Todd Dewett | June 8, 2021
The most common definition of leadership suggests it is an influence process focused on maximizing what a group can accomplish in terms of goal attainment. I’ve never been comfortable with this definition.
Let’s consider each part of the traditional definition and a few things that should be added:
To start, yes, leadership is a process. Check. Also, I have no problem with the idea of maximizing a team’s performance. Sounds good. However, I would add the assumption that the methods used are fair and positive.
Next, it’s important to make clear that making decisions is fundamental to leadership. Intuition is sometimes necessary, but mostly leadership is a series of conscious decisions. Who do we hire? How do I share this issue with the team? What is my priority today? The list is long.
Then replace the focus on influence with a focus on collaboration. This highlights the need to ask good questions, listen, and in general to support effective communication. As opposed to influence, collaboration implies a more positive and team-minded approach, as opposed to the somewhat negative connotations associated with the word influence.
We also have to recognize that the traditional definition neglects the role of a leader’s self-awareness and need for self-improvement. These issues are at the heart of modern leadership. Change starts with who? You. Sure, we have a lot to talk about in terms of proactively managing the team, but it starts with you modeling self-improvement and continuous learning.
Another obvious issue is the lack of outcomes other than team performance. Today we understand there are multiple answers to the question of outcomes and results. We value team performance, shareholder value, developing others, supporting communities, protecting the environment, social movements, and much more. Possibly the most glaring omission is no mention of purpose. To define, create, and maintain a sense of purpose must be recognized as central to any leadership role.
So, with these thoughts in mind, let’s redefine leadership.
Leadership is a continuous decision-making process focused on finding positive ways to collaborate and maximize relationships, purpose, and results. A leader is one who seeks to grow, serve others, and achieve worthwhile results.
Relationships are the bedrock of any effective team. They speak to motivation, commitment, trust, communication, etc. Fulfilling relationships are defined by strong positive to negative daily experience ratio, liberal amounts of helping behaviors, and a lack of unproductive conflict. Generally speaking, team performance is better in the presence of positive helpful relationships.
Purpose is about meaning. Does the work matter and serve a higher need or is it just about the paycheck? Effective leaders help people see purpose in hard work, positive relationships, strong results, and lived values. More felt purpose, better work outcomes.
Results are the outcomes we are pursuing. Some of them are more immediate, such as sales, complaints handled, or widgets produced. Others are a bit more removed, including things such as philanthropy, community involvement, or social justice.
Strong relationships and strong purpose inevitably amplify results. This updated take on leadership is more inclusive, balanced, positive, and motivating.