There is a lot said about leadership and being a leader. There is a plentitude of content on the internet, in the form of books and so much more. And yet, it is still a misunderstood and vague topic for many. Even the Dictionary and a Google Search give the vaguest and varied set of definitions for the term. More often than not, a leader is confused with and thought to be synonymous with a politician or a manager or a boss. A leader is thought to be a powerful person with a dominant personality and flamboyance. But it is not what leadership is about.
What is leadership? What do leaders do?
Leadership is the ability to turn vision into reality, as pointed out by Warren Bennis, a leadership expert. Leaders provide vision, in a world filled with uncertainty. They bring people together to accomplish common goals and objectives. They are result-oriented people who motivate and encourage people to work together and to their full potential. Leaders have a deep sense of empathy and they respect everyone. These are some qualities that leadership entails. But it does not mean that all leaders will possess all these qualities or that leaders cannot have other qualities.
From the above discussion, it is clear that leadership does not have a one-size-fits-all sort of a definition. This is where leadership styles come into play. Experts have categorized leadership into 12 leadership styles ranging from democratic to autocratic to laissez-faire to facilitative. Some leadership styles suit some people and some situations.
Some would argue that one has to be a born leader, but today, it is possible to learn and inculcate leadership qualities in oneself through leadership courses and leadership development programs that are available online and direct modes.
What should it mean to be a leader?
Leadership does mean different things to different people. Here, we would like to discuss what leadership should mean to you and what are the qualities that would make you a great leader.
Leadership is not about positions or titles: As we discussed earlier, it is a long-running misconception that links leadership with organizational hierarchies, seniority, positions and titles. Any person who takes initiatives and has the ability to influence people is a leader. So, in an organizational setup, a manager or a founder or a top-level executive may not necessarily be leaders and similarly, those who are not in such positions may be leaders because of their ability to bring people together for a common goal.
Leadership is tough: People often think a leader’s life is easy considering the kind of power and influence she wields, whether in organizations or in society. But leadership is tough and involves tricky decisions, politics, extreme pressure, etc. There will be situations when they are alone and must stand up for what they believe in. In such high-pressure circumstances, leaders need to be resilient and courageous to meet all the curve balls thrown at them. They must not succumb to the pressure and be able to rise above the negativity. By doing so, they will be able to keep the morale of their followers high and keep them focused on the common goals.
Leadership is not about the leader and it is important for leaders to keep their ego, thirst for fame and power and personal agendas aside. It is about bringing people together to achieve common goals and empowering others in the process. There may be times when there is a need to engage in activities that the leader may not subscribe to, but that are required for the larger good.
Leaders are innovators: Leadership is not just about following the rules and norms but questioning these norms and rules that do not serve the interest of the people at large. They agitate to change these rules to create a better future. Like we discussed earlier, they do so even if the journey is lonely and ridden with roadblocks.
Leadership is about respect: While there are no prescribed set of qualities that all leaders must possess, it is important that leaders are respectful. Respect manifests itself in the form of value, admiration and appreciation of people. It is visible in the leader’s actions and behaviour. Great leaders listen to their followers and show genuine concern. They are honest and stick to their commitments. They not only encourage open communication but create a conducive environment for it, thereby, promoting trust, awareness and better team dynamics.
Leaders are human too: Yes. They make mistakes and have shortcomings. But great leaders are transparent about their mistakes. They take feedback from their followers and incorporate them. Great leaders are humble.
In conclusion, it is possible for anyone to be a leader and display leadership skills, irrespective of their standing in an organization or lack of titles and seniority. If you want to develop your leadership skills, enrol yourself in a leadership course or a leadership development program.