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#19 Leadership does not come with a title, and its effectiveness always 'depends'.


Leadership is a fascinating topic. What is it? Why are some people better at leading than others? Daft (2015) defines leadership as "...someone who has an influence relationship among followers who intend real changes and outcomes that reflect shared purposes." Some people are better at leading than others because, they have the right qualifications, motivations, emotional intelligence, behaviours, strategy, coalitions, cultural intelligence, power, courage, (to name a few) for the situation... For something that seems so basic it's very complicated. The answer to define if someone is a good leader, is always - it depends. Different situations require different types of leadership.

I was thinking this morning about the various 'leaders' I have had in the past - sport coaches, team leaders, and managers - titles which I've always expected to have an element of leadership involved. Even from a young age I realised people in positions of power are not necessarily good leaders.

The first time I realised this was when I was about 7 years old playing rugby. We had a particularly good player in the team, and his dad was the coach. The kid would 'hog' the ball a lot, and from doing so quite often score a try. The rules were that the person who scored the try then got a shot to drop kick the ball over the posts for an extra two points. Yes, this helped the team have a better shot at winning a game, but is this what 7 year old rugby should be about? The coach would encourage the ball to be passed to his son. The son might score 5 tries in the game, and each time he would have the reward / chance to take a shot at kicking the ball over the posts. The kid, or his dad, never thought about offering another kid in the team a turn at taking a kick. Even when I was 7 I knew that that the dad was a poor leader, especially when he would reward his son 'player of the day' at the end of every game (LOSER). How did this make the team feel?.. Obviously, the team did not matter to this father and son duo.

Another memorable time I experienced poor leadership was working in a bank for an 'old school' manager. The old school manager role (in my opinion) was very much a 'mans' job; someone who is quick to tell people they're wrong, has little patience, and does not like to be spoken back to. This man liked to focus on numbers to assess performance (in this case a foolish way to measure performance as senior employees in the team knew shortcuts to rig numbers in their favour). One time I asked him a question and he yelled at me in front of the team saying "how am I supposed to know?" His aggression certainly didn't reflect influence over me to achieve a shared purpose - it made me hate my job, and him. This aggression was terrible for my performance as I began to question myself, and would then miss important things, a downward spiral for performance.

In both cases, these men believed their jobs were to measure performance through numbers, in the most direct way they could achieve them. In my opinion, this short-sightedness limited the team's potential. In both cases, I knew that higher numbers could have been achieved if there was a focus on developing people and fostering teamwork. Every team member has something unique to offer through a different set of strengths. I'm fortunate to have been involved in a variety of teams over my career, and therefore have validated my beliefs that high performing teams generate greater results than teams focusing on 'sole' players who look to put themselves ahead of the rest.

Was the rugby coach a good coach? It depends. Yes, because the team won games. No, because the team didn't like him, weren't developing themselves, and weren't enjoying the sport.

Was the manager a good manager? It depends. Yes, because he felt the numbers reflected good performance on his part. No, because he wasn't interested in improving processes, or engaging the team in their ideas to generate more business.

Were they good leaders? It depends. In my opinion - no. They both missed a crucial element from Daft's definition of a leadership, which is the part about outcomes being focused on shared purpose.

From my experience, the best thing a leader can do is to understand their follower's purpose, and seek to align that with the goals of the team. Then, give the individual some freedom and guidance to accomplish tasks they set for themselves. The result of this is greater engagement, improved ways of doing things, and better results - both quantitative and qualitative.

Another important point is that leadership has nothing to do with a title. A person in any position can be a leader. This often requires courage to challenge the status quo. If you agree with Daft's definition of a leader, and believe that the situation you are involved in requires something different to be done, then be courageous and influence change around shared purpose. This is leadership.

One of my favourite quotes

"When the best leader's work is done the people say, 'we did it ourselves.'" Lao Tzu.

Daft, R. (2015). The Leadership Experience. 6th Ed.