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Leadership: An Evolving Notion

"Becoming Better Series", Pt.1

· Leadership,Societal Impact

“A leader is one who has the ability to respond, because leadership is assumption of responsibility, of guidance, control, directing, following the burden of higher intelligence or superior knowledge or information.” ― Rev. (Dr.) Chris Oyakhilome, D.Sc. DD.

Congratulations! You've just been promoted to a leadership position for the first time. You've celebrated the good news with family and friends, allowed yourself a moment to take pride in your achievement, and indulged in visions of wielding your newfound power with wisdom and sagacity. You know that leading a team, department, group, church, business, government or a smaller unit like a family is almost certainly going to pose all the sorts of new challenges, but you feel confident that you'll succeed. Or perhaps you've served in a leadership role for a while and you've decided to strengthen your skills to meet new challenges facing your group, team, family, organization, company or country.

In either case, you'll need confidence to excel in your efforts. You'll need an accurate understanding of what leaders actually do, how they operate, how they enhance their abilities, and how they achieve the best results for their companies. The nature of leadership is fast changing, and too many freshly minted and more seasoned leaders are operating from outdated assumptions about what the job of leadership entails. As a result, they're not getting the best from their people or themselves - and their companies, organizations, groups, families or countries are paying the price.

There's no getting around it: The nature of leadership has changed. And numerous businesspeople aren't keeping up with the changes. For example, many leaders assume wrongly - that merely handing down orders to subordinates will generate the payoff their company needs to compete. Not true. In this age of flatter organizationational structures and localized decision-making, ordering people around doesn't work the way it used to. Sure, people may comply with your demands, but they'll be going through the motions. Despite their obedient behaviour, they won't be giving you their genuine commitment. Moreover, acting like a dictator only stifles a workforce's ability to think creatively - something that's essential for today's organizations as they compete. Rather than fostering fresh ideas, bossing people around only spawns fear and surface-level obedience.

These days, leadership isn't about wielding unilateral power. Rather, it's about mobilizing people to face challenges that require new habits, new values or priorities, or new ways of doing business. It's about getting things done through other people - inspiring them to take responsibility and do the work that only they can do. It's about defining a compelling vision - while letting others decide how to make that vision real. And it's about putting the right structures and processes in place so that your people can sharpen their skills and excel in their jobs - and perhaps learn to become leaders themselves.

A leader who hands down orders or tries to solve every problem single-handedly and unilaterally isn't really leading. After all, as one expert put it, solutions don't solve anything unless they "live" in people's behaviour. And that means leaders must help others learn how to solve problems and develop solutions.

Along with these evolving ideas of leadership, certain cultural and economic forces are creating conflicting ideas among workers about what makes an ideal leader. For example, as the pace of change accelerates relentlessly, many businesspeople remain trapped in a crisis mindset, which can foster a desire within employees to look to their leaders to provide all the answers.

In several countries around the world, we tend to see some cultural traditions as they glorify those who present a heroic, charismatic front; who give clear answers; and who "make things happen". Witness the many "celebrity CEOS" featured on the covers of business magazines and journals. And notice how almost all of these personages are depicted with resolute, all-knowing expressions on their faces and a determined, take-charge stance.

But whether you're a CEO, Manager, Husband, President/Commander-In-Chief, Church Leader or Team Leader, how can you enable your people to achieve great things if you provide all the answers instead of encouraging people to figure them out? If you take responsibility instead of giving it? If you tell the people you lead how to get to the goal instead of defining the end and letting them map out the means?

Recent events all around the world have only muddied the leadership picture even further. People want more from their leaders than ever before - and their needs can sometimes seem mutually exclusive. For example, they want reassurance and direction, emotional openness and unshakable confidence, ownership of their work and solutions handed to them by someone else.

Few could argue with the statement that the job of a leader has become tougher and more complex than ever. But as someone who's a newcomer to the leadership role, or who wants to improve your skills, you can boost your chances of success. And you can navigate the often conflicting demands that you'll encounter as you carry out your responsibilities.

The process requires discipline. First, you need to anticipate and confront the surprising aspects of the job. For instance, many leaders discover, to their astonishment, that charisma alone won't secure their place at the head of a team, department, or division. Many also find it shocking to learn that the best leaders don't "make things happen" themselves; rather, they effect change through other people. By grasping what real leaders do - and what they don't do - you'll stand a far better chance of mastering your new job or enhancing your skills.

Second, if you're new to the leadership role, you'll want to make sure that you start out on the right foot. A novice leader's first thirty days on the job can set the stage for his or her ultimate success or failure. A handful of strategies - such as learning to delegate, taking charge of your own professional development, and building momentum quickly - can help you score early successes that you can build on later.

Third, you have to understand and confront the changing nature of decision making for leaders today. Specifically, as ambiguity and high pressure increasingly define the business landscape, you need to make decisions more quickly - often with insufficient information at hand. The best leaders know how to gain access to a broad spectrum of data and opinions in order to make the wisest choices for their organizations, businesses or groups.

Finally, be sure to master the basics of communication. Without finely honed communication skills, no leader can convey his or her company's vision, inspire followers to greatness, or steer an errant division or team back onto the right track. Clearly, smart decision making, along with other responsibilities of leadership, hinges on effective communication. By mastering the art of communication, new and experienced leaders alike can get the information they need from others, convey a compelling vision, and inspire thier people to excel.

With the Usual Esteem & Appreciation,

“We have to challenge ourselves and be innovative so as to change the world. Get to this level of thinking. No small dreams, do big things!”Rev. (Dr.) Chris Oyakhilome, D.Sc. DD.

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