What is Leadership?

Unless your job title is Chief Executive Officer, you’re going to spend the bulk of your time in classic management functions (planning, assuring quality, allocating resources). That means for most of your day you aren’t/can’t be doing the “leadership” stuff (declaring visions, inspiring others, making critical decisions…) that management gurus incessantly preach.When you do the leadership stuff, you add value. You get leverage.

Yet you know you’re supposed to do leadership. But how do you integrate those more aspirational, fuzzier, and seemingly not time-bound, set of leadership activities into the pressure-cooker commonly referred to as your job?

A colleague of mine told: “You can’t put ‘do leadership at 2 o’clock’ on your daily schedule.”

Well, actually you can. And should.

Leadership is both a mindset and and a set of tasks. And those tasks are both highly definable and worth doing.

While everyone has their favorite definition, I’ve distilled the squishy, amorphous, all-too-mysterious concept of leadership to ten words:

Leadership is: Effecting desired results by positively affecting others’ actions.

By this simple construct, leadership is actionable, results-oriented, and about impacting other people. Think of leadership as a process: You affect measurable outcomes through affecting human inputs. And to do that, you must do things.

Think of it this way: When you are doing the tasks you normally think of as “your job” — the ones in your job description, the ones that have outputs that other people are waiting for, you’re meeting minimum requirements for employment. On the other hand, when you engage in leadership activities, you’re investing in performance quality (by affecting associate attitude), performance improvement (by affecting associate involvement), performance stability (by affecting associate commitment) and other tangibles by influencing intangibles. Think of leadership as
a process.

When you do the leadership stuff, you add value. You get leverage. The leverage comes in the effect your actions have on the regular, routine, expected outcomes produced by the associates in your work group or department. You affect the work they effect.

What you invest in leadership time — usually this means the time you spend one-on-one with your workgroup associates — you get back in their routine performance. There’s a ton of research on this. And if there were not, if the relationship between positive leadership activities and performance were not demonstrable, then smart business people would do well to fire just about everyone with “manager” in their title. Right? Just keep a few super-planners, and a few super-monitors — and let the business run!

The trick would be to put the savings from all those salaries into mostly automated systems that simply monitored the performance of individual contributors, compensating them based on the consequences of their performance.

Of course, some folks would need to run that system. And to get the best, most efficient output from that group, we really should have someone working to tweak those individuals’ performance…

Go ahead. Put leadership on your calendar — schedule some activities right now. For, say, 2 o’clock. Then be sure that the leadership tasks get done so you get the leverage they provide.


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