As a young man, I often wondered what it meant to be a leader. I’ve heard a lot of definitions over the years. Among the simplest – and least insightful - came from Webster Dictionary, “Something that leads.” Among my favorites is “you’re only a leader if you have followers.”
I am certain you also have seen a fair share of definitions by way of Google, asking leaders or looking at your own experience.
As I begin this blog on leadership and creating a leadership culture, I think it’s important that I share my definition of a leader and what I believe it really means to lead. We’ll explore this more in future blogs, but, at the core, here are three essential elements of a definition of a leader:
A leader is someone with followers.
A leader without followers is just taking a walk. It seems obvious, but I am not talking about the organizational chart. Leaders are not defined by a title or a paycheck. They do not need to manage or supervise anyone. It’s personality or performance – not position- that garners faithful followers.
At Marco, we affectionately call these informal leaders “straw bosses.” One of our seasoned sales professionals is a great example of this. He has no direct reports and has never held a title in management, but he is among our strongest leaders.
He is one of the first people our executive team looks to when we share a new idea or make a significant change. He has earned the trust and respect of his colleagues. We know that if he is behind it, we will get the buy in we need to be successful.
Who are the informal leaders in your organization and how are you integrating them into your decision making?
A leader gives up control to get control.
If I have learned anything as a leader, it’s that being a leader does not mean you need to be good at everything. Leaders have a keen – and even raw – understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. Leaders of successful organizations willingly share the responsibility with others and trust them to perform.
If I were to try to do – or even manage – every aspect of Marco, I am certain I would stifle the organization’s growth and, even worse, prevent some of our best employees from rising up, using their talents and achieving their potential. That’s why it’s called leadership – not controllership.
It takes a leader to step back and say “I’m not good at this and I’m going to trust someone else to do it – and do it well.”
A leader does what others can’t – or won’t do.
Although leaders often are defined by their ability to delegate tasks and mentor people, I’ve found that when the going gets tough, leaders step in and do what others can’t – or won’t -do.
I recently heard about an administrative team of a successful nonprofit that started cleaning toilets and performing routine maintenance that no one else wanted to do. The move allowed their new volunteers, recently laid off, to complete administrative duties that they wanted to do.
Whether it’s working with a challenging customer or sharing news of an acquisition with the company’s employees, leaders have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Next time I’ll share more about my uncomfortable experiences and how overcoming them fosters success.
Until then, I invite you to post comments, questions and other feedback.