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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Good Leader? Why?

Here’s the shortest leadership survey you’ll ever take:

    1. Did you stick with a person who got you to do something you didn’t want to do?

    2. If so, why?

If the answer to Question 1 was “Yes,” the person is a leader. If the thing was a good thing, the person is a good leader, in both senses of the word.

Question 2 is a different matter. You didn’t want to do it, but you did. This person got you to act against your preference. And you didn’t regret it later, at least not enough to turn away from the person. There’s a lot going on here.


The initial act was sales. Persuasion is a special form of communication, in which words are used to convince a listener to do something the person would not otherwise do. This is a valued skill set, sometimes misused by people who are good at it, and poorly employed by most of us. When we can pull it off, we feel really good about ourselves.

Then, when you can convince a person who actually was opposed to doing it at all, your success is a significantly higher achievement.

It is indeed a big deal, but it’s only the beginning. Too often we think that’s all there is to leadership. It’s not. However challenging the prospect and lofty the sales achievement, it’s not leadership. Necessary, but nowhere near sufficient.

And then, when you are able to maintain the influential relationship after “buyer’s remorse” has a chance to set in? That is a truly big deal. Now you have the chance to be a real leader.

This matter of leadership is endlessly commented upon, but the experience of having been led is unambiguous. If you were part of some outstanding achievement, and you know it would never have come about without this person, there it is. Leadership, in the flesh. 

Much more often, though, there is no moment of landmark victory. Instead, the role is exercised as a gentle, little-noticed continuous influence on the actions and even the attitudes and outlook of a number of people. How does that happen?

To lengthen the short survey just a bit, here are two additional questions:

      3.  Do you trust this person?

      4.  Does the person always do what he/she promises to do?

You trust people whose actions match their words. It’s the actions that determine the outcome.

When you hear words that please you, that say what you want to hear, it feels really good. Too many times in your life, that good feeling has been dashed. In large matters and small, people have not delivered the results they so confidently assured you of. Maybe you kind of come to expect nonperformance. You may even stop hoping.

But then, here comes a person who produces an unbroken string of performances as advertised. Should you dare to believe?

What if it goes on? You see this person, win or lose, keeping at it, continually finding new ways to do something – anything – to keep the effort alive. Acknowledging mistakes. Eagerly seeking innovative solutions. Determined, and always reliable. Honest.

Stop for a moment to really think about the long days, the endless supply of moments when a lot of people would slack off or miss a beat or two. This person simply never does. Doesn’t need inspiration or encouragement, and in fact always is ready to provide both. And, when big moments unexpectedly erupt, always seems ready with the courage and the answer.

If you care, how can you not want to follow such a person?

Behavior, that’s how it happens. If you are this leader person, you make it your business to manage in ways that cause people to be predisposed toward your initiatives. Your reputation is earned largely by your achievements, but as a leader it is sustained by your credibility. You’re disciplined. You don’t risk the slightest slippage.

Then, when it comes time for the persuasion part, you’ve got a receptive audience. Without both credibility and persuasive ability, you’ll never be a leader. True leaders cannot be appointed by some superior authority. Leadership is determined only by the followers at the other end of the equation, and their collective response is inerring.

You don’t have leadership. You do leadership.


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