Identifying The Fertile Soil For Strong Leadership

By W. Coby Milne

The Impact Of Leadership

It is almost scary how easy it can be to identify poor leadership. I’m sure at one point all of us have experienced poor leadership, whether it was in our youth on a team or in a club, in our supervisors at work or in our government or communities. There are many examples of great teams, businesses, and communities that falter or never meet their full potential because of poor leadership. This speaks to how crucial strong leadership is to success and development.

Most of us think of leadership as a top-down hierarchy and something that is fixed by those in the higher positions. In most cases, it’s true that leadership rests with those at the top. The impact and success of everyone involved is often dictated by the skill and competency of those chosen to lead. So an understanding of what constitutes strong leadership is important for both those chosen to lead and for those expected to follow leaders. 

Let’s look at some famous quotes and see what we can pull from them to get a perspective on strong leadership.

“As we look ahead into the next century, Leaders will be those who empower others.”

Bill Gates

Empowerment is this century’s leadership (that’s a common aphorism of mine, heavily borrowed from Mr. Gates).  This idea is meaningful in pretty much every situation, from employers empowering their employees to be the best at their positions, government empowering its citizens to thrive and improve their lives, or sports team captains empowering their teammates to go the extra mile.  The need to consider empowerment as an essential component of leadership is increasingly becoming of critical importance.

“Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”

Simon Sinek

This is a personal favorite of mine, especially when you’re talking about organizational leadership. In a company or organization, valuing, using, and developing the skills of those you are required to lead is, in my opinion, the essence of good leadership. This idea aligns well with a strong leadership focus on empowerment. When you lead, you are committing to bringing everyone up together–not standing on the heads of those who follow you.

“Remember the difference between a boss and a leader; a boss says “Go!” a leader says “Let’s go!”

E.M. Kelly

Collaboration and the ability to build strong relationships and partnerships are key elements in strong leadership. Whether those relationships are built internally or externally, leadership is about being a part of something greater than yourself and being able to inspire others to follow you. This brings me to another personal motto: Influence is greater than power. When you wield power, others are compelled to follow you; with influence, people choose to follow you.

“A good leader takes a little more than their share of the blame, a little less than their share of the credit.”

Arnold H. Glasow

Humility and integrity are other important foundations of strong leadership.  This includes owning your mistakes and missteps and giving recognition for the efforts and talents of those with whom you’ve collaborated. In many ways, I believe this is generally a key missing piece in political leadership. Too often people are focused on self-preservation and keeping in the good graces of those who put them in their leadership roles and will too often sacrifice their integrity to maintain their status.

What Have We Learned About Leadership?

Being able to identify where strong leadership comes from is something we all need to be aware of. As someone who has gone through more than my fair share of organizational change in both leadership and employee roles, I’ve become well aware of what shapes good and bad leadership. As well, I have come to appreciate good leadership when I see it. Looking at the trends from the statements above and the application of a thematic analysis we see the presence of empowerment, collaboration, influence, humility, and integrity. These seem to be excellent markers for the fertile soil of strong and dynamic leadership.

Lead From The Side

Another important element to consider is that leadership doesn’t have to only be top down. Leadership is not about a position– it is more about actions. In circumstances of poor, hierarchical leadership, the actions of those lower down in the hierarchy can introduce the qualities of supportive empowerment, collaboration, influence, humility, and integrity that can provide leadership from a peer or mentor level. This can be encouraged by modeling the qualities of strong leadership with your co-workers and clients, and cultivating an environment of appreciation, transparency, and support. Making room for leading from the side can create meaningful and lasting change and progress. Admittedly, it is an uphill battle to bring organizational change from the side or the middle, but the point is, leadership doesn’t have to only happen from the top down. There are often great leaders who empower and inspire others from the break room table, the next cubicle over, or at the water cooler. Now that we know what those qualities look like, we can empower those who empower us.

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