Leadership has developed in amazing ways over the many decades. Yet there still exists many common misconceptions, myths and contradictions that need to be clarified for all to understand.
True leadership is a balance, an ability to go between pushing and pulling, directing and advising, planning and encouraging. The balance between results and culture, attitudes and actions, common good and selfless actions is sometimes lost on the false belief that leaders today must adopt one type of pattern for behavior or another.
Leadership is not an either-or game. It’s very existence in the truest and most benevolent manifestation is mutually beneficial results for all involved. And over the years much of that has been lost.
The following are some traits with examples on both sides for the coin to challenge and re-calibrate our understanding of what leadership really is and should be.
- Leadership is both encouraging and boundary seeking. Allowing others to roam free but creating necessary boundaries to ensure safety, culture and focus for the greater good of the mission.
- Compassion and flexibility can also give way for strong action. Participatory leading and making others feel involved is needed, but when the time calls for a decisive action, the leader must know when to act accordingly.
- Trust and verify should be both for building up and checking, not for micromanaging. It should be a tool for development, not for measurement.
- Leaders don’t have to have certain experience, such as MBAs or PhDs. The teenage girl helping to change racial relations in her community or the young man at church doing a virtual fundraiser for those in impoverished countries are just as much leaders as those “experts” that write books which propagate leadership bias that favor those with certain education credentials.
- Leaders should be great at building bridges. But sometimes it’s necessary to draw a hard line that does not compromise principles. Especially when the other side is not playing nice.
- Leading is all about people, but it can be lonely at the top, particularly if you’re the only one leading for what is right.
- Some leaders are born and some leaders are made. All are the ones who took the time to identify the need and take the gifts they had at the time to meet that need.
- Leaders should never bully, but should never be surprised when they’re perceived as a bully for taking a stand for what is right.
- Leaders should be strong, but should never be afraid to admit mistakes and be vulnerable and human from time to time.
- Extroverted leaders build movements; introverted leaders build the structure necessary for those movements.
- Leaders should lead from the top and direct. Leaders should also roll up their sleeves and work alongside the team. At the end, leaders should be humble enough to get in the trenches and empowering enough to allow others to flourish, whatever the greatest good is.
- Leaders don’t need to know everything, but do need to know who and where to get the answers from. But they should always keep learning about their craft and industry regardless.
- Good leaders meet our wants. Great leaders meet our needs.
- Leaders are great with leading large groups and constant needs of people. And they are also covetous of their alone time to plan, ponder and refresh themselves.
- Leaders should know and understand what their people are going through. And people need to know that they most likely don’t understand all that their leader is going through.
- Accountability is necessary for groups to ensure they perform within certain parameters. Accountability is also a must to make sure leaders do likewise. Leaders should never hold anyone accountable without opening the door to be held to the same standards. And people should not hold their leaders to certain lofty standards that they themselves will not exhibit.
Leadership is a complex topic, but no more than the complexity of what makes us operate as humans. Common sense thinking of what leadership is coupled with the moderation of each side of the spectrum that it covers can help unlock what common misconceptions exist. Those misconceptions can both damage a leader’s credibility from the inside as well as our expectations from the outside towards those in certain roles.
Leadership is about balance. Sometimes you have to play to one side stronger based on the greater good. As long as you understand the many facets that leadership is composed of, the greater your ability to meet the needs in both challenging and prosperous times.