What does it really mean, to lead?
There are literally dozens of definitions, but the one I like the most is this (attributed to Dwight Eisenhower): Leadership appears to be the art of getting others to want to do something you want done.
Something subtle about that definition – it’s about getting others to want to do something. It’s not just about making others do something.
Since managers (supervisors, directors, CEOs, etc.) are, by default, in the business of getting others to do things they want done, the best of them are leaders who know how to get others to actually want to do those things.
They do this by engaging in the following steps:
- They create a vivid, compelling picture of what the end result (once the thing is done) will look like. This picture is called their vision.
- They figure out a way to describe this vision in very simple language. Two well-known examples:
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” John Kennedy
“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Ronald Reagen
- They stay focused and committed to that vision regardless of setbacks, obstacles, and skeptics.
In other words, successful leaders are people who:
- Have a vision.
- Describe it simply, and frequently.
- Don’t let themselves become distracted.
When you think about it that way, it’s easy to see that leaders do not have to be folks in management roles. It may seem like it’s easier to get others to (want to) do something you want done with a little positional power, that’s an illusion.
Yes, you can use positional authority to make someone do something, but that’s never going to be as good an outcome as you’ll get when you can get people to want to do it.
If you’ve been thinking that the only people in leadership roles in organizations are those who are “in charge,” think again. Anyone can be a leader.