Leadership. It’s a word that’s bandied around a lot, especially of late. It was referred to repeatedly during the Federal Election, I’ve read it in several articles this week thanks to the media coverage of the US Government shut down, and I’ve even heard it used (albeit loosely) to describe the likes of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber (though admittedly in each of these cases I can’t really account for the quality of leader that is being discussed). For a word so pervasive its definition seems to escape people so easily.
Why is leadership such a hard concept for people to understand? And what is it that separates a good leader from a not-so-good leader? Some leadership qualities seem so obvious that any school kid can spot it, so why is it so hard for multiple degree-qualified, 40-something year old executives to nail? Heck, I remember facilitating peer support sessions where 14 year olds had a better understanding of leadership than some of the 41 year old managers I work with on a daily basis.
Leadership seems to be a hot topic at work right now, so when I came across this TED talk a couple of months ago, I was really tempted to send the link around to my fellow people-managers. I haven’t yet… probably my fear of being too “preachy” at work. There are also some bits of Simon Sinek’s talk I don’t agree with completely. Yet though his example of Apple seems a little dated, the fundamental message of his talk rings true:
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
Oh that word: why. I actually think the mark of a disingenuous leader is fear of the question, “why?”. Leaders (or anyone really, regardless of the title in their LinkedIn profile) who fear having to explain their motives fail to be effective leaders.
Leaders Individuals who hide their motives behind power-play games and turf wars lose credibility and end up frustrating – not inspiring – the people around them. They underestimate humanity’s unique ability to read between the lines and decode behaviour. It doesn’t take long before the “game” becomes obvious and people walk away in frustration and disenchantment. Games like that are destructive and a waste of time… yet every day I meet more and more people who’ve worked their way up the chain into line management and are convinced they have to play the game to be effective. And yet evidence abounds that the opposite is true.
People with credibility are effective. People with integrity are effective. People who treat other people with respect (and not just puppets in a power-play game) are effective. And those people – the credible, respectful people who know the value of integrity – are the good leaders. The one-in-a-million leaders. The type of leader who gets people to follow, not because they crack the whip, but because they give people a compelling enough reason. The type of leader who is unafraid of answering “why?”.
“Why” sets direction. “Why” establishes purpose. It provides evidence for someone to make a decision to choose one way over another. It’s what makes someone drop what they’re doing to listen. Or change their current course to follow. It’s the “why” that moves. It inspires. It motivates. And without a genuine motive, there will be no motivation. Or no sustainable motivation anyway.
Anyway it’s late, and not the right time to be soap-boxing. I’m a little behind on this week’s Ted Talk Tuesday. But here it is anyway… coz it’s Tuesday in some other part of the world. 😉