What is Modern Leadership?
An entire section of TEDxJNJ’s 12/12/12 event was dedicated to leadership. We had speakers talk about their experiences growing as leaders. One was the leader of a large organization, one was a coworker and colleague of mine. Leadership occurs at all levels, yet “some people got it, some people don’t.” At least, that’s what it feels like, right? What is changing about leadership today? What’s working, and what’s not?
Oh Captain, My Captain!
My “old school” opinion on leadership was that of the “fearless leader”. When times get tough, you look to the leader to make the difficult decisions. They lead holding the mantle of responsibility. They make you feel more important. In every episode of Star Trek, the crew will follow Captain Kirk into what looks like certain death, because they trust him to lead them through it safely.
I’ve had leaders that I would do anything for- the kind that you want to work late for so they are extra pleased. But I’ve also had leaders that didn’t get it. They could yell as much as they wanted, I was never going to respect them enough to put in the extra effort. It begs the question: what is it about Captain Kirk that makes his whole crew love him? What is it about bad leaders that pushes people away, despite their record for success?
Leadership Through Authenticity
All of the speakers in this segment spoke about leading through authenticity. Leadership is not about putting on your best “Captain Kirk” and ordering people around. It’s about showing people why they should follow you. Anyone has the capacity to be a leader. What do good leaders do? What difference does it make when you are authentic?
Good leaders are more than just a boss; they need to be trusted. Spend time getting to know the people you are leading. If people see how much you care, they will care for you. 30 seconds of your time can be worth so much more than you ever imagined.
Ownership is empowering. Many leaders can stress about this, believing that the only person capable of arriving at the correct answer is themselves. Now, you may be reading this and thinking, “well, sadly, that’s true…” In the long run, you can’t do everything by yourself. People learn from their mistakes, and I have never met an individual that came to work trying to do a poor job. A stumble every now and then along the way in the name of learning is far less damaging in the long run than building a culture where “when the going gets tough”, everybody knows the leader will step in and just do it.
Culture should be a reinforcing loop. You should trust your people to do their job, and lead delivery through inspiration and removal of roadblocks. If they fail, hold them accountable. When you don’t trust people to succeed, they don’t trust you to let them.
Showing Weakness is not a Vulnerability
There, I said it. Don’t say things are good when they are not. One of my collegues made a brilliant comment after this lecture series, stating that he’d love to hear what’s going wrong for the company at a townhall, for a change. I understand the value of good morale. I think his comment highlights the need, though, for some kind of constructive forum to discuss company challenges.
Sometimes challenges can be daunting, maybe keep you up at night. You won’t solve every problem at the top, no matter how smart you are. While it is important to keep morale high, don’t underestimate the power of your people. They will surprise you!
How Do I Get Started?
Just do it. Nike had it right. No matter how long you have been leading, whether you feel like a good leader, bad leader, or not a leader at all. The best way to start turning your leadership strategy around is to start today, one step at a time.
Decide to listen more today than you talk. Lead with honesty. Give the benefit of the doubt this time around. Lots of people talk about being a leader (myself included). Maybe it’s time to go be one.