What does leadership mean to you?
This is one of the questions that I always ask my clients when we work on their leadership development. The answer to this question sets the tone of their approach to the leadership journey, and in some cases, it tells whether they are ready for (or interested in) that journey at all.
Through their answers something else often comes up as well, and it's what I call redefining leadership. Leadership is changing, and I believe it's changing for the better.
The top down and hierarchical leadership model we've seen in workplaces for many decades is becoming obsolete and certainly doesn't work anymore in today's world of hyperconnectivity, almost unlimited access to information, and where ideas are shared across the globe in a matter of a click. Innovating leaders are setting a new direction in the way organizations operate, and in the way people experience their job and the workplace.
Leadership is what makes the difference, and is also one of the most common reasons why people are not happy in their job. Marcus Buckingham says “people leave managers, not companies” and I find that if we want to create healthier and happier working environments, we need to provide the leaders in these environments with modern learning resources, right from the early stage of their leadership journey, that help them develop the mindset and leadership skills they need to lead, not manage. We need leaders who are eager to participate in that change, and set the example for their teams and other leaders around them.
Part of redefining leadership is recognising that your management or entrepreneurial title alone does not make you a leader. Authentic leadership is based on trust, open and effective communication, care, setting the example, courage, vision, and action. It’s influencing others in a way that makes them follow you because they want to, not because they have to.
Leadership is reflected in the leader's willingness and commitment to take their organisation, and the people who are part of it, out of the comfort zone, where they can continuously progress, innovate, find ways to do things better, and grow together. A leadership mindset is not “me, myself, and I”, it’s “we, us, together”.
People don’t become leaders the day they are given a title or when they start a business. That’s only the beginning of their journey. In fact, that journey begins a lot earlier. Great leaders (like many other great things in life) are not an overnight success. This is why it’s a journey.
Some people seem to have a natural ability for it, others not so much, but the good news is that leadership is a skill and, as long as there is a will, it can be learned and improved. It takes time, commitment, openness, and a strong ‘why’.
As Simon Sinek says “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. And I believe that why you do it is directly connected to who you are, which leads me to the last point of this article.
Leaders are first of all people. This means great leaders are first and foremost great people. They are leaders in and outside the workplace. Leadership is not some kind of separate entity from the person. It’s not a hat you put on when you enter the workplace. It is part of who you are and who you want to become, no matter where you are and what you do.
Great leaders are those people on a continuous journey to improve, progress, broaden their perspective, and make their journey about others, not just themselves. They know leadership is a privilege and a responsibility, not just a title.
This article is an invitation to you, to reflect on the meaning of leadership, in today's world of business and beyond, to question your assumptions, if any, and hopefully to inspire you to join me in redefining leadership.
So, what does leadership mean to you?