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Dec 06

Some Thoughts On Leadership

“Look over your shoulder every now and then to make sure someone is following you”(Henry Gilmer). I remember listening to Lou Holtz speak at a national conference about twenty-five years ago. He told the story about being named the head football coach at Notre Dame.  He noted that the President of Notre Dame said to him, “Lou, I can make you the head football coach at Notre Dame, but I cannot make you the leader of the football program. You have to earn the right to lead.  Only the players can make you the leader.”

I reference a book in class titled The Truth about Leadership: Ten Fundamental Truths about Leadership  by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Poser.  In the book, they cite much of their research and the research of others related to leadership.  They make the point that leadership starts with you, but continues only if you have followers.  Leadership emerges when someone “willingly” follows you.  Leadership is really about persuasion.

Kouzes and Posner have done a lot of work internationally about the traits people want in their leaders.  Of all the traits, there are only four that 60% of people believe are important. These four traits are honesty, forward looking, inspiring and competent.  They make the case that these four traits establish your credibility.

Kouzes and Posner also make the case that leaders cannot do it alone.  They have to develop followers.  They argue that you do that by building relationships, listening emphatically, uniting them around a shared vision and how the vision connects to each person, and by convincing them of their potential.

Trust is a cornerstone to leadership.  As Holtz said in his speech more than 25 years ago, there are three things people will ask about the leader, and the answer to those three questions will determine whether or not the leader earns the right to lead: Can I trust you?  Do you care about me as a person?  Are you committed to excellence?

The research is clear that without trust, organizations under perform.  Kouzes and Posner state that the level of trust followers have for the leader determines the amount of influence followers will accept.  Thus, the greater the trust, the greater the ability of the leader to persuade followers to move in a particular direction.

The research also suggest that challenge is the crucible for greatness.  There is a great quote by Randy Pausch in his book,  The Last Lecture.   “Brick walls are there for a reason.  They are not there to keep us out…(They are) there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

Leaders must have a deep connection with the people they lead.  Kouzes and Posner note that the highest performing leaders are the most open and caring. They futher state that leaders do not seek the attention of others, they give it to others.  The size of the guesture is not as important as the fact that you notice someone’s contribution.

There is also some interesting work by Robert Kelly about followers.  Leaders have to develop the capacity of others to lead.  According to Kelly, effective leaders have the vision to set goals, interpersonal skills to reach consensus, verbal capacity to communicate enthusiasm to diverse groups, organizational talent to coordinate disparate efforts and the desire to lead.

Effective followers have the vision to see the forest and the trees, the social capacity to work with others, strength of character to flourish without heroic status, moral and psychological balance to pursue personal and corporate goals at no cost to either,  and the desire to participate in a team effort to accomplish a common purpose.

Kelly futher argues that leaders should not assume that everyone knows how to follow.  This assumption is based on three faulty premises: leaders are  more inportant than followers; that following is just doing what you are told; and that followers draw their energy and aims from the leader.  Instead, Kelly argues that leaders should focus on helping followers to: self manage their behaviors; align personal goals and commitments; and act responsibly toward the organization, the leader, coworker, and oneself.

Finally, Daniel Pink has done some work around motivation.  In his book, Drive,  Pink argues that people are much more motivated intrinsically than extrinsically.  He believes that the three things that motivate people the most are autonomy, mastery and purpose.  He states that you have to give people the opporyunity to make decisions, to be independent, and to be on their own (autonomy).  He also states that most people want to get better at what they do so you have to give them a chance to develop mastery.   Finally, he argues that people are motivated by being a part of something bigger than themselves.  They want to make a difference in an organization, a school or a team.

Leaders make a difference.  They do so by being very intentional about what they do and exhibiting those qualities that help them make a difference.