The Ever-Changing Face of Leadership

The term, ‘leader,’ can be such a broad word. According to, the definition of ‘lead’  follows (I’ve bolded my preferred wording):

– To go before or with to show the way; conduct or escort.
– To conduct by holding and guiding.
– To influence or induce.

Scrolling down a bit, the definition of ‘lead’ also includes:

  • to command or direct.
  • To go at the head of in advance of (a procession, list, body, etc.). Proceed first in.

I’ve been struggling a bit with the whole ‘leadership’ terminology for a while now. Possibly, it is because individuals anointed as leaders sometimes are perceived by non-leaders to be ego-driven, and that can be untenable and unattractive.

Or, perhaps it has more to do with the fact most of us don’t want to consider ourselves followers – most folks want to be important, in their own right. Whether we are considered a ‘leader’ in our field, ‘leader’ of a specific subject matter or, leader of our own self, most of us want to be independent and impactful, independently of others’ telling us how to be so.

Gripped by Inspiration, Not Dictated to by a Boss

Mike Henry, Sr., Leadership Developer and President, Lead Change Group, invited me into a radio conversation last year. During that interview, he used the term, self-leader. According to Mike, “No one wants to grow up to be a follower.” I agree!

In the best of situations, individuals never feel like they are following, but instead are inspired and compelled to engage their limited amount of energy into an initiative, event, project, program, etc.  The feeling of inspiration is so gripping, therefore, it seems that there just ‘happens’ to be a leader at the ‘helm’ who is doing the coaxing, inspiring and orchestrating of the collective energy to come together for a harmonic outcome.

I collaborate with leadership folks every day – they are my professional and executive clients who are either in the throes of career transition, wish to make a vertical or lateral move, and/or wish to propel their careers to new heights. Whatever the case, many of these folks have been bestowed the leadership moniker: Finance Manager, Senior Marketing Manager, Engineering Director, Vice President of Technology, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Executive Officer … and the list goes on.  Most of these leaders earned those titles through progressive career advancement and continual proof of leadership results, measured ultimately by corporate revenue and profit growth.

However, without an innate and well-honed ability to guide their teams through obstacles, challenges, change and other improvement and growth activities, these leaders would not be where they are today, at the helms of their own ships, steaming forward.

The Best Leaders Are Beacons of Light

The best of these leaders are both directors of initiatives and beacons of light to which their individual contributors, managers and teams aspire to reach. They are not ‘in charge’ of others, bossing them around; they do not wield their authority to ensure their plebes simply heed their commands, without question.

No, in fact, most successful leaders I have interviewed over the past 13+ years possess a unique combination of attributes including confidence and humility and a focus on individual and team needs equal to, and sometimes, above their own.

As one recent client divulged, during a merger and acquisition initiative, he selectively ‘took bullets’ for his managers so that they could better foster relationships with members of an acquired company. In other words, he didn’t put his own agenda over the company’s or individual contributors’ and managers’ needs. At the end of the day, in fact, he sacrificed his own position for the betterment of the company and the individuals thereto.

Moreover, the best of the best leaders identify the strengths of their staff and leverage those to create a win-win for both the company and the individual talent contributors. A focus on people’s talent strengths, versus exerting undue energy on what is someone’s weakness, therefore, propels an organization forward.

#TChat contributor J. Keith Dunbar, Fearless Transformational Global Leader, underscores this idea well, by saying:

“I leverage people’s strengths and put them in a position to be successful. By taking this approach, it positions the team, and ultimately the organization, for increased opportunities for success.”

Finally, strong, effective leaders lead by example. As Felix P. Nater, CSC, President of Nater Associates, Ltd., recently said on Twitter:

“Leading by example empowers adults.”

Sometimes We Must Simply Follow

That said, from time to time, we all put on our follower hats, and I believe there is a good reason to do so.

For those of you on Twitter, think about reasons you ‘follow’ others. Perhaps it is to learn from them as they fuel their Tweets with nourishing information, including thoughtful data, insights and blog post links that further drill down to the why, how, when, where and what of the matter. In other words, you look to that person for guidance, experience and lessons that you may incorporate in your own knowledge bank and day-to-day activity.

Or, maybe those you follow are more experienced in the job or industry with which you aspire to connect. In addition to wanting to learn from them, you may also want to model their behaviors, get to know them personally and network with them – perhaps tapping into their intellectual knowledge base and wealth of relationships to further your own career and business needs.

Our Roles, Regardless of Title, Assume Traits of Influence and Leadership

At the end of the day, though, each of us, as individuals, wants to assume a position of independence, specifically and uniquely contributing to individual and group goals. As well, we all, from time to time, regardless of our titles, switch from leading to following, then back to leading and then to following  … and (you get the drift). It’s a continuum and the roles of leading and following are not clearly distinguished by titles and job descriptions. In fact, the leadership ideal is one that we all carry around and exude in our individual and group, personal and work lives.

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