Leadership can be explained in many different ways, depending on who you ask. Each person has an opinion of what makes a good leader, and I too have my expectations when it comes to defining good leadership. I believe that first and foremost, each one of us is a leader first to yourself then to others. Meaning before you can be able to make the right decisions for others, you first have to be able to make the right decisions for yourself. Self-respect starts first before you can show respect to others; this means respecting your own time and keeping promises made to self. It all begins with you.
I have been in a leadership position several times in different set-ups and leading people in my view is no easy task. It comes with a lot of responsibility and takes a lot of commitment, hard work and empathy. Every opportunity I get to lead is an opportunity to grow, improve and develop my leadership skills. I am still work in progress. Of the many famous leaders in the world, one of my all-time favourites is Nelson Mandela. It is hard for me to think of great leaders and not mention his name. He was a leader who led by example, persevered and fought for what he believed. He was a man of courage and a team player with a heart for his people. He was by no means a perfect leader no human is really. However, he was an influential and great leader.
So great leadership I think means,
- Leading by example, not just mere talk and empty promises rather you do what you say and say what you mean. It means having the ability to see beyond today and plan for the future. Good leaders are proactive instead of reactive.
- You do not step on other people on your way up just so that you can be the only one at the top and everyone else is in the valley. Real leadership is reaching out to those beneath you and helping them to climb up to the top with you. It is when you pave the way for others who are quicker than you to pass instead of doing all you can to block their progress. Leadership is when you can look around and see you have made it to the with others that you gave a helping hand along the way. Some may still be starting, what matters is that as a leader you give everyone an equal opportunity to make those first few steps, that will serve as a constant reminder that they can make it to the top as long as they do not give up.
- Being able to identify, nurture and grow talent. Good leaders are not intimidated by young talent, but instead, they embrace and develop it.
- Being able to take responsibility for your actions and not always find something or someone else to blame when things do not work out. It means owning up and learning from your mistakes.
- Ability to take constructive criticism. We are all humans, and sometimes we make mistakes, perhaps even fail and being a leader does not exempt you from all this. Being a leader does not mean you are perfect; it just means you have the privilege of being in charge. It is not a permanent position either, at some point in time you will eventually have to pass on the button stick to someone else.
- Having the ability to adapt to the changing times and seasons in life. As a leader, you need to know when to fight and when to unite. When to celebrate with others and when to mourn with them, among other things. Some say that the real test of leadership is how well one functions in a crisis because when a crisis hits everyone panics. It is at such a time that a true leader must rise, reassure and encourage everyone looking up to him/her for direction.
- Having the ability to promote unity through your words and actions. People will always have their differences and sometimes space in-between them can be so wide that it is a mammoth task to try and bring them together. However, as a leader, you should continue to speak and encourage unity rather than fueling anger by shining a light on what makes the people different from each other.
- You reward hard work and results, not just misplaced loyalty that comes with empty promises and no results. Businesses, for example, are not being ‘nice’ when they reward loyalty, they do it because they understand that customers are what keeps the money coming in and without customers, there is no business. Loyalty programs are a customer retention strategy meant to ensure that those customers continue spending money on their products. For example, the only way for you to get flying miles with any airline is for you to take a flight with them meaning, you first have to spend money buying a ticket which then becomes income to them. In a nutshell, if you do not buy a ticket, you will not get miles, whereas the more you buy, the more miles you get. The same applies to leadership if you are going to reward loyalty, then let it base on merit and results that the person is producing for the good of the team. It is your duty as a leader to create an open playground for everyone to succeed.
- Having a heart for the people that you are leading no matter how good or bad they are, by all means, correct or punish those that are wrong if you must but not out of hatred. It means having patience with those that are slow to learn and giving honest feedback even if you know that the recipients may not like it. It means taking time to listen and understand those that see things differently from the way you see them instead of silencing them. Leadership is not about likes or popularity; it is about doing the right thing, i.e. you must call a spade a spade because once you as a leader call it something else, then everyone else will follow suit. A good leader sets the right standard for everyone else.
In conclusion, I can best define leadership based on the kind of leader I would want to be. Great leadership is not an overnight accomplishment; neither can it be mastered in a day. It is something that you continuously work towards by learning from your experiences, your mistakes, your successes and also learning from others. The environment is always evolving and changing, so leadership means having the ability to adapt and keep up with these changes continuously. At the end of the day, what I would want to accomplish as a leader is to influence, inspire and empower others to be their best, and never to stop working towards achieving their dreams.
*Food for thought- What kind of a leader do you want to be?*