If someone were to ask, who are (y)our leaders, how would you respond? Most people would probably say the president, their supervisor or unit lead, the owner of the company they work for. But does a position of authority or superiority automatically imply leadership?
No. Positions like these imply only supervision, not leadership. There’s a difference. Supervision is signing timesheets, making sure everyone performs adequately, making sure projects get accomplished in designated timeframes, and so forth. It’s no small feat to be a good supervisor – but that in and of itself does not make one a leader.
Leadership is a set of tempermental and personality traits. Personally, I believe you either possess them or you don’t – they aren’t something to be acquired. And if you have them, what do you do with them? How do you mold them into being a good leader? Because, of course, there are bad leaders too.
What are some of these traits?
Ethics. A sense of right and wrong is key to effective leadership. Liars and hypocrites generally don’t cut the mustard – just ask Governor Blagojevich. People don’t respect people like that, especially hypocrites. True ethics lead one to walk the walk, and that means something to the followers.
Conviction. Now, I don’t mean the kind of conviction that causes one to completely write off other opinions because they’re different, as exhibited by certain politicians. I’m talking about knowing what you stand for, knowing what’s right (see ethics), and standing up for those things. A true leader wouldn’t change his (or her) story when the tides turned against him.
Compassion. Marie Antoinette didn’t curry any favor with her “let them eat cake” comment. A good leader understands the problems and struggles of his people, and doesn’t just pay lip service to them. He must project a sincere sense of caring and empathy, and set an example by being proactive in solving those problems. After all, we are all humans, and as they say, “there but for the grace of god go I…..”
Decision making. Yep, being a Decider is actually a good thing. No good leader shrinks from making a decision. However, a good leader makes informed decisions, weighs all sides of an issue before weighing in. To use Picard as example yet again: when faced with a difficult situation, Picard asks his staff for “Suggestions!” (asks being a euphemism for commands). Each person offers a suggested solution, Picard considers them all, then selects one. No one is upset if Picard didn’t choose his suggestion, because he knows that he was heard.
Respect. A good leader respects his people. This is where Machiavelli got it wrong. It is far better to rule with love and respect than fear or disdain. Cuz if you do the latter, your subjects will turn on you the first chance they get (ask Ms. Antoinette). Think about your parents: were you really ok with the “because I said so” answer, or did you prefer it when they gave you a real answer, one that respected your intelligence and human dignity?
I could probably go on and on with this list. Perhaps you’d like to post some of your own. The key is not to confuse the position with the person. A supervisor may or may not be a leader. Machiavelli wasn’t a leader, he was a strategist. Caesar, however, was both. What are you?
Not everyone possesses inherent leadership qualities, and that’s ok. We all have different talents. If you’re a supervisor but feel you want more leadership skills, there are some great training courses out there. If you recognize your latent leadership abilities but aren’t sure what to do with them, you can take one of said classes – or find a leader in your organization whom you admire and get some mentorship going. Or do what I did, and find some historical examples to follow.