A person seeking out an answer to the question could find many books on the subject. Yet the concept of leadership often still remains vague and unclear. The first reason for this is probably that many books on leadership are really not all that helpful.
But even good books on leadership often fail to provide the core clarity that goes right to the heart of what leadership should be. For example, Marcus Buckingham points out that the book Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence, ”details nineteen traits that an effective leader is supposed to possess.” Yes, this even includes pew members and officers of churches in our field.
I have that book on my list to read, but now I’m afraid to read it. How are you going to keep 19 different competencies in mind? It is hard to apply such a broad spectrum every day when you are leading. However, it is helpful to understand the characteristics of leadership, because by doing so we find so much value.
Better than trying to memorize 19 characteristics of leadership, I would argue that you need to know the single, underlying core first. Knowing the 19 characteristics of this or that is not going to be sufficient. The 19 characteristics need to be integrated into a bigger idea. What we need to find and suggest to Dr. Byrd is “the core” that he should grasp. This would give him a context for understanding the broader characteristics. So, what is the core of leadership? What is the essence of what a leader does?
Maybe the authors of Primal Leadership follow exactly their 19 characteristics. But, successful attempts at this are rare. I have seen nothing more helpful than the definition of leadership that Marcus Buckingham gives in his book The One Thing You Need to Know: About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success.
Buckingham’s definition is not simply the best of a bunch of “good but still not exactly right” attempts; it resonates. When you read his definition, you immediately get it. Finally, you have an “aha” moment, and realize “that’s it — that’s what leadership is.” So, what does a leader do? Buckingham’s answer is:
Great leaders rally people to a better future.
A great leader does not control people, he rallies them. He rallies them to realize and bring about a vision of a better future.
Buckingham especially emphasizes the future-oriented nature of leadership:
The two key words in this definition are “better future.” What defines a leader is his preoccupation with the future. In his head he carries a vivid image of what the future could be, and this image drives him on. This image, rather than, say, goals of outperforming competitors, or being individually productive, or helping others achieve success, is what motivates the leader.
Don’t misunderstand. An effective leader might also be competitive, achievement oriented, and a good coach. But these are not the characteristics that make him a leader. He is a leader if, and only if, he is able to rally others to the better future he sees. (The One Thing You Need to Know, pp 59-60.)
One last aspect: This means that a leader must have a talent for optimism. If you are not an optimistic person, nobody will want to go to the future that you see. Leaders rally to a better future. “As a leader you must possess the inner passion; of believing, deeply and instinctively, that things are going to get better” (p. 63). (sic)
By the way, I’m Left Behind
Adapted from About Matt Perman