Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Leadership Gifts

I've been reflecting on the kinds of gifts that make for leadership potential of different sorts. The more I think about it, the more I like John Maxwell's bare bones, "leadership is influence."  I like it because this captures both good and bad leadership.  It captures leaders with formal power and those with informal power.  It captures leaders who generate followers and leaders who just have the power to get their way whether anyone else really wants to follow them or not.

So one set of leadership gifts is a forceful personality.  I don't personally like this approach.  I'm not sure whether it doesn't do more harm than good.  It can be helpful in a time of crisis or war.  But the autocrat is a leader and there are people with that style.  Of course, this style requires power to sustain (money is a form of power). Without it, no one will follow, and this person will basically be left shouting alone, like Donald Trump on election night.

Another leadership gift is the ability to facilitate decision making.  There are people in positions of leadership who don't really get people to make any decisions.  There's also the person who just loves the process, loves the meeting, loves just talking.  Assuming that it wasn't intentional (since influencing a group to delay can be an expression of leadership), this can be a sign of leadership inability. And of course a person can lead an organization to bad decisions, which is a form of bad leadership. But there is a kind of person who is gifted at building consensus, and there is a person who is gifted at navigating political waters in such a way as to result in decisions.

Another leadership gift is the ability to influence mood.  There is a type of person that can take a depressed group and encourage them.  And of course there's the person who can influence a group into depression.  But this power to influence emotion and tone is a form of leadership.  It can be used to build consensus.  It can influence decisions.  It is a leadership quality.

One of the most prized gifts of all is the ability to influence vision and trajectory. I think sometimes it's rated higher than its realistic value.  The direction of a group is really the aggregate of its decisions, not the billboard everyone can see.  Nevertheless, the ideal is when the micro-decisions fit hand in glove with the overall vision set by the vision setters. That requires something a little different from leadership... It requires good management.

What have I missed?


Burton said...

In his book "Reframing Academic Leadership" Lee Bolman identifies at least four views of the University and the types of leaders who thrive in each setting.

His four views are:
The HR view - the University as a family
The Political View - the University as a jungle
The Structural view - the University as a factory
The Symbolic view - the University as theater

He argues that great leaders understand their setting and reframe their leadership to match it. That said, there were characteristics that defined great leaders in every setting:
Focus - make tough decisions when necessary
Passion - Love what you do
Courage - act when you must
Wisdom - understand complexity
Integrity - say what you mean and stick with it

I am becoming convinced that Bolman is onto something.

π² said...

You are missing examples. The current example of leadership as influence that I see is David Drury. Historically, maybe Benjamin

Martin LaBar said...

Leadership should involve training and empowering those who are led. Jesus did that, for one.