Many of us in the field of Leadership study and ponder the many different elements of what makes a leader; let alone a good one. Indeed, there are many components of the overall makeup and a strong understanding of these do help. However, there is something that is often forgotten in regard to the identification of real leadership.
There are many definitions of leadership, but it is important to note that the action of leading a group of people or an organization is not it. Not really. A real leader is something much more. A real leader does a couple of things that managers and pseudo-leaders simply will not do. These include the act of trusting your people and the art of detecting talent.
A leader is not really defined by their power, their money, or even their position. Sure, you can be the head of a great nation or even a powerful corporation, and through legitimate power alone, you can be labeled a “leader” – but that’s just a title. You can demand your people to address you as “God”, but that doesn’t make it so; and it definitely does not equate to real leadership; or even great leadership for that matter. That’s just a label and can be very temporary. This is evidenced throughout history.
When we look at truly great leaders, we see a common and very simple thread. Great leaders are explorers, personal guides, trusting mentors and excellent detectives. What I mean to confer to you today is that a real leader will proactively seek great people and help guide those people to greatness. They investigate their pool of followers for those who have talent and can do great things, and more importantly, they empower their people; giving them the freedom to do what they do best.
Sadly, many in leadership positions fear those followers who are exceptional. They keep them down and out of the light. This is irrational and can present itself as fear of these exceptional followers showing them up, taking their place, or taking the glory.
A real leader cannot and does not fear the advancements and victories of their followers. A real leader encourages advancements and victories instead. It’s unfortunate when you when you consider all the missed opportunities these negative actions can create. It’s a sad irony really.
This is because in all reality, a leader is really defined by the accomplishments and advancements of their people and by the many great people they can either find or create. A real leader does not pretend to know it all and they are not afraid to admit when they don’t. A good example of this might be that of a military leader. He may know that a nuclear weapon is needed; but he probably doesn't know how to split the atom or how to encapsulate that into a bomb. He will instead, rely on the expertise and capabilities of his people to produce the weapon and delivery system. It’s really not much different in any other industry.
A real leader is a detective of sorts. They have to be. They search for great talents and afford the chance for those to show such talents off. A real leader will find those who are knowledgeable and skilled at their task and elevate and empower them to become great leaders and teachers as well. Real leaders know that inspiring a follower to do great things and allowing them to teach others better methods and replicate great work, will ultimately solidify their own position. A real leader isn’t out conducting or dictating a task; they trust their identified leaders to handle it instead; putting them to task doing what they are great at doing and having them teach others how to be great at that task. However, it is essential that a real leader will actually allow that person to perform their task to the best of their ability without stepping in front of that progress.
Consider Ulysses S. Grant for a moment. Do you think he was personally manning the cannons during the Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and the Overland campaigns? Was he down in the trenches or running out on the field yelling at his men about their shooting techniques during the battle? Of course not. What he did was seek out those who could do their job successfully, those who could inspire other men, who could teach and train, and then Grant empowered them to do their jobs. He not only relied on their expertise, but their experience as well. What Grant did was develop strategy, inspire and figure out ways to utilize the gifts of his men in great ways. Grant never gave up and never lost heart in the face of the enemy because he knew where his talent was; in his men. Grant led those men, but those men are the ones who fought and won the battle. He believed in his men. He encouraged his men. He learned from the mistakes. I think we can all imagine what history might have to say if Grant was out there micromanaging everything and trying to take the glory rather than the field.
As a matter of fact, after the first day at the battle of Shiloh, Grant’s forces had really taken a beating. Grant didn’t succumb to the temptation to run out and tell all his men how bad of a job they were doing or threaten to fire them if they didn’t do a better job. He understood that there are ups and downs in any struggle. He didn’t belittle them and didn’t micromanage their war efforts. Instead, Grant remained confident in the people he chose and set out to simply inspire his men when he said, “We’ll lick 'em tomorrow” – and they did just that.
If you want to be a great leader, then let me offer the following advice. Do not micro-manage, don’t lead by fear and do not fear exceptionalism in your people. That is not going to inspire anyone and will ultimately result in subpar outcomes - which will usually result in bad things for you. If you feel the need to micromanage, then understand that either you have the wrong person in that position or you haven’t done your job to begin with (teach and train).
Seek out those that you can trust to do the job. Discover their talents and elevate them accordingly. Empower them; even if that means that they may someday become your boss. Teach them and encourage them to seek out and empower other people as well. Replicate your progress. Your teams will love you for this and they will work even harder in the effort to be noticed and elevated as well. Believe me when I say that it is better to be known as the person who empowers people and discovers talent, than someone who stifles productivity and holds people back. Also remember that those who are ultimately elevated tend to remember those who either helped them out or held them down.
Be strategic; be smart; be a real leader.