The fact remains, that each and every person possesses their own explanation, has their own definition of what great leadership is. And, as we all have seen, lack of consensus, clarity and definition on something as important as leadership ultimately leads to organizational conflict, division, fragmentation, chaos or even worse… dissolution. I mean, look at how we view our own country’s leaders! We as a nation (in the United States) could not be more divided on what we think great leadership is and means.
So now, let’s unpack this a bit further and take a closer look at what is really happening here and how this relates to organizational leadership and culture.
How each of us sees great leadership, at it’s core, is based on each of our personal values and belief systems. And, those values and belief systems are almost entirely based on each of our own personal stories. Some of us have stories that are still to this day dominated by stowed away stories of pain, loneliness, mistrust, suffering, rejection, violence, hatred, frustration or the overcoming of such – something commonly referred to as victimhood. Conversely, other personal stories are more elevated, focused on peace, love, trust, appreciation, kindness, empathy, forgiveness or the pivot and focus toward such. This I call the empowered or servant heart and mind.
It is in these varied stories… stories of violence, hope, rejection and love that shape how we view ourselves in our world, how we interact and how we see others in relation to ourselves… and yes, how we see leaders.
Our managers, bosses, the people whom we report to are human beings, human beings who bring with them values formed by their own personal stories. And, most of these managers, bosses, owners, leaders develop established habits and behaviors that consciously or subconsciously allow for their stories to manifest in how they achieve success. This brings me to the real reason why great leadership is next to impossible to define and why 90% of all leaders are actually not. They are just people in positions of authority.
If we were to solely base great leadership on outcome then, the movement toward some clear definition would be achievable. The truth is however, great leadership also must account for the journey… how great leaders got there, achieved the incredible success they did.
To highlight the importance of this and why this is true, look no further than Attila the Hun and Mahatma Ghandi. Attila The Hun destroyed everything and everyone in his wake. Hundreds of thousands perished in his ascension. Yet, Mahatma Ghandi harmed not a thing nor a single person. Two extremely opposite approaches on the path toward a successful outcome; one who conquered almost all of central and eastern Europe through fear, intimidation and violence and the other, who liberated a nation through peace, love and empathy. Therefore, how we define what a great leader is, must account for more than just the end result. It must also include their approach in every step along the way in getting there.
Considering that most people haven’t sufficiently and effectively reconciled their past hurt, pain, and their stories, most of the journeys that leaders take us on are often uninspiring, disempowered, more self serving and in parts, sometimes based on their own victimhood.
The good news here is this, more and more leaders are hiring coaches… people to help them see how they are bringing their past into their present decision making. These coaches are helping leaders become better or even the best versions of themselves. And, the better, more aligned and inspiring the leader, the better, more aligned and inspired the culture.
Andrew Kolikoff, Servant Sales & Leadership Coach
Andrew is a sales and customer retention innovator, leadership development and culture coach, public speaker, and author.
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