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Leadership – The Romance vs The Reality

A Facebook Friend asked a question on her wall: What two qualities come to mind when you think of “Leadership”?

The answers came fast and furious: vision, courage, determination, accepting other people’s ideas, team-builder, big-picture thinker, authentic, empathetic, sets aside ego for the betterment of the team…

Reading these answers got me thinking about the mind-picture people have about leadership: someone who makes people feel good about themselves.

What is true leadership? Is it the one who leads the parade or the one who starts it?

The romantic image of a well-loved and respected leader who fosters a happy team spirit exists only in the movies and in media stories. The big problem of today’s society is that when we look for leadership, we tend to choose charisma and mistake it for leadership. Charisma is great until the going gets tough and tough decisions need to be made.

To me, leadership is about changing the way people think and act, the willingness to make the unpopular choices which pull people out of their comfort zone towards a better future. It is about communicating a call to action that is so compelling that it makes people uncomfortable enough to do something about it.

People are happy when they are doing things they are comfortable doing. Charismatic leadership works well in those conditions. But when people are pushed out of their comfort zone, they are no longer happy, and charisma loses its power to influence.

The true leader is at the same time feared and revered. It’s the crusty sergeant-major whom the soldiers hate, but they hate him because they know deep down he’s right – and they will follow him into battle knowing their chances of a safe return are slim at best.

The ultimate test of a leader is the ability to get people to do the hard stuff. And that takes much more than charisma – it takes a willingness to go out on a limb for the cause and also for the people who choose to join in the cause. It is about focus, discipline, integrity, grit, courage, and total, unwavering commitment.

Leadership is not romantic. If done right, it won’t win you popularity contests. It is real: risky, dirty, challenging and eventually, if all works out in the end, life-changing, for you, and for the people who choose to follow you.

Which is why true leaders are few and far between. It is also why, in this chaotic and dangerous time, we need more leaders who are willing to do the hard work of confronting the status-quo and getting people out of their comfort zone to discover what they are really capable of doing when they set their hearts and minds to it.


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Image Credit: Donald Clark via Flickr

Direct link: https://flic.kr/p/6Q75JD

Used under Creative Commons licence

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