When you look up the Oxford Dictionary definition of “leader” it says:
a person who leads a group of people, especially the head of a country, an organisation, etc. a person or thing that is the best, or in first place in a race, business, etc.
That is the technical definition. But surely there are other definitions? Leadership means different things to different people. I would suggest that a leader is someone who influences others towards achieving a goal. Someone who motivates and inspires.
We see influencers every day within our communities and in the media - on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube etc. Many are celebrities or figureheads, but most are thought leaders or people that have an opinion or expertise in an area that they have built up over time. They didn’t wait to be given a title before expressing opinions and inspiring followers.
Every day we each display leadership in our normal lives - within our families, in the community or in our work. Yet most of the time we don’t see it as leading. Leadership is an opportunity that is open to us all - it doesn’t always have to be on a grand scale or mean changing the world.
The success of an organisation is linked to the people within it. At all levels they have to assume leadership otherwise things don’t get done – teams need to be motivated, talent has to be nurtured and decisions need to be made.
Here is the important distinction though - a leader and a manager are not always one and the same.
Leadership doesn’t automatically “happen” when someone gets a promotion to a senior position. Leaders don’t necessarily make good managers.
So, what are the qualities of a leader then?
The ability to have an impact comes from who you are and how you show your personality and integrity inspires trust. We have all heard the saying: people do business with people they know, like and trust. It might be a cliché but there is a lot of truth in it. Avoiding gossips and unnecessary banter sets you apart as someone of good character. Treat people how you would want to be treated.
Taking the time to connect with colleagues and clients through work projects and deepening those connections through coffee and lunch meetings builds stronger relationships. People need to know who you are and what you can do before they are willing to be persuaded or influenced. Being a connector is also a good way to widen your sphere of influence - putting people in touch with each other helps them foster great relationships and creates social capital for you.
3. Personal Excellence:
- This is leading by example - having the right attitude, which can be:
- Doing more than is required - adding value rather than clock watching
- Shifting from the blame game and taking personal responsibility
- Taking the initiative and asking for more responsibility
- Having self-awareness - understanding how others see you
- Being approachable and willing to listen
- Showing enthusiasm for your work - it can be contagious!
4. Speaking Up:
Having the courage to speak up when others are afraid to upset the familiarity of the status quo helps drive change. Too often people sit in meetings wanting to ask questions but don’t for fear of appearing disruptive. Become an effective communicator. Challenge with tact and respect where appropriate - don’t wait for others to do it.
You can lead through mentoring others, even if it isn’t in your job description. Helping someone get further along in their career reflects well on you and is hugely valuable for the other person. As is acknowledging what others do and encouraging them.
Leadership is about stepping up and making a positive difference - for you personally and those around you.
Showing leadership even when it is not expected can lead to opportunities - showcasing your leadership skills and creating a great reputation for yourself helps pave the way to senior positions because you are putting your head above the parapet. Think of it as conditioning training in the gym before a sporting challenge.
If you are an aspiring senior manager, CEO or board member you can show leadership before you get there. If you are already there - how will you coach and mentor others? Nurturing and developing talent in this way will ensure there will always be people ready and willing for promotion.