Written by Dave on February 7, 2012
I most usually start leadership development training by asking delegates “what is leadership?” or “define leadership” and I record their responses on a flipchart. My aims being to obtain some understanding of delegates’ pre training perspective whilst getting them to begin thinking about the subject matter. The recorded responses become integral to the training as they are referred to at different stages. If you have time and are so inclined try the exercise yourself; recording your responses on a blank piece of paper. On completion of recording the responses I invite delegates to note their responses fall into three broad categories; namely, behaviours, personal attributes and job related skills / knowledge. I then record ‘b’, ‘a’ or ‘s’ beside each response, as appropriate, and often these are not mutually exclusive, especially behaviours and attributes. Without exception to date the majority responses are behaviours with some attributes and an occasional skill or knowledge related response. Similar results are obtained by asking delegates to describe ‘a good leader’. So how does such a list correlate to any text book definitions of leadership? Try the exercise and find out for yourself.
We define leadership simply as the ability to influence and motivate others to perform successfully. ‘Measured’ against this definition the significance and importance of behaviour and personal attributes is immediately apparent, especially when considering leadership at all levels, including peer group and self leadership. This is also a definition of leadership which makes no presumption of authority to lead and acknowledges people are not necessarily motivated best by the application of authority. To understand this more fully I ask you to think about the best leader you have personal experience of in getting the most from you in terms of fulfilling your potential. Then reflect on how he or she achieved this. My guess is it was achieved by more ‘carrot’ less ‘stick’ and a good deal of ‘lead by example’ than anything to do with application of authority. Should you choose to do so, it is likely you will find the converse to be true; that is, your worst leadership experience was most likely very authoritarian and fraught with poor behaviour and bad examples.
Leadership without authority – the ability to influence and motivate others to perform successfully is dependent upon balancing behaviour underpinned by personal attributes with some skills and knowledge. Interestingly, skills and knowledge are rarely raised as significant when considering leadership. The leadership conundrum being we as a society tend to promote our leaders on the basis of having proven their skills and knowledge but their relative success will depend upon their behaviour and attributes. The leadership challenge is the difficulty of dealing with and changing behaviour and behaviour related issues; especially ones own.
One final ‘exercise’ to demonstrate my point. Consider all the high profile ‘bad leadership’ stories in the media at present; what are the common denominators, behaviours, personal attributes or professional skills and knowledge?