When I deliver leadership training for brand-new supervisors, I use an exercise to kick off our first session. I ask everyone to write two words on a piece of paper: "Leadership is...." Then I have them finish the phrase with their own definitions, drawing from their beliefs, experiences and perspectives.
Over the years, having done this exercise with hundreds of new leaders, I've noticed a trend as we read the cards back as a group. Usually, the definitions follow one of two variations on the theme:
Leadership is...devising a plan and aligning a team to accomplish it.
Leadership is...growing and developing people to their fullest potential.
These are both fine and relevant definitions. To me, though, neither one alone completely captures the heart and simplicity of what leadership really is:
Leadership is the art of
getting results through others.
Now, I'm not the first to suggest this simple and straightforward definition of leadership. And I know it's not very sexy or evocative. Yet in its purest form, leadership is comprised of just three elements: art, results and people.
Leadership Is an Art
While my definition of leadership may be simple, that’s not to say that leading is easy. Good leadership is an art, and as Michael O'Malley says, "every leader is an artist."
In any art – acting, pottery, dance, music, painting – there is no simple formula, and it takes time to master. Same with leadership.
What brings about the need for artfulness in leadership is the nature and environment of the leader’s craft. Leaders need to continuously adjust and adapt to different situations, personalities, behavioral styles, communication patterns, relationships. At the same time, the requirements and expectations of the organization shift and change continuously. There is no one way to lead.
I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.
– Everett Dirksen
As with any good artist, a leader must learn and develop a variety of tools, techniques and strategies that allow her to practice her craft – not only skillfully but with agility and creativity.
And while there are plenty of helpful leadership models, methodologies and frameworks, the “science” of these things can’t turn leadership into science. Models, methodologies and frameworks simply give us tools to develop our skills, knowledge, techniques and strategies. They merely provide “walking sticks” and “road maps” to guide and support us on our journeys as leaders.
Ultimately, we must work on our own, continuously, to hone and master our craft as artists of leadership.
Leadership Is about Results
Wherever you reside in your organization – supervisor, manager, vice president, CEO – one of your chief responsibilities is to materialize the mission, vision, strategies, goals and values of the organization. In other words, you drive results. And that includes results related to everything from productivity to how people conduct themselves.
A leader drives results by first setting clear expectations. In fact, as Gallup has shown, setting expectations is the most fundamental responsibility of a leader. It's the starting point. Without clear expectations, your people can’t perform at their highest levels. Period.
Once you set expectations – so that people know what success looks like and the results they need to achieve – your focus then shifts to managing those expectations. How? By monitoring performance, giving feedback, providing resources and removing obstacles.
Leadership Is Also about People
Leadership by its very definition entails a relationship with others. No followers, no leadership. Yet too many leaders at all levels focus exclusively on results and ignore their people and minimize their relationships with them. That's too bad. Since without the people, how can you get the results?
As you’re running up that hill in the field of battle, if you look behind you and no one’s there, you are not leading.
When it comes to people, I tell leaders repeatedly: A chief responsibility for you as a leader is to help your people be successful. Help them be successful in achieving results…in meeting expectations…in conducting themselves according to the values of your team and organization.
When you help your people succeed, results come along for the ride. Your people get engaged. And YOU are then successful as a leader.
So develop your people. Coach and mentor them. Provide praise, recognition and acknowledgement for the good work they do, the contributions they make. Ask them for their ideas. Involve them in problem solving and decision making.
These are just a few of the simple and artful ways to lead your people – and yourself – to success.