’ll need to be aware of the tendency to become more of a manager than a leader, because you’ll often think that you can do it better than the people who work for you.

So, is a manager a leader?

All leaders must be managers, because they have people and things to manage (companies, states, countries). A manager is rarely a leader – we have far more managers than leaders, and often a manager is just a trained expert. In many companies, experts in certain areas end up as managers because that’s the only way the company can think to reward them; so instead of having highly paid experts doing a world-class job, they end up with highly paid experts who are managing other experts – something they neither want to do, or are trained to do. This leads to the Peter Principle (named after Dr. Laurence J. Peter, not Peter Connolly!), which is that every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. Employees are rewarded with promotions as they do well in a company, until they reach a position in which they are not a success, and whereby their career stalls.

Managers are taught. Leaders are born.

True, but a born leader in the wrong environment will take much longer to come to the fore, and may even be a bent leader. A person taught to be a leader from a young age will succeed to some degree and have some amount of influence. If we get a born leader who is raised correctly, we will have a (literal) world leader on our hands.