What do Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o have in common? They didn’t own up; they tried to cover up. In case you missed it, Manti Te’o is the All-American, star linebacker on Notre Dame’s football team, who was in the running this past year for the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most prestigious award. Over an extended period, Te’o spoke of many heart-warming and heart-wrenching things in his life, including the death of his grandmother and a relationship he had with a girlfriend who was in a car accident, then suffered from leukemia and ultimately died, inspiring Te’o to more tackles on the field. Problem was, the “girlfriend” didn’t exist. Notre Dame carries the story that Te’o was the victim of a cruel hoax, …Continue Reading
Many leaders operate from half-truths or outright misconceptions about leadership, often leading to major mistakes. Here are examples. LEADERSHIP MYTHS Myth 1: Leaders Are Born, Not Made Many people believe that leaders are born, not made. We disagree. Some people may have more natural intelligence, be more outgoing, have innate speaking skills, or whatever, and these may be helpful in leadership. But leadership skills can be learned, not in the old lecture-take-notes model, but through experience, dialogue, role modeling, feedback, coaching, mentoring, and more. Leadership is learned, not an innate trait of the gifted few. Myth 2: Leaders Tell Others What to Do Many workers, especially younger ones today, don’t want to be told what to do. Give them a goal and a context in which to achieve it (like some shared …Continue Reading
Managers use their skills in stable environments. Leaders use their talents in the murky unknown, acknowledging control is an illusion, and having confidence in the team that, together, they will find a way through the chaos. Leaders courageously venture with colleagues into the unknown.
Some people want too much without putting in honest effort. They need to be challenged to step up. Some people just don’t fit an organization’s culture, or are toxic to others. They must become casualties. For those who remain, leaders, indeed, sacrifice themselves for them. Leaders serve those on the same quest.
Leaders are all around in families, schools, small businesses, nonprofits, fire stations, and town councils. Great leadership is indeed rare, but it is because many people disempower themselves, play the victim, or wait for some superhero to come to their rescue. Like the tramps in Beckett’s play, Godot never comes. It’s up to us, each of us, here and now, to follow at times, and to lead at opportune moments. Leaders are everywhere.
It would be nice to think leaders can always satisfy their constituents, but that is Hollywood. Leaders face reality, and not all stakeholders or followers are going to be happy all the time. Tradeoffs must be made; sometimes you sacrifice the long-term to stay alive; sometimes you tell investors to be patient while some long-term investments are made. Leaders adjust expectations to what truly can be achieved.
In a crisis, when an unpopular decision needs to be made, leadership can be lonely. Advice is taken, input solicited, but an unpopular decision can be lonely. Most of the time, however, good leaders are deeply connected with their constituents, honoring and respecting each other, constructively arguing, and forging an actionable consensus that many people execute. Leaders are deeply connected with people.
Indeed, there are times of political turmoil when leaders must protect their power. Leadership is a contact sport, not for their faint of heart, nor those with a thin skin. But most of the time, leaders empower others, sharing their power with other leaders. Leaders often give away their power.
Many workers, especially younger ones today, don’t want to be told what to do. Give them a goal and a context in which to achieve it (like some shared values to guide their behavior), and turn them loose. Respect their autonomy; check in now and then; remove roadblocks; and coach them on some difficulties. But don’t tell them what to do. Leaders elicit the greatness in others.
Yes, leaders have followers, but a more important dimension of great leadership is to unleash the leadership in others. In today’s complex world, no single leader can do it all, or has all the answers, even with loyal and committed followers. Leaders enlist followers and unleash other leaders.
Many people believe that leaders are born, not made. We disagree. Some people may have more natural intelligence, be more outgoing, have innate speaking skills, or whatever, and these may be helpful in leadership. But leadership skills can be learned, not in the old lecture-take-notes model, but through experience, dialogue, role modeling, feedback, coaching, mentoring, and more. Leadership is learned, not an innate trait of the gifted few.