Defining Leadership can be a perplexing topic. There are not many attributes of the human animal that can be so misunderstood, and misidentified. The difficulty we have in identifying exactly what a leader is, can make it a challenge to focus on what attributes we should focus on individually to become strong and authentic leaders. Any discussion on developing leadership skills needs to start at the question of what skills do we need to be developing, and how those skills will fit into the overall “package” of our own personal reputation.
For example, a person’s athletic ability can be readily on display, and their performance and attitude on the playing field will strongly influence the perception of them as “leaders”. Someone who tends to think first of passing instead of shooting might be perceived as unselfish, while the one who never passes up a chance to shoot could be seen as self-centered and arrogant. We might hope that an attribute of a leader wouldn’t be arrogance, but we often tend to connect level of impact in sports to leadership. How often do we say the highest scorer is “leading” the team to a championship, while probably overlooking the teammates that may actually be exhibiting leadership? So maybe a player’s boorish behavior doesn’t really matter, as long as they produce the results expected? Is working on your jump shot so you have a higher shooting percentage from 3-point range leadership development? While committing to practice and developing more advanced skills might be crucial to team success, it is not a focus on developing the skills needed for leadership. While they can be worked on, just like the mechanics of a jump shot, they are not the same! Leadership is hard to define, or to identify any specific criteria for. We often take an “I know it when I see it” approach to declaring someone as a great leader - obviously a highly subjective and inconsistent methodology for identifying leaders. Each of us will have our own definition of what a “leader” is, based on our own experiences and perspectives. We often tend to identify people as leaders based on their position or title, while we may just as often overlook individuals with leadership influence because of the same criteria. Our society creates criteria for leaders that may also skew reality: expecting someone to be outgoing and charismatic, favoring celebrity and popularity, or a propensity for telling others what to do. While these characteristics may be the end result of successfully developing leadership capability, they should not be viewed as requirements along the path.
In my 25+ years of leadership and developing leaders, I have developed a framework of emphasis for leaders at all levels and stages of their leadership development journey to focus on. As with sports analogies, these focus areas are not anything that can be treated with a “once and done” philosophy, but rather need to be committed to being worked on continuously. I will be outlining these areas in future installments of this series. An awareness of these priorities, combined with your personal commitment to focusing on developing your skills and abilities in these areas, will help to strengthen your leadership ability, reputation, and success.