On Leadership

“A leader is someone you’d follow to a place that you wouldn’t go to by yourself.”

I’ve attended a lot of seminars and meetings lately, where the subject of “teaching leadership” comes up. Maybe, that’s because the corporate world is sadly coming to the realization of how few real leaders it has. Maybe, it’s because people are finally realizing that most people “look good, rather than do good”, as my father once put it, and with disastrous results to the organizations that they are purported to lead. I have found in my more than thirty-seven years in the business world that real, true leadership is a quality that is sorely lacking in most human endeavors. People typically confuse the terms “leadership” and management”. You “manage” things–but, you “lead” people.

I don’t think that leadership can be taught. It can only be nurtured in those who already have a proclivity toward it. If, as a child, you were taught by your parents and teachers to be mean, ruthless, selfish, uncaring, hateful, unethical and to always look out for No. 1 first (or, worse yet, neglected by your parents and teachers, and learned those things from others), then you will never be a real leader, no matter how many courses, seminars and training programs you sit through. The tragic and dirty little secret in business is that there are many, many people like this out in the business world, who managed to get themselves into so-called “leadership” positions (and you who are reading this know who you are).

People will do what they say because they HAVE to, in order to preserve their jobs, rather than WANT to–to support that person and the mission of the organization. Big difference.

But, if as a child, you were taught to put the interests of other people ahead of your own, to develop a “sense of self” that enables you to see the needs and wants of others–and fulfill them, to inspire people with your enthusiasm, your intelligence, your humor, your commitment to both their interests and the mission that needs to be accomplished, then you probably have the proclivity toward true leadership, and can develop those leadership talents by observing and working along with others who possess them.

There are many other qualities that true leadership requires–integrity, decisiveness, good judgment, the ability to form a vision and execute it, confidence in your own competence,  etc. But, without the ability to be selfless, to put the needs and wants of others before your own, you will never get people to “follow you to a place where they wouldn’t go to by themselves.”

That is why most people fail in leadership positions, I think, or can’t do it at all.

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