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What Is Leadership?


Styles of leadership

The terms “Leadership” and “Leader” mean many things to many people.   Some conjure up an image of a man or woman on a white horse, leading their troops into battle just like Joan of Arc did during the Middle Ages.

Others think of a Captain of Industry in the Gilded Age who, like Andrew Carnegie, employed his resources to effect change across the generations.


Then there are those who think of the “unsung hero” leader.  Someone like your quiet, unassuming neighbor, who leads the local chapter of a charity to a new fundraising record.  All of these are examples of leadership, yet not all styles of leadership work in every situation.

Today, even in the military, you’d be hard pressed to find the leader charging ahead on his or her white horse with the troops following them into danger.  We have entered a less dramatic, some would say less heroic, age.

Today’s leader is more likely to exhort his or her followers in far less dramatic or obvious ways.  That makes the job of being a leader even more difficult than it was in those glorious days of old.  But, don’t despair.  Even in this age, leadership is a much sought-after quality; it’s just harder to find and harder to recognize.

Hero leaders

Leaders and managers are judged by their results.  The head of a division or subsidiary that consistently outperforms its peers in terms of sales or profits will, all things being equal, be seen in a more favorable light than are his or her peers.  That makes perfect sense in most corporate or bureaucratic environments.  Rendering such judgments gets trickier, though, if an organization is in a state of upheaval due to either internal or external forces.  That is why today’s real “hero-leaders” are those individuals who lead their organizations through times of upheaval and make them better when they come out on the other side.

These “hero-leaders” understand the bureaucratic environment they are in, but they refuse to be limited by it.  They also take the time to learn the product line they are responsible for; its good characteristics and its flaws.  The latter they fix, the former they hype.

Instilling pride

By emphasizing the good, “hero-leaders” can inculcate a sense of pride in their people.  Pride in a job well-done enhances performance.  Enhanced performance instills pride in the organization, which leads to a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement.  That cycle of continuous improvement is sustainable as long as leaders remain engaged with their people and actively deepen their understanding of the external and internal environments they are operating in.

Open, two-way, honest communication enables leaders to remain engaged in what their organization is doing.  That communication works best when the “hero-leader” exhibits genuine empathy for his or her people.  That empathy means the leader is an advocate for the division’s people when they need help and a teacher when they need to learn.

Leaders have always faced many challenges, but in today’s environment the quiet, unassuming, empathetic “unsung hero” may just be the “hero-leader” your organization needs.


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