Do Leaders Need Followers? Maybe!

So, what does it take to be a leader? Can you count the number of times that question has been asked and answered? While many answers exist, this short TED video by Derek Sivers (@sivers) from 2010, offers compelling evidence of leadership.

Dynamite Entertainment's The Lone Ranger #4 co...

Dynamite Entertainment’s The Lone Ranger #4 cover. Art by John Cassaday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leaders need followers.  Sure, you can be a lone wolf – a la The Lone Ranger. However, The Lone Ranger’s impact was limited because he lacked followers to carry his vision far and wide. Contrast that with the young man in Derek’s TED presentation.

The first guy to dance inspired another, which then inspired another and the flood gates opened wide from there.  Now, one could argue that getting people to dance at an outdoor concert is like shooting fish in a barrel.  But, what compelled them to run over and dance with this guy and his followers? Dancing in place would have allowed them quicker access to their stuff. Obviously, people like to contribute to something bigger than themselves.

I don’t intend to diminish the ability of any one individual to impact the world. Sometimes, the sacrifice of a single individual will inspire a movement.  But, unless someone communicates that sacrifice the purpose may be lost. Inspiring others to act will exponentially impact the world with every new follower. The Lone Ranger’s mission could not be fulfilled with followers (aside from his side-kick Tonto). His vigilante approach demanded that he live outside societal norms.  Therefore, followers may have meant that he was less capable of fulfilling his mission.

The point I’m trying to make is that you need to determine the type of leader you want to become.  Do you have a single mission that will be accomplished within your lifetime? Or, will you start something bigger by attracting followers to carry on your vision.

I thought my single mission was to simply raise my children to be good productive citizens. While that satisfies the basic needs, my mission is more complicated than that. I know I cannot guarantee any specific outcomes, but I feel compelled to continue the progress of past generations.  Perhaps, I can inspire my kids to leadership by emulating those traits and helping them find their passion and their followers.

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Leadership – The Big Lie

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, I don’t think that the “idea” of leadership is a lie.  However, what passes for leadership is a lie.  As a matter of fact, I think many organizations or institutions don’t truly want leaders in their organization.  They want followers and doers.

Gifted leaders possess vision, tenacity, humility, honesty and flexibility.  Yes, historical examples of “leaders” that lacked these traits exist, but they merely support my thesis above.  Often, these “leaders” were in title only or brought out the worst in their followers.  Great historical leaders, while flawed, were far and few in between.  Historical leaders include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, and Mohandas Gandhi.  These people and their contributions will endure through the ages.

Other names will too, but they are far more complicated and not beloved by all.  For example, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolph Hitler, J Edgar Hoover, George Custer, …..  While they all had vision, tenacity and flexibility they lacked honesty and humility.  They often boldly charged into battle, but often for personal glory missing the greater opportunity because of concern for their own legacy.

Too many contemporary “leaders” seek to build their legacy versus building lasting institutions.  They seek to secure their spot in recorded history, but lack the humility and honesty to contribute to enduring institutions.  Few will rise to the historical success of Alexander the Great.  There just isn’t enough of the known world left to conquer.  However, it is totally within our grasp to contribute to something greater than ourselves.  True leadership does not always involve creating lasting institutions, monuments or even a side note in the historical record.  Striving to exemplify leadership traits to your children and those that admire you may be the lasting legacy you seek.  Legacies might be akin to karma.  You may not always have the satisfaction of witnessing karma in action, but be assured that like karma, your legacy will live on in the people you impact and engage along the way.

Strive to emulate the leadership traits of those that did not seek immortality, but instead sought out the opportunities to contribute to institutions greater than themselves.

 

 

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4 Critical Leadership Traits

Image via www.rottentomatos.com

The not-so-common sense leadership traits of aspiration, planning, inspiration and execution are nicely articulated in this Inc. article, 4 Traits of Great Leaders, written by Matthew Swyers (@trademarkco).   His example of John F. Kennedy rallying a nation to reach for the moon is an easily recognizable accomplishment from the 20th century. Ultimately, he is not saying anything new here, but merely pointing out that an advanced degree in physics isn’t necessary to become a great leader. And, generating ideas does not make you a leader. Great leaders create a plan to achieve their dreams and inspire others around them to help them execute the plan.

I used to believe in the lone wolf strategy of leadership. You might have one or two sidekicks that helped you achieve your goals, but ultimately it was the individual that made things happen. I call this the “Lone Ranger” approach to leadership. As I matured, I realized that the Lone Ranger only impacts his small corner of the planet.  However great he might be, he is limited by his time and geography.

Today I know that to truly change the world in a meaningful way you need to inspire others to follow your plan. You need to be an evangelist and cheerleader. Just because someone bestows a title upon you, does not mean that you will inspire anyone. A title doesn’t inspire people. It might intimidate some people to move when you are present; but, will they still be passionate to carry on once you leave.

Most everyone aspires to be something more and sometimes that makes us simply envious of others. While, other times it inspires us to think we too can do it if we follow their plan. There is a whole industry of people out there trying to sell you their plan for success. Frankly, following a plan may teach you their method of success, but unless you tinker with it and make it your own plan you will not learn how to inspire others. Own your inspiration, own your plan and most importantly inspire others to execute it with you. Learn, revise and execute your plan again if you must. Learning is key, doing is critical!

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8 Reasons High Achievers Flounder

This post by Cynthia Kivland (@WCICoach) Smarter Workplaces: Why High Achievers Flounder via @leadchangegroup describes the potential reasons high achievers may fail.  These 8 winning behaviors that make managers successful initially may hamper their ability to become leaders.

  1. Driven to achieve results
  2. Doers
  3. Highly Motivated
  4. Addicted to positive feedback
  5. Competitive
  6. Passionate about work
  7. Safe risk takers
  8. Guilt-ridden

Cynthia’s post was inspired by the Harvard Business Review article Managing Yourself: The Paradox of Excellence. Please see both articles linked here to see if you or someone you know might be so successful that they are derailing themselves.

 

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Stop Adding Value

Middle of nowhere, close to the Pyrenees.

Stop Adding Value. What a great reminder of what not to do.  It is great to have enthusiasm for someone’s idea, but don’t commandeer it to make “improvements.”  An idea can still be shepherded and given support, but allow the individual to mature the idea within the organization.

Simple axiom, but hard for some managers to remember.