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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Essence of Leadership

When many people think of a leader, images of an army general charging up a hill with troops in tow come to mind. Or images of a CEO making a passionate speech extolling the virtues of a product or policy position are conjured. Of course those both represent a certain kind of leadership. But most real leadership happens in small chunks; small moments without the limelight, drama or intensity that these images represent. Leadership happens in small and large meetings, in one-on-one encounters, in group activities, cubicles and boardrooms, and by many varied people regardless of title or status.

While it is complex, leadership comes down to few simple things.

Modeling behaviour. Leaders have an opportunity to model appropriate behaviour everyday. An organisation’s culture may be stated in its brochure, but it is reflected in its actions. When people working in an organisation see how leaders act in various situations, they gain understanding and appreciation of the company, its values, and its leadership. Obviously, this behaviour can be positive and reinforce the organisational culture, or it can send mixed messages.

Understanding the situation. Shooting from the hip rarely works in most situations. As a leader, one must understand the situation clearly enough to be helpful. Many times, the process of understanding the issue uncovers the potential solutions without leadership driving the decision process. People generally know what to do in most situations and may only need to be encouraged to think the problem through by talking with those involved. A leader’s role is to use the understanding process to encourage dialogue and the thought process of all involved.

Using the appropriate style. All situations are different and therefore different leadership styles must be employed that fit each situation. For instance, in times of crisis, where time is of the essence, a directive style might be most appropriate. In another situation, a supportive or coaching style might work best. An effective leader develops the skills and know-how to use the appropriate style for the situation.

Being proactive. It is so much easier to see a situation or issue arise and do nothing, hoping that it will resolve itself. But leadership is not a spectator sport. Leadership happens in the moment, when one is paying attention and is present. Be proactive and follow your instinct. Being proactive doesn’t necessarily mean suggesting solutions. Many times it means getting those involved to to recognise the situation and talk it through. Remember, leadership doesn’t mean one has the answers, but it does mean that one has the ability to see the issues before they arise. That is a leadership moment! 


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