So much really good and insightful material has been published about the essence of genuine leadership that we're left shaking our heads whenever we encounter leaders who obviously just chewed the books' covers when they should have been reading and taking notes.
People generally think about the subject of leadership as a corporate-level concern—and it is. But it's also highly relevant to how we do our jobs in the world of supply chain management. The basics are the basics, whether applied to the entire organization or to an important component part.
"Master and Commander"
Brilliant as Russell Crowe was in the 2003 film, it was set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The leadership model has changed somewhat since, we sincerely hope. Further, what was required to keep order among a crew of illiterates is of a different order than what is needed to run flexible and creative business organizations, whether they're engaged in supply chain management, social media strategizing, or something else.
Even in the ultimate command and control organizations, the armed forces, modern leadership qualities are being increasingly and eagerly embraced. And the failure of commanders to lead has had some serious consequences in the past few decades.
Consider the level of enthusiasm and commitment troops might muster in the case of an officer who assured them that he'd rather be with them storming the beaches but that duty required him to stay behind versus the general who actually got his pants wet wading ashore. Then, contemplate the number of young junior officers who were killed or wounded in Vietnam by grenades thrown from behind.
But enlightened views of leadership in the military are hardly a brand new phenomenon. George Patton, the irascible World War II general, once said, "Don't tell people how to do things. Tell them what needs to be done, and let them surprise you with their results."
Regrettably, some in business positions that would, at minimum, imply leadership and at most, demand it are still looking to the fear and intimidation model they wrongly attribute to command and control systems.
Leadership failures vs. leadership successes
So what makes a great leader? One-time "America's Mayor" Rudy Giuliani (whatever you might think of his politics) outlined some of the necessary attributes: an ability to communicate, vision, empathy, self control, coaching skill, positive attitude, and integrity.
A core understanding of this model is that six out of seven is not enough and five out of seven is a formula for either failure or catastrophe, or both. On the other hand, being loved is not one of the core attributes. According to some reports, people at Apple would follow Steve Jobs into a fiery pit but not like him in any way as a human being. We might suggest a few additions to Giuliani's list. They include the ability to think strategically, a propensity to seek change, and a balance between intuitive and analytic perspectives.
Not all of those who are placed in leadership positions are genuine leaders, of course. Some are pretenders and poseurs. It usually doesn't take long for the true picture to emerge. Leaders are confident and secure, while the secretly frightened and insecure display some tell-tale signs:
As they become increasingly consumed by the need to maintain "control," a number of bad things happen:
This last consequence represents nothing less than an enormous waste of human potential. Gen. Patton's relevant observation was, "If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
The ultimate differentiator
Once we get past all the lists of leadership attributes, a vital component remains: authenticity. Genuineness. What you see is what you get. This fundamental quality can't be faked. And it can't be easily taught.
It results in leaders who won't ask followers to do anything they wouldn't undertake themselves. Patton again: "Always do everything you ask of those you command."
Occasionally, a genuine leader hires a controlling second-in-command, who winds up doing the dirty work the empathetic leader won't do. Usually, these situations get rectified quickly. If not, it may be a sign that the ultimate leader wants to maintain the appearance of authenticity and is using a hit man to carry out his or her secret wishes. Ultimately, people see through the appearance, and the "leader" loses credibility.
The authentic leader
The authentic leader does embody the attributes on Giuliani's list, not as poses, but as actualities.
That genuine leader recognizes his or her strengths—and weaknesses—and builds a leadership team to fill in the gaps.
The leader challenges the status quo, even one of his or her own creation.
A real leader already knows that not everyone thinks and acts alike, and he or she actively looks for ways to create a team with diverse styles and perspectives. Not for the sake of diversity, but for the sake of leveraging comprehensive strengths for complete solutions.
The leader deals with the big picture, the complexities of all facets of an enterprise, the variety of alternatives for the future, simultaneously.
The true leader models doing the right things in the right way.
The ultimate leader never stops working on getting better.