Yes it’s true that leadership can mean many things to different people depending on their values and experiences. It involves a great deal both technically and relationally but what does the term Leader really mean?
Simply put by some is the notion that a leader is someone people follow, or another widely used phrase is ‘leadership is influence’. Both are true, but true leadership involves much more.
For example you can follow a leader to the wrong place and for different reasons, i.e. fear, duty, obligation perhaps – or equally a leader can influence you in the wrong way.
I have observed many different leaders over my lifetime and can definitely understand when experts say that up to 90% of leaders are manipulators, in other words they try to control someone to their advantage, often unfairly or at times dishonestly.
Ironically though, some of these leaders appear to have varying levels of success (although of course it depends on your definition of success.)
Why do you suppose manipulative types of leaders appear to have a level of success? And at what cost does this success come?
Most will take a number of casualties along the way and will have spent a long, in fact very long time getting to where they are – and guess what, they will often be so lonely and dependant on themselves because they will have lost more than they have gained at the end.
There are generally three types of followers:
- Those who follow because they have to
- Those who follow because they are paid to
- Those who follow because they want to
A true leader will attract followers and will not have to pursue them and rule over them. It’s important to realise that people should not be treated as personal property.
Many leaders today confuse workers or employees with followers. Very often people follow because they have to. In many workplaces for example, workers often do just enough that they don’t get fired, and bosses pay just enough so the workers don’t leave. Yet the capacity of a person is incredible. Some statistics state that many workers are only working at 40% of their capacity most of the time.
Result of manipulation
Leaders who try to control, force and coerce those around them should remember that people like to treated in a certain way, or to put it another way, people can’t be forced to do very much.
Those who revert to a manipulative style of leadership should realise that human beings have some natural instinctive traits that are worth considering.
For example when someone pushes a person, the natural reaction is to push back, or to resist. Depending on the personality involved some will push back physically, almost in your face, but most will push back and resist on the inside. They certainly think this way and often will make sure and tell others about it.
Secondly, if a person is pushed or has conflict for any length of time – the natural reaction is to get out of this environment. Human nature is mostly non-confrontational, therefore aggressive behaviour, particularly by a leader is very off putting to those around them.
Thirdly, and most common are those who have become resigned. The fight has been knocked out of them, but they remain out of need, habit, even fear and intimidation, with their confidence seriously affected. This type of follower very often feels that they have nothing worthwhile to offer anyone else. When probed, these people tend to be quite resentful of the way they and those around them have been treated.
There are many such people in organisations today, yet leaders wonder why people perform to a lower rather than higher standard.
More worrying is the fact that many leaders don’t realise that they are actually treating people this way, of course until it is too late. They think that they can treat people like their personal property.
To make matters worse much of the leadership training today encourages control and manipulative techniques as the way forward. This breeds a type of leader where ‘power at all cost’ is the driving motive. They aim to get to where they think is a worthwhile place through exploiting others.
This is not leadership, particularly if we use the phrase ‘people follow because they want to.’
So what then is a true leader?
Leadership is not a title, but rather it’s an identity. True leadership is an attitude rather than a title. It ‘inspires’ those who follow, rather than manipulating and controlling them. ‘Leader’ is what people whom you inspire call you, because they are stirred to participate in the positive vision that you are presenting them. In the workplace today leaders are called many things, some of them not so nice. Why is this? I would suggest it is because of the picture they present of themselves.
A true leader must win the hearts of the people – they must demonstrate this by letting the people see vision, purpose, passion, inspiration and influence. All together this forms the foundation for true leadership – only the foundation.
The character part is extremely important. Real leadership power comes from a person having an honourable character. Some ingredients of true leadership character include the following:
- High energy
- Wisdom & competence
- Decision-making ability
- Personal warmth
And also the following keys to excellence
A true and authentic leader keeps in mind the following important thought when dealing with others – ‘Am I treating others as I myself would like to be treated’ and they also possess another important quality – that of serving others. The term serving is often seen as a soft option by people but when understood and practiced in the correct context it is a powerful leadership secret.
You may have heard the saying ‘I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something I wasn’t prepared to do myself’. That is good but I haven’t met that many who has put their money where their mouth is!
Genuine servant leaders gain a respect and following that stands the test of time. When people around you, particularly the harder cases see what you are prepared to do to get the job done and not necessarily to win them over – they follow.
The secret of this type of leadership is that it is a constant ingredient in the leader’s style. If not, and only pulled out once in a while, it offers little value, but when it becomes part of the person it carries real value.
The old definition still holds true today:
'Leadership is a bit like beauty. It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it.'