Hard to believe, after all these months, the potential political leadership options for our country are becoming formalized for a vote in November. The two major political conventions are bringing the best to the people, and now we can choose.
Perhaps I have that a bit mixed up. I think the applicable saying is something about the “lesser of two evils.”
That sounds a bit cynical, as well. Almost nothing you can say about elections in a democracy sounds sincere these days, and so we fall back on the cliché that democracy is messy. Yet out of that mess we hope to find people who can take us down the “right” path.
We expect to find people with the skills to shape our future environment, who are visionary, who inspire us to great achievements, who are smart, savvy, honest. We have a lot riding on our elections.
Some of us recognize this, others don’t or are ho-hum in our attitudes. The national political choices have a lot of people stirred up at this point, but how many will stay engaged once the election is over?
Achieving all the expectations is a very tall order; even 50-75 percent would be a major accomplishment — almost too much to contemplate.
However, as we consider the outcomes of good or bad leadership, we should recognize that leadership doesn’t happen just at the national level. It should be happening all around us.
It is necessary to identify and solve problems in all aspects of our lives and in the environment that we need/want to build for our current and future families. One of the most critical aspects of this contemplation of leadership is to recognize that the best leaders don’t just identify the problem and put a plan in place, they facilitate the process, they align thinking, they align those who will do the work and create the environment that will let the right things happen.
The leader who leads from the back probably has a clearer picture of what is going on than the one who is leading the charge (from the front?). It’s somewhat more difficult to see what is going on behind you when it’s your idea, your rhetoric, your sword, your eyes on the prize. And when you finally get that coveted prize, it is often hard to share with others. You’ve carried the full burden; that is a tough job to do. Especially the part about keeping the troops aligned.
Unless you have a vested commitment of some sort, people have a way of wandering off the reservation unless you have a bigger and bigger whip. As a motivating tool, a bigger whip will often work against you.
On the other hand, the leader who has a vision to share, and who inspires others to not only engage the vision but also to enhance and sharpen the vision, will build a team for the long haul.
These inspired followers also bring a variety of skills and experiences that can shoulder the load and help the leader avoid the potholes. They are probably comfortable discussing the potholes, knowing that they are enhancing the vision rather than challenging the singular version presented by the all-knowing leader.
Of course, there has to be consensus of thought, at some point, so that the right assets are brought into play to assure a reasonable chance of achieving the desired goals. Those specified goals are a major requirement that leadership has to establish. Otherwise, you may have some unhelpful deviation of effort when the people trying to carry the organization forward do not have a consistent understanding of what needs to be done, or which road is best to follow.
Where do leaders come from?
The discussion of the style of leadership is pretty important when it comes to making things happen. But if one begins to look at matters too narrowly, it’s very possible to have a strong and effective leader taking things in the wrong direction — with the end result being worse than having an ineffective leader who creates more limited negative impact.
Leadership also has to align with sound values that over an extended time will support and benefit all of the people for whom the organization has a responsibility.
Values frequently require understanding and interpretation to be able to put some meat on the bones of concepts, which are often how values are expressed. They further require sharing, teaching and communicating the associated ideas in order for them to take root and grow. They also require trust.
These organizational capabilities just don’t happen overnight. Especially the issue of trust. That becomes a quality that is earned, and that takes time.
So when you see a leader who bursts onto the stage or seems to get put in an important position for no apparent reason, you may not recognize that that this person has been toiling away in some non-visible position or mid-level role for some time. He or she has likely been learning organization values and processes, and building credibility while making decisions that have limited impact. Along the way, this is building trust with current leaders or people in positions of power.
The person who demonstrates the critical skill at the right time is the person who can take the underpinnings of development, perceive or grasp an idea and seize the moment that has come about due to a shift in circumstances.
This person becomes a leader when he or she puts it all together and establishes a foundation, however small, that has an appeal that can grow. Once started, these leaders begin to water and fertilize the bud that can be grasped and embraced by others.
Know your leadership role
The combination of many factors over time allows true influential leaders to materialize — and not just at the national level but in organizations of all types.
If we are in positions of power, our job is to identify those who have the innate abilities to gather the elements that can be instrumental in leadership growth, and facilitate opportunities for development.
If we are in a position to decide which people should be followed for our sustainable best interests, then our job is to make informed decisions and support them how best we can.
If we are people who can’t be bothered with having an influence on those things that affect our lives, then we shouldn’t complain when we have leaders who don’t consider our needs.
Ardon Schambers is principal at P3HR Consulting & Services.