In my years in business I have met them all – the visionaries, the bullies, the drive-by leaders, the emotionally connected ones, and the true leaders.
In each case, these people saw themselves as leaders. In many cases they travelled the speaker circuit expounding on their theories of leadership and getting people to follow them.
But in my experience – very few of them were true leaders – the kind of people that engaged a community, got them to focus on a vision or an end-result, helped them to reached that result, and in the process made those people more than they were at the start.
This Tom Landry quote is probably the most accurate:
“Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do to achieve what they want to achieve”.
But many of the self-professed “leaders” I have met only had part of the process in play. They had a vision or a belief and they were able to tell the story – but that is where their involvement ended. They left the group with the vision but did not engage or support the group’s journey toward that vision.
Others never shared the vision but continued to push and berate their followers toward an end goal – not necessarily one that the group had bought into.
To be a true leader you need the vision, but you also have to be willing to take part in the journey to reach that vision – you can’t simply dump the idea on an adoring horde and walk away hoping the horde will get there on their own.
Related to this follow-through, Landry also said that:
“Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan”.
In this sense, the goal (or vision or movement) is only the first step in a leader’s role. Having the ability to guide the team through to the end result is just as important.
Ghandi led the march to the salt lake. Matin Luther King led the Million Man March and spoke about his vision at the end of that march. Even as he suffered, Mandela was the true embodiment of everything that he preached – and a guide to his followers on how to act.
Passing out platitudes, quotes and cleverly written speeches, or on a smaller scale, giving speeches about theories and philosophies on leadership, without actually becoming part of the process you are trying to start is not leadership. It may be instigation or initiative, but it is a far cry from what we need from our true leaders today – in business, in school and in our politics.