There are innumerable published books and articles on Leadership, making it one of the most examined topics in the modern age. Yet for all the available information, leadership continues to be somewhat of an enigma. Without wanting to add to the existing plethora of commentaries, perhaps there are a few fundamental themes that speak to the contemporary needs of communities, schools and workplaces and may, therefore, serve as a relevant reminder of what is important.
One of the enduring themes of leadership is that of the charismatic leader. Charismatic leaders attract followers by virtue of their personality and often their looks. They are able to inspire and motivate people, and people like to identify with them and be around them. Many military, political and business figures have laid claim to charismatic leadership. The idea of charismatic leadership rests on the assumption that a single leader is equipped with all of the answers. However, the idea that any individual is all knowing holds traps for both leaders and followers. The story of The Emporer’s New Clothes provides a timeless portrayal of how this can play out.
Understanding the difference between leadership and management is useful in getting to the heart of leadership. Management is about WHAT needs to be done, whereas leadership is about HOW it gets done. Management is about the TASK, whereas leadership is about PEOPLE and RELATIONSHIPS.
Leadership is about achieving results through people. This requires an understanding of people, but it also requires an understanding of self.
It’s also about maintaining a balance between positive assertiveness and being able to hold one’s ego in check. Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, described the most effective leaders as “those who are able to channel their ego needs away from themselves into the larger goal of building a great company.”
Collins says that two characteristics stand out in distinguishing these leaders – willpower and humility. The idea of a quiet, determined leader doesn’t actually align with the concept of the charismatic leader, or the expectations imposed on leaders to be powerful.
A role of leadership is to convey hope and to be able to communicate that in a way that makes sense to others and inspires them to put in the effort needed to achieve common goals. Leaders need to be able to bring others with them. This requires a leader to have empathy regarding others’ perspectives, rather than label them as resistant to change.
Behaviours likely to impede leadership effectiveness include risk aversion, personal arrogance and insensitivity, an overly controlling leadership style and reluctance to deal with difficult people issues.
Have a good sense of who they are and the capacity for reality testing. They take responsibility for their own actions and do not blame others for setbacks.
Are passionate about what they do. They know how to manage anxiety, do not easily lose control and do not resort to impulsive acts.
Are able to establish and cultivate relationships; they see themselves as part of a larger group and know how to use help and advice.
Are able to reframe experiences in a positive way and maintain a sense of hope.
Because no individual leader can know it all, leadership can be more effective when leadership is shared. Therefore, building effective leadership teams is a worthwhile goal.
Because there are many forces at play in large corporate leadership development programs, they may not provide a safe environment for leadership challenges to be explored in an open and honest way. This can render participation in these programs as being a bit like a “sheep-dip” with a networking opportunity.
Smaller, privately owned and not-for-profit organisations can use a more individualised and tailored approach to leadership development that examines leadership in a sensitive way that provides a safe environment for learning. Given that small business is the most predominant form of business in Australia, leadership can play a significant role in building the social, human and financial capital that sustains communities. In this context, the Hunter region provides an interesting microcosm for growing aspirational leaders who can harness and develop business ideas, as part of the transition to the knowledge economy.
Anne Ward is an executive coach and principal psychologist of Mindinsight, providing evidence-based coaching and psychology services to individuals and organisations. Mindinsight is located in the T&G Building at 45 Hunter Street Newcastle. For more information visit www.mindinsight.com.au or email