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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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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19 Differences Between Leaders and Managers

Leadership Challenge

Leadership Challenge and Lolly Daskal highlights differences between leaders and managers

 

@lollydaskal (Lolly Daskal) wrote this post about Leaders vs. Managers.  She lists 19 differences like:

  1. Leaders lead people. Managers manage people – sounds simple, but often missed by upper management
  2. Leaders inspire. Managers comfort – And bad managers often discourage team members with inconsistency
  3. Leaders have followers. Managers have subordinates – there is nothing more discouraging than managers with titles demanding strict adherence to a hierarchical structure.  This also limits organic growth by limiting good ideas from floating up.

She clearly understands the difference.  I find that the best practices of leadership are well known and yet not frequently practiced or expected.  Too bad, but hopefully we are near the tipping point.  I think Gen X and Millennials are different leaders and have different expectations.  Therefore, things will change eventually.

I found the Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner @KouzesPosner to be a terrific edition to anyone’s library of reference books on leadership. The world is full of managers that are incompetent at best and at worst negligent.  Their own fear and paranoia helped them reach their position, but they quickly find themselves over their heads because they lack the ability to trust those around them.  The Leadership Challenge points out the basic traits that any team looks for in a leader.  And, in all of their research around the globe honesty is at the top of the list.

7 Surprising Reasons The West Won

Niall Ferguson lists 6 reasons western societies with 19% of global population controlled 75% of the world’s resources.  I think he missed one.

  1. Competition – Many corporations, similar to the City of London Corporation in the 12th Century, along other governments were competing with one another.  Think about the number of western European languages spoken around the world today due to colonization.
  2. The Scientific Revolution – while we all know gun powder came to Europe from China, it was the Europeans that continued to experiment with it and mash together multiple scientific disciplines in order to improve it.  Niall’s example is a German using Newtonian physics to improve the accuracy of bombs.
  3. Property Rights – I think this is probably one of the most fundamental rights in American history that contributed to stability and growth of the middle class.  Even the poorest could own property which might remain for generations.  Though, many injustices occurred over property disputes, those legal protections help the poorest prevail against the richest.
  4. Modern Medicine – ensuring people lived longer, healthier, and productive lives.  Imagine the additional productivity of one person by nearly doubling their life expectancy.  Just the simple act of surgeons washing their hands before getting elbow deep into another person’s abdomen probably saved a few million lives.
  5. The Consumer Society – Henry Ford paid much higher wages than other manufacturers at the time.  He wanted Ford employees to afford Model Ts which in turn kept demand high for his product.  For all the benefits of consumerism, there lurk many dangers as 2008 proved.  The rising middle class in China and India creates demand for high-end western luxuries, but desires in the west for those goods at ever cheaper prices led to the decline of manufacturing in the west.
  6. Work Ethic – Western society’s work ethic turned virgin soil into vast acres of corn, cotton, tobacco and grazing land.  Now the Native Americans that provided the seeds for tobacco and corn to the newcomers were equally (if not more) successful than Europeans at growing these crops.  The difference was profit versus subsistence.  It was the European demand for tobacco that encouraged a strong work ethic.  Niall uses the examples of North and South Korea along with East and West Germany.  The communist state produces markedly less quantity and quality than do non-communist states.
  7. Why? – I suppose you could lump this into the scientific revolution above, but really this is the ability to question authority, as well as, the desire to understand the reason an apple feels compelled to hurl itself toward earth.  The inalienable rights of mankind to desire freedom and reject tyranny led to asking why.  I think some of the basic tenets of Christianity contributed to this enlightened thought.  Even though Catholicism suppressed western society for centuries, once peasants demanded the right to read and interpret the bible for themselves, The Church’s strangle hold loosened forever.

Niall fears (as do I) that the rest of the world will quickly catch up and overtake western society, but it is not too late.  While governments are slow to react and bogged down in squabbles over Keynesian economics, we must act now to prepare our kids for challenges of the 21st century.  Mark Twain said, he never let his education get in the way of his learning.  Join me in teaching our children to be creative problem solvers that bravely seek answers to WHY.

Confident Women Built Here

Just days before my little girl joins our family I am thinking about how to ensure she becomes a future leader.  I just read Marshall Goldsmith’s blog post interviewing Girl Scouts former CEO Kathy Cloninger.

Marshall asks Kathy about the results of a study on the leadership aspirations of girls.  Most were ambivalent about the current command and control leadership most prevalent in our society.  A fact that most enlightened leaders already understand. Interestingly, most of the female business executives and business owners in the US (80%) are former Girl Scouts; as are more than 65% of the female members of the US Congress and Senate.  Clearly Girl Scouts are developing valuable leadership skills in young women.

What else can we do to help our young girls become confident strong leaders?

“Men Don’t Follow Titles, They Follow Courage”

This quote from Braveheart states a universal truth.  Without courage leadership does not exist.  In the absence of courage lesser men assume leadership positions because society becomes ambivalent.  William Wallace encourages through word and deed.  The deeds strengthen the words, as they do with most people.

The example of Wallace teaches us to lead from the middle.  When a lack of leadership exists at the top, this provides an opportunity for leaders to rise up to meet the challenge.  The names of these leaders may or may not be lost to history, but without their courage and sacrifice movements fizzle and fade.

It was my good fortune to visit Scotland a few years after the Braveheart movie debuted.  I went to Stirling Bridge and of course the nearby Wallace Monument (pictured below). An epic setting for an epic battle.  I was seeing that field beneath the monument with the visions of Hollywood battles in my head.  But, the Scottish feel that battle in their DNA.  Don’t make the mistake of comparing the Mel Gibson Hollywood version of William Wallace to the average Scott.  He will quickly correct you.

braveheart movie

“Wfm wallace monument” by Finlay McWalter – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wfm_wallace_monument.jpg#/media/File:Wfm_wallace_monument.jpg
Braveheart

My biggest take away from the story and the movie is, empower those around you to stand up in the face of adversity.  Many people often underestimate their influence over others.  With a little encouragement they will find their voice.  Even those endowed with titles, but seemingly lacking in courage, may yet discover their spine.  You may never know how your own examples of strength will impact others in the future.  Stay strong and encourage others at all levels to be the best leaders they can be.

 

Leader Wanted – Must Be Charismatic

Ken Blanchard wrote a post today about charisma.  He points out that charisma is not necessary for leadership, but in my comment I pointed out that while I agree, it does not seem to be the case in many situations.

I find that while the research is clear about the leadership traits we desire most (and need the most), humans continually put “leaders” in place that fall short of the ideal.  I know we all fall short on expectations, but what is the flaw in humans that compel us to give undue influence to those ego maniacs that seek it out?

Maybe, I answered my own question. I often say, that we will never have true leaders in the White House because leaders are busy leading other endeavors.  We are left with ego maniacs that even when well-intentioned are unable to lead much of anything.

Great strife usually shines the light on leaders.  Perhaps when life is going along OK, we don’t put as much emphasis on the need for great leadership.  Instead, we elect to follow the most charismatic person with the least amount of baggage.

I don’t have an answer here, I’m just stating the obvious.  Am I wrong?  Please, someone correct me!

Kids Want To Be Entrepreneurs

Image via Ivestopedia

Kid Entrepreneurs

A report by the Kauffman Foundation confirms 40% of 8-24 year old youth would like to be kid entrepreneurs or adult entrepreneurs instead of employees. The 2010 study shows a slight increase over the 2007 survey.

It could be that today’s wannabe entrepreneurs have more high-profile Internet kid entrepreneurs to encourage them.  Perhaps, they also recognize that the knowledge and tools to create wealth are more readily available than at any other time in human history.

Whatever the reason this is a great trend for the USA, as well as the globe.  Maybe one day we’ll all be working for our kids.

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