We can say a leader is simply someone who does any aspect of leadership. Of course, there are leaders who have official roles and those roles give them authority. There are also people who don’t have an official role, nor do they have formal authority, but they are leaders. These are people who seem to feel very comfortable in their career, who may be aren’t easily upset, who others follow, and who have a way of persuading others. These are people who get where the organization is going. They know they make a difference. We talk about specific characteristics of leaders I’ve observed to be meaningful from my career.
When you think about personal leadership and your leadership strengths, remember that some skills are more important in some circumstances than other skills. Don’t worry about excelling at all leadership skills, because no one does that. The leader who has excellent revenue-generating skills might be very bad at influencing her team over time, manifesting in high turnover. A leader who is excellent at influencing his team and producing an enviable level of loyalty might be horrible at running daily operations. Which was the better leader? Really, you’d have to understand the circumstances to make that determination.
Don’t get overwhelmed with the idea that you have to have every leadership quality, excelling in each of them. In a great blog post by Bill Barnett, a professor at Stanford titled, Leading by Design, Bill talks about the difference between two leaders in Silicon Valley. One led by example, and Bill argues his leadership was only as effective as or limited by his knowledge, skills, and abilities. His team followed his example. The company he led is no longer around. The other leader led by design. Instead of being limited by his own strengths and weaknesses, the leader who led by design created systems, processes, and a culture to lead the company’s growth. The success of the company wasn’t limited to one leader’s abilities, rather it was enabled by the soundness of the design of the systems, processes, and culture. Bill writes, leading by example shows the way, but leading by design creates a system that discovers the way.
Those who lead by design do not invent, nor are they involved in the specific decisions to get the job done. Done well, such leadership creates an organization that takes us places we never imagined. As you think about the characteristics I talk about, I want you to think about how you can put them into practice, and how they would help you as you lead by design. I think each of the characteristics we talk about will resonate with you, and you’ll find value in understanding and growing in them. I encourage you to look at what your company or target companies say about leadership.