Perhaps the most widely discussed and written about topic in management is leadership. I have heard and read many definitions of leadership, though it seems that there is generally an attempt to distill this important factor of work life into a universal definition.
The basic question that I ask when answering whether I consider someone a leader or not is whether people are following them. I would like to address the concept of leadership through presenting the aspects of: going first, credibility and competence.
A leader knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. I read this on a poster somewhere but was so captivated by its simplicity, accuracy and directness that I have not forgotten this explanation of leadership. A manager cannot always be someone who has performed the same tasks or handled the same challenges as their staff but in my view, should be someone who has walked a parallel path.
Many good leaders have a significant depth of experience and the battle scars to go with it. They have "gone the way" and can relate lessons learned to others. Going first also defines a leader who goes first in their mind. This would be someone who has the skill and foresight to see pitfalls beforehand and prepare for them. Going first can also be defined as an individual who is a natural leader and exhibits the willingness to forge ahead and guide those around them. They have a vision that makes sense to others and the desire to see that vision come to pass.
Servant leadership is exemplified by someone who puts others first. This type of person is interested in the success of the individual and the success of the organization. A servant leader is someone who has been there and has the type of personality and character to want to help others reach their potential.
They lead by example with the willingness to assist others around them with what needs to be done. This example of leadership brings to mind the type of person who will not ask others to do what they themselves would not. Servant leadership is contrasted by leaders who desire power and success for themselves.
Even natural leaders need training. Managers need to be skilled in delegation and balancing workloads for their staff. This requires the ability to effectively direct projects and tasks without taking on too much work themselves. It is important to see the big picture and then break it down into strategy and tactics evenly through an individual department or group.
Competency also involves gaining an understanding of how each individual in a group works best and the environment best suited for them. It is also necessary for a leader to be willing to engage in continuous learning opportunities to stay in tune with the organization and to develop greater expertise. Training is essential in order to bring out the best in a leader.
Leadership is a topic that has been written and spoken about extensively. The main goal of a leader is to desire the success of the organization and its people. Though there are many definitions, leadership encompasses a combination of all. I believe that the question that a person should ask themselves is not whether they are leading but rather are they being followed?