As we enter the 21st century there is a growing awareness of the importance and need for leadership. A wide recognition of the critical need for leadership is so prevalent that many universities now offer graduate programs in its study. It appears that the study of leadership has come of age and is finally receiving its proper recognition. There are literally dozens of various definitions of leadership. We will simply provide one that we feel effectively defines organizational leadership in virtually all situations.
Leadership is the ability to articulate a vision, to embrace the values of that vision, and nurture an environment where everyone can reach the organizations goals and their own personal needs.
Effective modern leadership is a skill comprised of many different traits or qualities. Some of these qualities include vision, a mission, values, commitment, motivation, and consensus building. The lack of any of these important traits or qualities may greatly reduce the effectiveness of a leader. Here is a very brief definition of these qualities. Each one will be individually covered in greater detail in future weLEAD "leadership tips" in this section of leadingtoday.org.
Vision: This is the meaningful articulation of the mission of the organization in such an appealing and intuitive picture that it vividly conveys what the organization can be in the future. Vision instills a common purpose, self-esteem and a sense of membership within the organization. Traditionally, vision has come from the top management of the organization. Many leaders are now also beginning to see the value of creating the vision with those who are closer to the work environment and the customer.
Mission or Mission Statement: This typically describes the purpose of the organization and outlines the types of activities to be performed for constituents and customers. It should also mention what unique value or services the organization offers as a byproduct of its work. Mission statements typically contain at least three components. First, a statement of the overall purpose or mission of the company is declared. Secondly, a statement that indicates the values that employees are expected to maintain and commit to in the decision-making process. Third, a declaration of the major goals that management believes is essential to attain the mission. These goals should be consistent with the philosophical values that employees are expected to maintain.
Values: These are the guiding principles that state how the employees, beginning with management, intend to conduct their business and their behavior. These values will determine what kind of an organization develops and they become the foundation of the organizations culture.
Commitment: This is an employee's emotional investment to extend great effort toward the implementation of a decision, outcome or goal. Successful leaders need to be committed individuals and to solicit the commitment of others to achieve established goals, and the mission.
Motivation: This is the ability to provide an incentive or reason to compel others into action or a commitment. Since all individuals are different, successful leaders know that diverse people respond to different motivators. A wise leader also knows that money is not the strongest long-term motivator and cultivating an environment of fear is the least effective long-term motivator.
Consensus Building: This is the ability of a leader to build an agreement among differing individuals within a group. A consensus usually occurs when various members of a group agree that a particular alternative is acceptable though it may not be the first choice of each member. Consensus building can create a greater degree of commitment among group members than a decision make by a simple majority. However, consensus building requires additional discussion time and sometimes may not be possible. Eventually the leader may need to take the initiative and affirm that the group decision has been made to begin implementation.
A valuable purpose of leadership in our modern age is to provide vision, direction and motivation for a team of individuals to accomplish a task or mission that otherwise could not be accomplished by a single individual. Other members of the group, team or organization are called "followers." Followers are those who subscribe to the vision and guidance of the leader. The study of followership is also of growing interest. However, don't be confused by the term followers or followership. This term should never be used in a derogatory or negative setting. Followers may also exhibit leadership qualities in order to achieve their own tasks and individual roles. Followership is such an important responsibility that a great many of today's most effective leaders first learned to be good followers before they acquired the skills, opportunity and experience to lead others. In other words, learning and appreciating the skills of followership are often the reason an individual has gained the experience and necessary knowledge to become a leader.
Wise leaders are beginning to understand that it is their responsibility to develop followership by encouraging the followers participation in goal setting and objectives. Modern leaders are viewing followers as partners in the enterprise who should be encouraged to pursue innovation and given the ability to do their job.
There is very little evidence that the so-called "naturally born" leader really exists. Continuing and ongoing studies are showing that the concept of a "natural born" leader has little merit. One reason for this error may be that people often mistake charisma for leadership. It is true that some leaders possess a great amount of charisma. However, many leaders do not. In reality leaders are not born, they are forged by many factors. Some factors that often forge effective leadership traits are education, preparation, experience and opportunity.
Why is leadership important to you? It is important because the development of positive leadership skills can have a beneficial and powerful impact in virtually every area of your life! Acquiring, understanding and exhibiting leadership skills can have a constructive influence within your workplace environment, within your community and in your personal relationships with others. We encourage you to take advantage of the vast amount of knowledge now available within the growing study of leadership.
For weLEAD, this is Greg Thomas reminding you that it was Harry S. Truman, who once said,
"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."
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