Defining leadership can be difficult. Perhaps the most important principle that identifies a person as a leader is that they have followers. These followers can come from a wide variety of sources:
- They are people who you have hired
- They can be those assigned to you at work
- They are people in your social organization (e.g., Girl Guides)
- They are people in your social circle (friends)
- They are people in your family
A Social Contract
In many ways, leadership is a social contract between you and your followers. As a leader, you are responsible for these people. They have trusted you with guidance over certain aspects of their lives, and in turn expect that you will look out for their best interests. In several of these situations, that contract is contextual – someone who is your leader in a community-based organization is not your leader in your family. In some cases, leadership roles can even be reversed. Many years ago, I was a person’s leader at work since I had a higher rank. When it came time to going to the martial arts class, I became this person’s follower since he was higher ranking than me. Although this could have been a source of friction, both of us understood our roles as leaders and as followers in different situations.
The Difficulty With Studying Leadership
There are so many leadership books out there that I don’t think it would be possible to read them all in one’s lifetime. One of the most frustrating aspects of studying leadership is that there is no one successful formula. You can’t simply open a book or read a blog post, copy the formula as if it were a recipe, and magically become a leader. Unlike a mathematical formula, I do not believe that there is a “right” answer to every leadership situation. Nor do I believe that there is one leadership style that can solve every leadership challenge. The reason is simple – every leader comes from different backgrounds, have different experiences, and have different beliefs. The followers are also different, but for the very same reasons. Having said that, there are some principles that seem to come up time and time again, and as such this series will focus on those.
Why Should People Follow You
Let’s go back to the start of the article to look at the ‘pool’ of followers. Your followers can have different expectations of you depending on why they are your followers. Your followers may look to you for a paycheck, or they may look at you helping them advance in their careers. They may look at you for information on how to do better at sports, or how to carry out certain skills. They may look to you for guidance in what you are going to do together. They may look to you to provide standards of behaviour and of performance. They may look to you for comfort and support. They may look to you for answers in crisis situations. The bottom line is that your followers are looking at you to help them.
An Eye to the Future
Your followers will expect you to have certain skills or qualities. Over the next several posts, I will be looking at other aspects of leadership, including vision, communication, teamwork, empathy, passion, goal setting, responsibility, problem solving, servant leadership, and so on. By discussing these and other leadership ‘best practices,’ it is hoped to get you thinking about how you can incorporate and improve these principles in your everyday life.
If you are still reading, I commend you for your interest in leadership. Leading people can be one of the most challenging, yet most rewarding things that you can do. Leaders are not passive individuals – they take action. In this case, your action is not to simply read. Rather, I want you to reflect on what has been written, and add your own voice to the discussion. I firmly believe that the value of a leadership article lies not in itself, but rather in the dialogue that it creates. My aim is to create a community of people wanting to share their thoughts on leadership, their successes and (gasp) their failures, so that we can all learn how to become better leaders together. Imagine the world that we can create.