Four Elements of Leadership

Leadership is powerful, and it can make the difference between success and failure for yourself and any group you belong to. Regardless of your own abilities, many goals cannot be obtained without the help of others. Leadership involves accomplishing goals through others. Successful individuals do not become successful strictly by themselves. Successful individuals become successful with the help of others. The only way to reach the most difficult and important goals is through the help of others. Therefore, you will only be truly successful through exercising good leadership and helping others reach their goals. General George S. Patton defined leadership as the art of getting your subordinates to do the impossible. That is exactly what leadership is about, because it is impossible to accomplish the greatest goals without others, and for a group to be focused on a specific objective it takes leadership to motivate and guide the group toward its goals. In The Art of the Leader, William A. Cohen provides a definition of leadership as, “Leadership is the art of influencing others to their maximum performance to accomplish any task, objective, or project.

People are born with certain characteristics that give them the potential to excel in certain areas. Some like to say leaders are born, not made. This is nonsense. Anyone can work hard to develop their abilities and this hard work is more important than what you were born with. Leadership can be learned. A “born” leader must still work to become a true leader. The person born without certain characteristics that aid in leadership may have to work a bit harder, but everyone has the ability to become a leader through hard work. If you want to be a leader, you can learn the skills the same way you learn other skills. Once learned, you must then apply these learned skills to the situations you are in to lead others toward the group’s goals and objectives. There are many elements to effective leadership, and countless books, models and theories on the topic. In this short article, we will look at four elements of leadership. These will be:

• Focus on the Vision and Mission
• Develop and Communicate Beliefs
• Empower Others
• Show the Way and Do What You Say

Focus on the Vision and Mission

To be an effective leader, one must have an unclouded vision about the goals and objectives ahead. It is important to set priorities and keep them clear while leading. The leader must have the ability to see all ramifications of his or her action or inaction. The leader’s effectiveness will be in direct proportion to the amount of focus applied to the most important goals and objectives.

One of the duties of a leader is to clearly define the group or organization’s vision and mission. With these defined, goals and objectives that are in alignment with the vision can be set and worked toward. With these clearly defined and in focus, you and your people’s initiative, power, innovation and imagination can be released to accomplish everything the organization desires and more.

It is imperative that a leader have total conviction in his ideas. It is then up to the leader to convince the remainder of the organization to follow. During the eighth episode of season two of the popular television show “The Apprentice,” Elizabeth allowed her team to convince her to go against her convictions regarding the New York Police Department advertisement. Upon hearing this, Trump told her, “Wait, you let your team change your mind for you? As a leader, if you believe you’re right, you have to stand by your decision no matter what.”

As a leader, you must focus your efforts on matters of the highest concern. You must not lose sight of your primary mission and the vision of your organization. Keep the vision in focus and you are guaranteed to have the first step toward effective leadership behind you.

Develop and Communicate Beliefs

Great leaders are known for their ideas. Ideology is an important factor when leading. A leader must know where he or she stands. To know this, strong beliefs must be developed. Leaders must be clear about their guiding principles. Once developed, the leader must communicate them to others, both those the leader is leading and those outside the organization or group looking in.

Ideas that form the basis of leadership are developed in many ways. Parents, friends, teachers, heroes, clergy, and countless other influences help shape beliefs. You goal as a leader is to recognize and develop the ideas and beliefs that will assist you in leading your organization toward its goals. If your beliefs and philosophy are not consistent and congruent with your vision and mission, you will not be an effective leader. This is why developing beliefs and creating a vision go hand-in-hand. You should apply your beliefs and philosophy toward your vision and mission and have them clearly developed and defined.

Don’t be afraid to change your beliefs if you come to realize that an idea you had was mistaken. If evidence makes you change your mind about an issue, it’s an indication of intellectual honesty. There is nothing wrong with this, and one should not stick to an old opinion for fear of being considered weak for changing one’s mind. At the same time, one should not change ideas and opinions to try and be popular and please various groups. Stick to beliefs you believe in and can articulate the reasons for the belief, no matter how popular or unpopular if you believe it is right.

Once a leader develops strong beliefs and sets a direction for the organization to follow, the direction must be communicated to others. Expressing ideology is a powerful tool a leader possesses. In Leadership, author Rudy Giuliani explained how he expressed his ideology in the days following the World Trade Center disaster of September 11, 2001. He had to explain the enormity of what had happened and hold accountable those responsible for the attacks. On Monday, October 1, 2001, Mayor Giuliani addressed the United Nations General Special Session on Terrorism. Standing up for what he believed in, Giuliani describes what he wanted to accomplish with that address, “I wanted to set forth a principled statement of American objectives. I wanted to challenge the UN’s refusal to take strong, uncompromising stands. My goal was to lay out in plain language what America stood for and what we had to lose if we didn’t defend our values.” This was a valuable opportunity for Mayor Giulianai to address the UN and communicate his ideas about what had taken place, and what was to come. He communicated the philosophy behind what he was saying. This direct communication to the people of New York, and to the people of the world was honest and congruent with Giulianai’s beliefs. By communicating the principles on which his administration was going to rest, people knew where Giulianai was coming from and could agree or disagree with his thinking. This development and communication of strong beliefs is one of the many reasons Giulianai left office with a reputation as one of the most effective mayors New York had ever seen and remains a positive role model for leadership.

We must always remember, an effective leader must be able to communicate beliefs, visions and ideas.

Empower Others

We recognized above that Leadership involves accomplishing goals through others, and successful individuals do not become successful strictly by themselves. When researching leadership as a team effort for their book The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner reviewed over 2,500 personal-best cases and developed a simple test to detect whether someone is on the road to becoming a leader. The test they developed was the frequency of the use of the word we. Kouzes and Posner state, “Exemplary leaders enlist the support and assistance of all those who must make the project work.” This means everyone, including peers, managers, customers and clients, suppliers, and anyone else who has a stake in the vision and goals of the organization.

The leader must involve all those who are impacted by the results, and they must make it possible for those involved to perform their tasks and accomplish their portion of the goals. The leader must enable others to act. For a person to work toward a specific goal, they need to feel as though they are a part of it. They must have a sense of ownership in the goal. A strong leader will work to make those he or she leads feel capable and committed toward the vision and goals of the group. Leaders must give power to those they lead. In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner describe this as, “When people have more discretion, more authority, and more information, they’re much more likely to use their energies to produce extraordinary results.” The true leader empowers others. It is the collective empowered team that will succeed and climb to the highest heights.

Show the Way and Do What You Say

Eloquent speeches about values, vision and achieving goals are not enough. To be a leader, one must actually perform to those standards. A leader’s actions are more important than his or her words. The actions must be consistent and congruent with the spoken values and vision, otherwise all the rhetoric will be for naught. It only takes one negative action to destroy volumes of great words.

The most important way leaders can set an example is to do what they say they will do. This is a fundamental truth for leadership, and the leader who breaks this will not lead for long. Credibility is crucial to leadership. Kouzes and Posner did extensive research on leader credibility and reported these questions and answers in The Leadership Challenge:

• How do you know if someone is credible?
• How would you define credibility in behavioral terms?
• How would you recognize credible leaders?

Here are some of the phrases they used in reply:

• “They practice what they Preach.”
• “They walk the talk.”
• “Their actions are consistent with their words.”
• “They put their money where their mouth is.”
• And the most frequent response: “They do what they say they will do.”

The responses to Kouzes and Posner’s questions illustrate how essential example setting is to a leader’s credibility.

Actions speak louder than words, but your actions must be consistent with your words or you will be considered either not serious or a hypocrite. Lead by example and model the behaviors and values you expect from those on your team or in your organization. Show the way and do what you say.

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Comments

  1. Stephanie  September 14, 2012

    “Leadership” – trlnaaste “getting ahead of the other guy” – trlnaaste “fame, money, power” (the standard American definition of success) – trlnaaste “fame, money, power” for any institution associated with such leadership. Leadership and honor are secondary virtues, because they are no virtue when done in the thrall of money and power and violence. Think Nazi Germany; or Chile, El Salvador and Vietnam for the United States.A conspicuous and limited challenge is seen as a fine and welcome thing in academe always good for showing how liberal and thoughtful and moral the institution is. My institution excels in teaching both leadership and “moral capitalism.” Moral accumulation of great wealth. Academic institutions like to imagine that this is possible even while many people in this world are starving and many others (often from impoverished backgrounds) are dying in wars to protect this great wealth. (You can see why my institution was happy to see me retire, and this is yet another reason why Universities want to restrict tenure and require faculty to stick to their formal expertise and focus on publication and research grants.) I don’t claim to know the answers, but I do claim to know the problem. And recognizing the problem and making it public are the essential first steps, if there is to be any hope for future generations.Someone commented “… informal leaders, those who lead from among the ranks, can build or destroy kingdoms very effectively.” I agree that power ultimately resides in the people, which is why exemplar leaders for change often have been killed, imprisoned or in other ways repressed and marginalized by the power structure. Jesus is a good example of such leadership and of what can happen as a result. Suggesting that current church leaders are hypocritical feels hardly different today from when Jesus accused the Pharisees and Sadducees two thousand years ago.Someone also commented re self-centered leadership, that it “…very much depends on the college.” To an extent, quite true. However, to varying extents, we are all part of the system and blind to our self-deception.There is great danger as we develop a mono-culture in our society, comparable to the developing mono-culture in our food supply. This is particularly a danger for a culture based on American exceptionalism and that invests power in a few individuals. Those who control most of the citizenry simultaneously trumpet (via media domination) our freedom and individualism. Reader, know that I am extremely grateful for what freedoms still exist in this country, such that I and others of my acquaintance are alive to speak the truth as we see it. This right has been protected much more by citizens willing to speak their versions of truth (despite the consequences) than by soldiers in war, who are a “fighting machine” but not a political machine. I am grateful that in speaking our truth, we are oppressed not by death or imprisonment (for the most part), but instead (only somewhat better) by the overwhelming propaganda machine of those in power, including what is often taught and assumed in our Universities.