Lately I have really been focused on what true leadership actually is. Many times when I come across the word leader I see the word follower attached. In my opinion, leadership is not about attracting others to follow. To me, at least, this conveys a sense of power, authority, and control that might serve well in the short term by getting others to fall into line through conformity, but it doesn't create the conditions necessary for sustaining change. I believe the definition and resulting perception of the term leader needs a makeover.
Great leaders don't tell people what to do, but instead take them to where they need to be. There is no agenda to create a harem of followers or disciples. True leaders know that their success is intimately tied to the work of the collective. One person doesn’t win a war, election, or football game. It is a team approach where each person in the organization knows that he or she has an important role to play. I can also say with certainty that one person doesn’t single handedly build a successful business. This same principle definitely applies to schools and districts. As I have written in the past, leadership is all about action, not position.
As an attempt to further begin the process of redefining the term leader I developed an acronym based on my thoughts shared above. The best leaders do the following on a consistent basis:
Learn – Learning is the work. Great leaders take professional growth seriously as they know there is no perfection in any position, just daily improvement. Leaders make the time to learn and get better on a daily basis. They also make their learning visible to inspire others to follow suit. Leaders who lover their work are always learning.
Empower – A key element of effective leadership is to empower others to take risks, remove the fear of failure, and grant autonomy to innovate. People that are empowered find greater value in the work they are engaged in. Empowerment leads to respect and trust, which builds powerful relationships where everyone is focused on attaining specified goals.
Adapt – Everything can change in a heartbeat. As such, leaders must embrace a sense of flexibility and openness to change accordingly in certain cases. The ability to adapt to an array of situations, challenges, and pressures are pivotal to accomplish goals. Success in life is intimately intertwined into an organism’s ability to adapt in order to survive. As leaders adapt they evolve into better leaders.
Delegate – No leader can do everything by him or herself. The decisiveness to delegate certain tasks and responsibilities is not a weakness. On the contrary, it allows leaders to apply more focus to areas of greater importance. It also builds confidence in others in their ability as co-leaders of an organization even if they don’t have a fancy title.
Engage – In the sharing economy there might not be anything more important than information. Leaders understand this fact and develop strategies to authentically engage their stakeholders through multi-dimensional communications, by taking control of public relations, and developing a positive brand presence. Increased engagement results by meeting stakeholders where they are at, encouraging two-way communications, and becoming the storyteller-in-chief.
Reflect – It is quite difficult to find a great leader who does not reflect daily on his or her work. Reflection in a digital world can take many forms and results in greater transparency. It is not how one chooses to reflect, but an emphasis to integrate this process consistently that defines a great leader.
This is my stab at an acronym for L.E.A.D.E.R. that better identifies the characteristics, attributes, and mindset to create a much better meaning for the word. What are your thoughts on this? Are there any words you would replace for the ones I included and if so why?