In our work with The Crossroad, we have discovered that people have very diverse ideas of what it means to be a leader. Like so many things, definitions are important. What are we thinking of when we talk about leading? What mental images and expectations are cloaking the concept of influencing others?
We have encountered a lot of poor conceptions of leadership and a few great ones. Here are the three ways we have observed people think about what it means to lead, how to cipher which you might be holding to, and how to evaluate their effectiveness.
Far and away, the most prominent way people internalize leadership as “the one who is in charge”. The one who gets to decide what to do and have people follow and serve whatever idea or mission the leader has conceived.
This type of mindset is usually based on two things. The first is power. We want a sense of control. We want things to go our way, to drive the car. And this, usually, is a result of wanting to experience a sense of purpose in one’s own life. A lot of authority-minded leaders are in their roles because they are assertive, get-it-done type. They are sure of themselves and people want to follow that. Authorities are most often “Type A” personalities who are very independent.
The problem with Authority-types is that they undervalue the need for interdependence. They often ask us, “how do I get my people to do what I need them to do?” Which is not a very inspiring reason for followers to comply. Authority types need to realize what they can and cannot control, the value of different ideas and perspectives, and that “because I said so” is not a very effective way to get people to do something (even if you are paying them or gave birth to them).
The second type of leader we come across is The Manager. This is a problem-solver. The type that runs around stressed about the squeakiest wheel or the issue of the day. They are symptom fighters. Manager types often come to us when things are going wrong. They want to keep the peace, uphold harmony, have things be okay (even if this costs us efficiency or truth). They don’t mind false-harmony as long as it looks good.
The problem with managers is that they often do not have a sense of vision. And people who are following them are picking up on it. Everyone is just getting by. Since all of us are most motivated by vision, by hopes of an imagined future, these types of environments always feel stale, even if the problems of the day are minor or relatively non-existent. That is really a manager’s dream. But since people need a mission, the drama and problem-solving becomes a mission. So the organization (could be a workplace or a romantic relationship) will never stay calm for too long – everyone realizes the whole place needs a problem to solve. If there is not an obvious one, someone will create one. It is the basis of their purpose. The Manager (in the context we are presenting it) is an internal contradiction.
Sure this is a bit of a copout, but we couldn’t think of a better term for the third type other than Leader. At The Crossroad, we are endeavoring to redefine effective leadership.
True leading requires two things: a clear sense of vision and for that vision to be shared among participants. A Leader is someone who empowers others to participate in the vision as co-owners. They are not working for the boss but with the leader.
The Leader influences but does not try to manipulate or control. They find a way to align the value of the unified mission with the personal value of each participant so that everyone becomes a shareholder in the purpose being pursued.
The difference between leader and authority is that leaders share and are We-vision-oriented. The difference between a leader and a manager is that leaders empower others to create according to their own sense of value rather than perform according to the leader’s.
In the end, leadership is hard to do. Sharing is complicated. Clarity is more mystical and elusive than it looks on paper. But The Leader pursues all of these things as both teacher and learner, servant and guide.