Over the last year, we have been helping people become better leaders. We’ve run countless workshops on the topic of leadership and we even launched our own leadership podcast last year, The Leadership Detectives.
But what actually is a leader? The answer is far more complex than someone barking orders from the front.
This blog will be dissecting the leader’s role and looking at what separates the good leaders from the bad. We will also be highlighting some of the most common and essential qualities leaders need to have to be successful.
What is a leader?
The dictionary defines a leader as: “The person who leads or commands a group, organisation or country.”
And, to a certain extent, that is absolutely right.
As a leader, you’re a representative of your community, whether that is a company, sports team, family or entire country. That means you have to think about how you represent yourself to your seniors, and the people below you have to look at you as being someone they can trust, who has their interests at heart.
A leader is fundamental to the direction and motivation of the people they are leading. Look at all the good things that organisations, teams and countries have done. Would they have ever happened if there wasn’t someone driving everything forwards?
Whether they are corporate or sports, the team is focused on the task and getting the incremental bits done – but without a leader, who manages it all? Who is getting the best out of each individual and making sure they develop?
A leader is responsible for all of these things and more.
What determines a true leader?
Now, a portion of people out there have leadership roles who are not leaders in the slightest. We have certainly worked with a few of them in the past!
What then determines when someone is a true leader, instead of one in title only?
After a bit of Googling, I managed to find a great definition of a true leader, which sums it up far better than the Oxford dictionary:
“Great leaders help people reach their goals, are not afraid to hire people that might be better than them and take pride in the accomplishments of those they help along the way.”
This is a fantastic definition of a true leader because it makes the role about the people. Being in a leader’s role but not focusing on your people is just bad leadership, plain and simple.
Ever since starting our leadership conversations, we have always said that people are absolutely key in whatever you’re doing as a leader. Remember folks, you’re not leading tasks – you are leading people, never forget that!
Leaders – born or forged?
It’s fairly common knowledge that any good leader needs a certain set of core competencies.
They need to be courageous, know how to motivate, have a vision, etc.
However, are those competencies learnt? Or are they a natural skill set that someone is born with?
Some people out there may say that they aren’t cut out to be a leader or that you have to be born a leader, but the truth is we can make a leader out of most people. The only question is do they want to be a leader?
Look, leaders can, without a doubt, be created, but the raw product you’re working with has to be right.
At some point in our lives, we are all leaders. Whether you’re leading your family, your sports team or business, there comes a point in time when you will take a leadership role and demonstrate all the qualities of leadership.
However, you need motivation and drive to be a leader on an ongoing basis – that’s the big difference. True leadership is a long-term role. You need to care about the development of your people and have a long-term vision in mind.
Can you lead and play at the same time?
Having that long-term vision means a good leader also needs to stay focused on leading their team, not working within it.
A conductor can’t also be a first violinist, and a captain of a ship can’t spend their time in the engine room, right?
When you are in a leader’s role, you might have multiple roles to deal with, but when you’re leading, you need to be leading. That means you’re standing in front of the orchestra and you’re making sure all the parts are playing in unison.
However, if you do have to step into another role, you’ve got to make sure that you have the right person ready to take on that role of leadership.
One of the most powerful things a leader does is mentoring, coaching and developing people to be their best, which means developing future leaders who can step up when called upon.
Having the courage to hold up your standards
Another big part of being a leader is courage. You need to have the courage to do what you think is right at all times, regardless of the consequences or rewards.
You have to be able to step forward and lead your team the way you think is right and create the type of energy you want to see in your business. Because if you aren’t driving the vision forwards, who will?
As a leader, you need to lay out your values, and if that pushes against what the organisation prefers, it doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing. Remember that leadership is all about people, and if your organisation doesn’t align with your values, some change needs to happen.
I remember the phrase that I was told growing up: “You either change the people or you change the people.”
Sometimes, that means educating your team on your or the company’s values or providing more clarity, but other times, it means changing the team if somebody isn’t right. That isn’t a bad thing, it’s just part of leadership.
However, you need to find the right balance here. A good leader can respect a person’s individuality whilst still being firm on their values and delivering the mission they’ve been asked to deliver.
And at the same time, they also need to give the other person career development, fulfilment, rewards and recognition.
It’s not about your title
A true leader is not a leader because of the title on their business cards. They are someone who creates a vision, direction, passion and energy for their team.
They’ve got courage, and they set their values and inspire others to be the best they can be! At the end of the day, we are all humans, and that’s what a leader needs to be: an authentic, vulnerable human.
This is the first of many blogs to come so I hope you enjoyed it!
We are always keen to chat with anyone about how they can improve their leadership skills, so to get in touch, feel free to reach out to us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, you can find out more about how the Leadership Detectives could help you by booking a free coaching session with us via our website here.
More to come next week.