Leadership is a hot topic these days, and there is an overwhelming wealth of books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc. on the subject. In this article I’ll try to separate the wood from the trees and get back to first principles.
It seems as if everyone has something to say about leadership, and there is no doubt that there is a lot of great material out there. But with so much material, it can be difficult at times to separate the good from the bad, or the essential from the peripheral. From time to time, then, even a leadership guru can find it helpful to go back to basics to think about what really matters when it comes to great leadership.
Consider a Simple Leadership Scenario
In his audio programme, “Extraordinary Leadership”, Robin Scharma mentions in passing a basic leadership scenario that we’ll can use to help us sort out the leadership principles that really matters from the irrelevant or down-right unhelpful. The beauty of this scenario is that it has all the basic elements of leadership but without all the distractions. So, what is it?
Remember at school when you were were all asked to line up at the classroom door before going off somewhere else? To the hall or the gym or out to play? Remember how someone was always appointed to head up the line? Everyone else was expected to follow the leader like ducklings following mother-duck. On a good day, the leader would lead the class to the appointed destination and all would be right with the world.
Now, based on this scenario, what can we learn about the characteristics of a successful leader?
You’re a Leader
At school I tried to avoid leading the class. I found it easier just to tag along behind the more confident kids. But it turns out that, despite my reticence, even I got to be leader sometimes. Some days, my teacher would put me up front anyway – perhaps because she thought it would be good for me. And of course, I often had to lead myself – perhaps taking a message to another teacher or taking the register down or, quite frequently, taking myself off to the toilet. Indeed, we all get to be leader sometimes, even if it isn’t a role to which we’re drawn. But that’s OK because all humans are born leaders – it just takes some of us a little longer to realise that than others.
As the Leader, You Need to Take Your Place
Now, the whole classroom line thing doesn’t really work very well if the leader doesn’t take their place up front. No matter their qualifications for the role, the whole thing falls apart if they’re too busy messing about to take up the role that the teacher has given them. So go on, step up to the front. You know you’re ready, and everyone is waiting for you!
A Leader Listens for the Destination
To be a successful leader at school, you needed to listen to the teacher to find out where you were supposed to be going. Similarly, in life and in business, you need to take the trouble to understand your goals.
Many people in business and in life have little idea what they’re actually trying to achieve. Sure, they can tell you that they want to “make money”, or that they “just want to be happy”, The problem is, however, that these aren’t really a destinations. Money and happiness are by-products of perusing a worthy goal. So, when you say you want to be happy, what sort of happy do you have in mind? Because I’ll bet that truly happy won’t happen until you loose yourself in something that is bigger than you are. And when you say that you want your business to make money, what kind of value will you offer to get it?
If you’re not sure, listen. The answers are there, so be quiet a moment and listen.
A Leader Picks the Route
The class leader needs to be someone who knows the school well enough to navigate from their classroom to the place where they’re going.
Again, there are a lot of people in this world who can name their ideals destination, but who have no idea how to close the gap between their current situation and their desired outcomes.
A good leader needs both vision and strategy. A good leader will be able to re-plan when obstacles get in the way, like that other class that’s also on the move. The best way to do this is simply to get to know the environment in which you’re leading. Don’t just learn the way to the loo, but take notice of your surroundings, ask about the places that the corridors go, volunteer for activities that will take you places you’ve never been before.
The Leader Goes First
A leader is the person who goes somewhere first. That means that, as the leader, you don’t get to tag along, following the crowd. You don’t get to fit in with the masses, to blend in with the sheep. You don’t get to be lazy.
No, as a leader, your job is to go ahead of others. Your role requires that you make progress so that you can help others find their way. And I have to tell you, that takes courage, because you have to stand out, to take a risk and follow through on your convictions.
As the Leader You Need to Get Moving
Leaders aren’t passive, they’re active. They do something. That line of children isn’t going anywhere unless the leader gets moving.
So, what are you waiting for? If you wait too long they’ll get fidgety and lose interest. Then, when you do move, you’re likely to lose a few because they’ll be taken by surprise. So, come on, everyone is ready. Let’s get going!
Be the Leader
Well, there you have it. The class is waiting for you, you know where you’re going and you know how to get there. So, go ahead and take your place. Then make like mother-duck and lead the way!