Advance & Engage:
In defense of the honorable art of management
Improving results by integrating management with leadership (IML)
Thoughts about LinkedIn article “Why most definitions of leadership are wrong”
I found the article “Why most definitions of leadership are wrong”, interesting as a perspective. From my experience, effective leadership is personal and direct. Leaders advance, engage and get the job done. They are persistent to reach their objective. They focus on the “prize” and are able to compel others to their “mountain top”.
Stereotypes are convenient for they require little thought and investigation. The leadership stereotype emphasizes personability, directness, and inspiration. In many cases this is exactly the case. But these features are not necessary conditions to leadership.
I recently reviewed the consensus-choice of the top ten United States Presidents and found that over history, there have been more introverts than extroverts. Extroverts derive their “mojo” from other people and are often the stereotype for the leadership-type. This finding about U.S. presidential leadership is consistent with the article’s theme “We don’t need to be extroverted or charismatic to practice leadership.”
For some reason, we often seem to compare leaders to managers as a dichotomy. The first is often a “good” while the latter is more pejorative, maybe a necessary, uninspiring component of every organization. Since my life’s work has been management, I disagree. My view is that in the circumstances producing the most successful results, leadership and management are woven into an effective and efficient whole. When developing within a working group, team or organization, the practitioner should endeavor to develop skills that integrate mangement with leadership towards a successful synthesis. (See Amendoon associates, http://amendoon.net/?page_id=78
The article determines that managers address “things”. This is incorrect because managers operate systems not “things”. Organizational systems have been established for consistency and to assure there is the oversight, efficiency and continuity to reach that “mountain top”. Systems exist to implement standards of “fairness” and accountability, necessary to overcome the perceived favoritism and exceptionalism implicit in the politics that often resides side-by-side with “direction” and “inspiration” in the tool-bag of the “great leader”.
The “great leader”, similar to the “philosophy king” of old, is a beautiful construct. In all practical application, however, they are few and very far apart, if existent at all. Certainly there is not always a “critical mass” of great leaders that will move and empower our institutions – the military, federal, state, and local government, education, business both large and local, etc.
To address this and to assure organizational consistency and the skills necessary to maintain our institutions, we establish systems and train managers to tend and care for their metaphorical gardens. It is interesting that the article dismisses the gardener as an inappropriate metaphor for the leader. In General Stanley McChrystal’s new book Teams of Teams, this well regarded combat leader of soldiers presents the gardener as an example for the leader
Gardeners plant and harvest, but more than anything, they tend. Plants are watered, beds are fertilized, and weeds are removed. Long days are spent walking, humid pathways or on sore knees examining fragile stalks. Regular visits by good gardeners are not pro forma gestures of concern – they leave the crop stronger. So it is with leaders. (emphasis added) General Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams New Rules of Engagement for A Complex World.
While the definition of leadership offered by the article: “Leadership is a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of a greater good,” offers some insight, but is uninspiring. The article is flawed because of the dichotomy it defines between leadership and management is not necessarily a fact. In its statement, the definition needs to be more direct and more inclusive.
Leadership is getting the job done through others by an inspired organizational effort. Normally, it involves empowerment and development and the leader always endeavors to advance in a direction and engage. There are various techniques to accomplish this – some more personality based and others more system based. Things are accomplished through leader-managers and manager-leaders. In the end they are all leaders and managers if the job gets done and the constituency is satisifed and the most successful results may be achieved when leadership behaviors are woven with management systems.
Why most definitions of leadership are wrong
Sebastiaan ter Burg/Flickr
A leader isn’t just someone who barks orders.
What makes someone a leader anyway?
Such a simple question, and yet it continues to vex some of the best thinkers in business.
We’ve written several books on leadership, and yet it’s a rare thing to actually pause to define leadership.
Let’s start with what leadership is not…
Leadership has nothing to do with seniority or one’s position in the hierarchy of a company.
Too much talk about a company’s leadership referring to the senior most executives in the organization. They are just that, senior executives. Leadership doesn’t automatically happen when you reach a certain pay grade. Hopefully you find it there, but there are no guarantees.
Leadership has nothing to do with titles.
Similar to the point above, just because you have a C-level title, doesn’t automatically make you a “leader.” We often stress the fact that you don’t need a title to lead. You can be a leader in your workplace, your neighborhood, or your family, all without having a title.
Leadership has nothing to do with personal attributes.
Say the word “leader” and most people think of a domineering, take-charge, charismatic individual. People often think of icons from history like General Patton or President Lincoln. But leadership isn’t an adjective. We don’t need to be extroverted or charismatic to practice leadership. And those with charisma don’t automatically lead.
Leadership isn’t management.
This is the big one. Leadership and management are not synonymous. You have 15 people in your downline and P&L responsibility? Good for you, hopefully you are a good manager. Good management is needed. Managers need to plan, measure, monitor, coordinate, solve, hire, fire, and so many other things. Managers spend most of their time managing things. Leaders lead people.
So, again, what makes a leader?
Let’s see how some of the most respected business thinkers of our time define leadership, and let’s consider what’s wrong with their definitions.
Peter Drucker: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”
Really? This instance of tautology is so simplistic as to be dangerous. A new Army Captain is put in the command of 200 soldiers. He never leaves his room, or utters a word to the men and women in his unit. Perhaps routine orders are given through a subordinate. By default his troops have to “follow” orders. Is the Captain really a leader? Commander yes, leader no. Drucker is of course a brilliant thinker, but his definition is too simple.
Warren Bennis: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
Every spring you have a vision for a garden, and with lots of work carrots and tomatoes become a reality. Are you a leader? No, you’re a gardener. Bennis’ definition seems to have forgotten “others.”
Bill Gates: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
This definition includes “others” and empowerment is a good thing. But to what end? We’ve seen many empowered “others” in life, from rioting hooligans to Google workers who were so misaligned with the rest of the company they found themselves unemployed. Gates’ definition lacks goals and vision.
John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”
We like minimalism but this reduction is too much. A robber with a gun has “influence” over his victim. A manager has the power to fire team members which provides a lot of influence. But does this influence make a robber or a manager a leader? Maxwell’s definition omits the source of influence.
So what is leadership?
DEFINITION: Leadership is a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of a greater good.
Notice the key elements of this definition:
- Leadership stems from social influence, not authority or power.
- Leadership requires others, and that implies they don’t need to be “direct reports.”
- No mention of personality traits, attributes, or even a title; there are many styles, many paths to effective leadership.
- It includes agreater good, not influence with no intended outcome.
Leadership is a mindset in action. So don’t wait for the title. Leadership isn’t something that anyone can give you — you have to earn it and claim it for yourself.
So what do you think of our definition of leadership? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as we learn just as much from you as you do from us.
, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.