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Can your leadership change business or even the world?

George Bernard Shaw sculpture in Onatrio, CA at the site of the annual Shaw Festival.

George Bernard Shaw sculpture in Onatrio, CA at the site of the annual Shaw Festival.

Conceptualizing leadership

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the idea that leadership, in its truest sense, is a function of clarity and change. One of my favorite quotes is by the somewhat controversial George Bernard Shaw, who maintained that, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

To adapt the world to oneself, one must have a very clear idea of oneself. It is not the undertaking of a non-conformist soul in search of meaning in the world, but rather the endeavor of a man or woman with a very clear sense of purpose… a man or woman who can clearly communicate that purpose to others. It is a reasonable theorem – born out a million times over by different personality modeling methodologies – that most people crave clarity but have no idea how to create or achieve it. Clarity, for those people is stability, where stability is defined as a sense of certainty about the future. The misnomer, I believe, is the idea that people need be assured of success, when in truth, they simply need be assured of purpose.

Leaps of faith

Throughout human history, from simple survival, to civilization, to politics and business, people have shown a willingness to take great leaps of faith based entirely on one person’s ability to paint a picture of the future. And whereas none could be assured of such a future, the simple clarity of vision was enough for people to risk life and livelihood in pursuit of it.

Whether you are talking about a tribe setting out across the African tundra, three ships setting out across the Atlantic, or a tiny Asian country setting out to war, the principle is the same. They did these things, in spite of their fears because they believed in the outcome.

Being a quality leader

So how does this apply to your business? If you, like many business owners, find yourself spending too much time managing your team, and not enough time leading them, it is most likely because the team does not understand where you are trying to go. And, if the team does understand where you are trying to go, and they still won’t go with you, they probably don’t believe that you are going to take them to a better place.

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The solution? First find clarity for yourself – hire an outside consultant if you have to who can help you see past the trees to the forest and the future beyond – and then paint that picture for your team. If they still aren’t with you, it might be time to make some hard decisions. If it comes to that (and it sometimes does), stop hiring resumes and start hiring people for their ability to see where your organization is going and willingness to help you get there. Because if you’re growing a business, there are going to be a lot of changes – a lot of UNcertainty – along the way, but people will accept and even embrace that uncertainty if they have a clear and consistent goal.

In fact, few things truly are certain, but here is one that is – there are people alive today that are going to change both business and the world as we know it. The question is will you be one of them?

Written By

Elijah is VP Strategic Development for advertising+technology company Orange142.

36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. Jason Blackburn

    January 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Elijah,

    Couldn't agree more with your conclusion that we all need a greater clarity of purpose both personally and professionally to not only lead ourselves but to lead others. This is the foundation of the training we do at Laser Focus Training after all.

    However, it seems that "Leadership" training is all the rage these days, and that management training has taken a backseat. Being a manager is not as "sophisticated" as being a leader, but in view it is just as important, if not more so.

    So how do see the difference between leadership and management, and do you believe that having this clarity of purpose can make one a more effective manager as well, which is what I train?

    BTW…great article…been looking forward to the first one since you told me you joined AG. Congrats.

    Thanks,
    Jason

    • Elijah May

      January 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm

      First of all, thanks for the reply, Jason. I really appreciate the feedback.

      In answer to your question, let me start by saying two things: 1) I believe that leaders lead, regardless of where they are within an organization, and 2) I believe that leadership AND management, at any level, are ultimately about support.

      Here is what I mean….

      A top healthcare consultant recently recounted to me the story of a young man who, despite being "challenged", was given the opportunity to work as a night custodian at a hospital. This young man took great pride in his work and did a remarkable job, ultimately leading people to notice and comment on the difference it made. Just imagine the impact that a crisp, clean environment has on the patients and staff of a healthcare facility. It directly improves morale, and therefore quality of care, and therefore people's health. Unfortunately, however, this young man was *promoted* to the day shift, where he promptly got into an altercation with someone about walking on *his* wet floors and was fired. This example goes to show that A) pride of purpose and leadership of self alone are enough to make real difference, and B) there is an abysmal failure of management in not recognizing and supporting the strengths (and limitations) of one's team.

      Yes, I believe that "leadership" and "leadership training" have become somewhat cliche terms, often devoid of any real meaning. Nonethless, I believe there is a genuine need to identify the true leaders within in organization and empower those people so that they can empower others to maximize their talents. There is just as much need, however, to identify non-leading managers (aka organizational bureaucrats) and get them out of the way.

      As to the difference between leadership and management, I think it's merely a question of scope. A managers job is to help the individuals on his or her team apply the company's greater purpose to his or her specific role and be great in that role. The "leader" of a company is responsible for keeping that greater purpose in focus. At least, that's what I think.

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