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Leadership: going back to the basics

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“Birds over Sacramento” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Leadership.

It sounds powerful, extremely powerful in fact. We all want to feel that power, don’t we?

Many of us have the impression that companies are only interested in hiring inspiring, dynamic leaders. From janitors to CEOs, it is a non-negotiable skill. This creates a pressure on employees, making us blindingly pursue leadership. It seems that if you are not an entrepreneur or a leader, then there is no place for you in the industry.

But that should not be reason enough to make us want to become leaders, just because it is a trendy buzzword. In fact, I might be quite the opposite; if we seek leadership for the sake of finding a job, then we are vulgarizing the true meaning of leadership.

In this scenario, it becomes worth it to take a steep back and try to analyze the root reasons behind the current interest in this area.

First part: why should I care?

From my perspective, the most straight to the point description of leadership goes as follows: leaders make things happen. But they do it in a very specific way. They do it by means of inspiring and motivating people to do their best, to excel in their work, and, because of that, contribute towards a bigger objective.

Leaders do not shine in times of prosperity. When the project date is far, and things are working just fine, then people is relaxed and self-motivated. They know what to do. The problem arises when workload is heavy. When solutions don’t work as expected. When what was a perfectly coordinated team gets filled with a poisonous atmosphere. Then is when a leader becomes necessary. He or she needs to take all that raw energy and turn it into something productive. It leads the change that is required for people to work effectively.

We do not even need to talk about work. A leader is needed in many situations. If you want to go on holidays with a group of friends, you need a leader. Otherwise, decisions are not made, and time goes on until it’s too late for organizing something.

So, how can you know if you should even care about leadership?

  • If you care about your close environment.
  • If you care about making things happen.
  • If you believe in peoples unlimited potential.

Then, it makes sense for you to want to become a leader.

Second part: how do I become a leader?

We have talked about the mystery of leadership. What it is important here is that it is not Dark Magic. And for sure it is not something that only a few lucky people can achieve, i.e. leaders are not genetically engineered in an underground laboratory before birth.

Leadership can be studied and trained. There is an immense number of books, courses and material that analyzes this topic. Many of them are cheap advice from Gurus, but there is also a lot of quality documentation.

It would be a little inappropriate from my side to act like one of those Gurus and tell you what you need to become a leader. If I had the answer, I would probably be a great leader already, which I am not.

Nonetheless, I believe that there are some key ideas that go before any academical or specialized training regarding leadership. These are concepts that might strike us as extremely silly, but which, on the other hand, are extremely difficult to apply in a continuous and effective manner.

  1. Never fake it. Being a leader is extremely difficult if you do not care about people for real. You can pretend to care, and that might be good enough to become a good manager, but it can never make you a great leader.
  2. Listen, listen, and keep on listening. Being a leader is not about what you want, it is about what people around you think and believe. In order to understand them, first you must know what concerns them. Some as simple as “how are you today?”, “how are you feeling about this project?” or “are you enjoying the tasks that you are doing?” can already be effective.
  3. Speak your mind. If you do not express your views and opinions, people will not know what is expected from them. Do not be shy, you do not have to be 100% sure about something to let other people know. Maybe one of your suggestions, that you consider silly, can be the motivation which that person needs at that time. Start small. If you are able to apply these concepts in your daily life, then you will start impacting other peoples life. From that point on, you can keep building your skills and trust, and, eventually, no one will be able to stop you.

Third part: leadership styles… should I wear glasses like Steve Jobs?

Probably yes, but it is not enough!

This is my leadership style, according to a Toastmaster’s test.

leadership_styles
8 different leadership styles.

There are 8 different styles. The number next to the name indicates my “score” in that particular style. There is no way to deny that some sound better than others. Take Authoritative for example. Dictators are authoritative. Why would I want that? The truth is that there are certain moments, certain phases of a project that require authority. If other leadership styles were applied, the project might get stuck, or delayed, or even cancelled. We need to lean to embrace all of those different styles, since each of them is valuable on its own. Sticking to a single style will not get us very far.

Conclusion

Now we have covered some of the basic concepts of what does it mean to be a leader. This is a vast and complex area that requires many hours of devotion. Some key ideas that has been discussed are:

  1. Leaders are necessary to drive and maintain motivation and help people and projects achieve their full potential.
  2. Ask yourself why do you want to become a leader. If you genuinely believe and care about people, then you have already walked a long way.
  3. There are many ways in which one can be a leader. All of them are good and complement each other. Learn about them and try to develop those styles that you feel less confident about.

Leadership is a trendy word. It is our responsibility to take that word and transform it from an empty advertising technique into a tool of change. A tool to transform your environment and obtain a future were people, their fulfillment and happiness are the most important indicators of progress.

Published inOpinion

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