Responsibilities of Leadership
What does it mean to be a leader? It means more than high salaries, organizational chart madness, or sheer power.
Leadership means responsibility.
Being a leader means the responsibility of service to others – the people who follow you.
Great leaders inherently know this – they understand the benefits of being a leader also bring with them great requirements.
What are those requirements? What should a great leader do?
1. A great leader determines a path to greatness.
It’s not enough to just determine any old path – great leaders only seek paths that will lead to greatness. Why is that? It’s because great leaders know their followers are capable of greatness. They believe the best of their followers. They understand what the organization is capable of achieving. Great leaders know that greatness matters – mere mediocrity is never good enough; even excellence falls short of the mark. Great leaders choose a path that will accomplish something great – and then determine the path to attain greatness.
Why do we need a path to greatness? Greatness, like mountain climbing, is not something most people can do in just one leap! It takes interim steps, a clear path, and a commitment to keep moving until the destination is reached. Great leaders know this – and they keep leading their flock until greatness is achieved.
2. A great leader chooses goals that can be obtained – but with a stretch.
It’s not enough to choose a goal that can be obtained easily – the organization must move toward a goal that, while it can be obtained, must require growth. It’s not enough for an organization to reach easily-obtained goals – to be great, an organization must obtain goals that are reachable, but require that the organization grows, changes, adapts, and becomes dramatically better.
3. A great leader believes in his or her followers.
What’s the point when you have a leader who doesn’t trust the people who follow? Leaders who don’t learn to trust others are useless – they’re one-man bands. And like one-man bands, they are quite the novelty and make a lot of noise, but they never really learn to make exceptional music.
A great leader is more like a conductor of an orchestra, who chooses the best performers, directs them in the way he or she wishes them to perform, and then leads them in the performance.
4. A great leader knows to accept blame and pass along honor.
It’s easy for a manager to accept praise – and it’s easy for him or her to deflect criticism. But a great leader accepts the blame, knowing that it was on his or her watch that the trouble started. A great leader passes along the honor that the organization receives – and passes back upward the names of the people who deserve that acclaim. Too many so-called leaders are like sponges where praise is concerned – they soak it all up for themselves – but when blame comes their way, they’re more like a strainer – they take the blame and spread it across a vast area, keeping none for themselves.
5. A great leader knows that the company’s true assets are the people who work for it.
It’s become fashionable to think of employees as liabilities, not assets. We’ve come quite a distance from the time when companies would tout and train their workers. The Bell System, known to millions as “the telephone company,” for example, would loudly honor their operators and service people, and General Electric proudly proclaimed that “people are our most important product.” Somewhere along the line, though, companies started thinking of employees as some sort of plug-compatible, hire today, fire tomorrow kind of “resource.”
The truth is that today, many companies, at least in the U.S., look on their employees as some sort of necessary evil. They outsource most functions, including customer support, sometimes halfway across the globe. They outsource product development. They outsource fulfillment. Pretty soon, they have little left than their brand name – and many of them license that out, as well. The company becomes little more than a shell that’s designed to make executives fat salaries.
There’s a major problem with this approach. Consumers aren’t stupid. As an example, in the 1970s, Detroit’s automobile companies outsourced small trucks to Japanese manufacturers. Consumers, attracted by the size and the familiar name, bought those trucks, and the cars that followed. Pretty soon, they learned who made the vehicles – which were great. Pretty soon, they stopped buying the vehicles from the American importer – and started buying them from the Japanese company instead!
This phenomenon isn’t confined to cars. Did you know that many companies that “make” cell phones don’t have much of anything to do with those phones’ designs? The phones are designed, styled, manufactured, and shipped by a third-party company. Nothing’s going to stop those companies from selling direct, and in many parts of the world, those unfamiliar names are rapidly gaining ground against the more established manufacturers.
What will the companies do about that? Not much. They have already eliminated their research and development divisions – they don’t have anything to fall back on. They treated their employees as if they were furniture.
So what would a real leader do? Just look at the companies that respect their employees – often they are among the continuing leaders in the world. Real leaders know their employees’ knowledge is the true asset that the company has.
6. A great leader motivates – usually by example.
The best motivation is always example. After all the “rah-rah” parties have gone and the “feel good” functions have ceased, the example of a great leader is always a greater motivation than any other single thing.
7. A great leader leads the way – and asks others to follow.
It should go without saying that a great leader forges ahead, making a path and showing the way – and yet many the would-be leader never really sets forth. It takes guts to strike out on a path, and it takes greater guts to ask people to follow your lead, especially when the path ahead is still dark and uncertain. This is perhaps the great test of a true leader, and the final responsibility. Only the leader show where the group should go, and ultimately, it’s not until that instant when he or she sets off that they know if the group will follow.
But if the person is a true leader, the group will follow. They may be terrified, or they may be mesmerized, but they will follow – and that’s what defines a person as a leader – for a leader is not defined by the distance he or she travels, but whether anyone is following behind.
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