Leadership can be thought of as a capacity
to define oneself to others in a way that clarifies and expands a vision of the
future. — Edwin H. Friedman
Friedmans definition of leadership is fairly typical of those
one finds in the literature. As one reads more generally about leadership and
leaders, its easy to come to the conclusion that those who think about these
sorts of things are pretty much blowing in the wind. Well, perhaps one should
only speak for himself. Maybe the other folks are totally grounded and on the
right track, but thats doubtful.
The problem is that most writers keep trying to understand
leadership and leaders by looking at presumed leaders and then struggling to
figure out what distinguishes them and their behavior from everyone else. The
result is a hodgepodge of ideas and concepts that numbs the mind.
If one spends some time examining the characteristics and
behavior that various experts say differentiate leaders from the rest of the
folks, the most common element seems to be membership in one of four groups;
CEO of a large corporation, the head of a government such as the President, the
head coach of a college or professional sports team, or a high ranking member
of the military . Go figure.
Next, membership in the groups is limited to association with
winning enterprises. If you are a CEO, your corporation has to have made a lot
of money. If you are the Head of State, your government should not have lost a
war or screwed up the economy too badly. The Head Coach needs a winning record
and probably needs to have won at least one championship. Of course, the
military guru needs to have been the victor.
If you fit into one of the groups, and few do, you are nearly
assured of being designated as a leader and thus have whatever it takes in the
leadership department. As best one can tell, most any trait or characteristic
that you have in common with a majority of other people in the leader groups is
fodder for the experts on leadership. There are well over a hundred
characteristics and behaviors associated with leaders and leadership. Had you
organized the list and went through a careful pick-and-choose process, you
likely could have easily come up with yet another theory of leadership and
shared that with everyone.
It does seem that charisma is a particularly leader-like
characteristic, although the jury is still out about whether it is actually
necessary. The problem seems to be that there is serious uncertainty about what
it is, who has it, and if it is a real leadership factor or just a personal
quality shared by a few people, leaders and non-leaders alike. There is general
agreement, though, that if you have charisma or have a way to get some, get and
keep all you can. Its good stuff to have.
There is a lot written about lesser leaders, particularly within
large organizations. They are not big time leaders but are sort of junior
leaders or leaders-in-training. They are to be found on teams and within divisions
of the larger organization. Its sort of like being in the leadership minor
leagues. There is not much likelihood that you can or will move up to the big
league but you can work hard and can always hope.
Wonder if leadership is actually a spurious concept? Everyone
knows a few extremely talented people who are unusually successful at what they
do. If you were to identify a hundred or a thousand such super stars, you could
then remove everyone whose activity and success are individual and unrelated to
directing or guiding the work of others. An artist or other similar individual
would be an example. Those left are highly talented, very successful, and
associated with others whose success is attributed, in part, to the person
directing or guiding the work. You would have a group of extraordinarily
talented and successful people who direct or guide the work of others in some
type of collective endeavor.
There are, then, the individual activity super stars and the
collective activity super stars. The latter group have been designated as
leaders merely because they are very talented and successful with in the
context of a collective activity including directing and guiding others.
What is a leader? Anyone who is unusually talented and
successful within the context of a collective activity where they, among other
things, direct and guide others. If you want to study leadership, then, figure
out why some people are more talented than others and why some people are more
successful than others.
The truth may be that leadership is but a myth perpetuated
over time and accepted without any clear evidence that it really exists as a
separate and distinguishable phenomenon. Maybe what passes as leadership is
nothing more or less than serious talent combined with luck and circumstance.
Talent at what? That depends on what the enterprise is and what skills are most
useful and valued in that arena; but if you want to be a leader you must first
do what you can and need to do to become especially talented. If you reach that
goal, also take care to have a good measure of luck and find yourself in the
right circumstance. You too can then become a leader, especially if you also
happen to have a good share of charisma.