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Doing for others what they’re unable to do for themselves.
That’s leadership. It’s not power. Or authority. Or being in charge. It’s not about being the boss.
We’re so fixated on titles, positions, and power that we often overlook or discount leadership. We think authority is the key to it all. But it’s not.
I’m not discounting the power of authority (pun intended). It can serve a tremendous benefit when a good or great leader has it. It can also be disastrous if a person without leadership skills has it. I call them tyrants.
Let’s talk about authority’s role in leadership.
Leadership doesn’t require authority. It certainly isn’t equal to authority, but authority most certainly can enhance leadership because it affords the leader the power to more quickly eliminate or reduce roadblocks for people.
Are you a boss? Then I encourage you to take a binary view of your authority. I know life isn’t this simple, but a binary view of your authority will serve you to become a more effective leader.
Tyranny or service? Those are your choices. Admittedly there are degrees of both, but they’re still tyranny or service.
I only use “servant leadership” because it’s in the cultural vernacular. It’s redundant though because leadership is all about service. Else, it’s tyranny and not leadership. It’s authority, power, coercision, manipulation, intimidation and all sorts of other things. But it’s NOT leadership (influence and doing for others what they’re unable to do for themselves).
You’ve got a title. You’ve got authority. Great!
Now decide how you’re going to use it. Do you want to be a tyrant or a leader? You will pick one that most characterizes your daily actions. One will emerge victorious in your career. People will judge you as one or the other. And you get to decide.
Tyrants lean heavily on the command and control tactics many of us grew up learning (we old guys and gals). Bark out orders. Embrace management theory X. If we don’t make people do the work, it won’t get done. So we control as much as we possibly can. We tighten our grip knowing if we don’t do it ourselves, it won’t get done.
Leaders lean heavily on the talents, abilities, initiatives and ambitions of individuals and on the collective. Yes, there may be times to bark out orders, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. Sometimes, especially in a crisis, it’s appropriate for command and control to be used in order to serve people – and protect them, their jobs and our enterprise. Leaders embrace management theory Y. People wake up daily wanting to do good work. Hoping to make a contribution so they can make a difference. People want to know they’re relied upon by others. Leaders provide a positive environment – culture – that fosters the growth of the individual and the entire team, group or organization.
The terrific thing about the leadership who has authority is that she can more quickly do for others what they’re unable to do for themselves.
Consider an accounting department with a quirk in their data entry. Every time they set up a vendor or a customer they have to go to two separate screens to enter basic information TWICE. It’s cumbersome and frustrating for them. Daily they wonder, “Why won’t somebody fix this?”
The leader with authority learns of the problem and quickly asks the MIS (management information systems) folks to contact the enterprise software vendor about a remedy. Within a week the vendor comes back with a cost effective solution that can be pushed out during the off hours without business disruption. The leader with authority signs off on it and within 4 business days the fix is in and the second screen that required repetitive input no longer has those same fields. In fact, the vendor is now working on a new release that will streamline data entry even more.
The accounting staff didn’t have the power to make this problem go away. The leader did. And she used it wisely to help her people perform better.
Authority and power aren’t negative things. Unless in the hands of a tyrant.
In the hands of a leader, they’re remarkably effective to elevate performance throughout the enterprise. Now you know why those leadership components (recipe ingredients) are so critical. And why humility is the foundational ingredient.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!