Last week, I ended with the invitation to send in your definition of leadership. I didn’t get many takers on that one. Levy made some interesting comments about "truth" that made me think about how I need to be more cognizant of how I use language. For my purposes, I’m inclined to use accept the 'rational-thought' definition of truth.
With that said, let’s get right to the point, our definition.
Leadership is an active relationship based on trust that improves the chance of success while mitigating the risk of failure for both the individual participants and the group as a whole.
If you find yourself thinking, "What is he talking about?" don’t feel bad; that is the typical reaction. However, if you just let go of what you 'know' about leadership and work through this definition, it will make sense.
First, 'Leadership is an active relationship…' period, end of story; do not pass go; do not collect $200. Without a relationship between followers and a leader, there is nothing to bind them together. Further, unless the relationship is active, all you have is an association of people, i.e. there is no followership so there can be no leadership. When you accept that leadership is a relationship, your focus will change and your life will become much easier.
Second, the relationship is '…based on trust...' Both followers and leaders enter this relationship because they believe their situation is or will be better inside the relationship. In other words, each member of the relationship places a part of their success in the hands of the others.
Third, the relationship '…improves the chance of success while mitigating the risk of failure…' By allowing individuals to focus on their strengths, the relationship improves the possibility for greater success for the group than the collective success of each member working as an individual. Additionally, the relationship reduces the impact of failure by providing a safety-in-numbers buffer. While people enter into leader-follower relationships because they trust it will improve their success and provide greater safety; neither is guaranteed. Nonetheless, you must recognize that this is the purpose, the 'why' of the relationship.
Finally, it is a two-way relationship that applies to '…both the individual participants and the group as a whole.'
Please note, nowhere does the definition say that leaders and followers have to be buddies, friends, pals or even like each other. Additionally, nowhere does the definition say that the relationship guarantees success. Finally, the definition doesn’t say that leaders must be clean-living, unblemished saints. It is entirely possible to make your life better by following a scoundrel who you would not trust to return your wallet if she found it on the street. The participants may not like the relationship, but they must see it as an improvement; paradoxical but true.
With that, I’ll leave you to think about why the definition is important when addressing observation three:
The skill set that brought you to the leadership table is not the same skill set that will enable you to succeed.
Put some thought into it, leave me a comment or send me an e-mail. We'll talk more next time.