For many people leadership is a big nebulous word, one that can mean many different things to different people and across all cultures.
The concept of leadership can even be a little frightening. And there are plenty of leaders who would never describe themselves using that word. They would tell you that they’re just doing what needs to be done.
When it comes to leadership there is no magic formula or single way of doing things.
Every leader is unique, although there are some common threads.
In some ways leadership is easier to define by talking about what it isn’t:
Leadership is not about you. It’s about your followers, your employees, your team. The best leaders devote almost all their energy to inspiring and empowering others. Taking care of their people is a big part of being a leader.
Leadership is not about power. Leadership naturally comes with power, but to lead people with character and engender trust isn’t compatible with being primarily concerned with acquiring and using power. The most powerful leaders are those who earn trust and stay trustworthy.
Leadership is not about telling and controlling. Leadership will always involve some degree of telling people what needs to get done. But the best way to make that happen is by helping others figure out what needs to be done on their own. It’s about guiding, mentoring and coaching, not telling, controlling and micromanaging.
Leadership is not about doing everything yourself. The best leaders know they can’t meet their goals alone—they need the right people doing the right things. Leadership means delegating to the right people to get the job done right.
Leadership is not about doing all the communicating. Great leaders are almost always great communicators, but more importantly they’re great listeners. They don’t interrupt or talk over others, they listen more than they speak and they know that the most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.
Leadership is not about always feeling confident. Like everyone else, leaders don’t always have their confidence—they have uncertainty and doubts as we all do. Some people think of that as something to hide or bluff their way through, but leaders are strongest when they demonstrate transparency and vulnerability—traits that equal truth and courage. They may not be comfortable, but they’re certainly not weakness.
Leadership is not about having all the answers. We may be comforted by the idea that a leader knows everything, but the truest leaders bring people together to find the answers through collaboration.
Leadership is not about demeaning others. You don’t have to look very far to find someone in authority talking down to people who work hard, disrespecting people who make mistakes, or even bringing racism and other biases to their interactions with others. That behavior is never acceptable; it is unworthy of anyone who wants to be known as a leader. Leadership will always be focused on treating others with respect and reverence. Leaders don’t alienate; they encourage.
Leadership is not about taking credit. Successful leaders know nothing is achieved on its own; things happen when a group of people come together to make something work. Leaders should take a little more than their share of the blame when things go wrong, and a little less than their share of the credit when things go well.
Leadership is not about deflecting personal responsibility. Leadership doesn’t deflect accountability—if anything, it increases it. If it is to be it is up to me. The moment you take responsibility is the moment you have stepped into your leadership.
Lead From Within: There are many things that leadership isn’t and many things that leadership is. It’s up to us to become the kind of leader who chooses well.
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Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness is being released by Portfolio May 2017.