It was an inspiring meeting to say the least. The partner's aunt and uncle are regular people, nearing retirement age -one is a grade school teacher. Yet they are far from regular people in terms of their tremendous vision of a sustainable future, and enthusiasm with which they go about making positive change. I can only hope that I grow to be half as enthusiastic as they are. It started out as a meeting where we had intended to lead them, but they became the leaders. We had intended to plant the seed of an idea in their mind, but they presented me with multiple ideas to ponder and integrate into my own thinking. While I don't think that we gave them anything that they didn't already know, I hope that at the very least, they can be equally inspired knowing that we are here to pick up the torch that they have kept going for so long.
This brings me (somewhat) to my topic. I am under tremendous pressure recently to produce an essay about leadership. Tonight is the third deadline I will miss, but to prove that I have not simply been neglecting it, I want to present a little proof that I have at least been thinking about it... at least.
A leader does not simply disseminate his or her own message, get people to buy into his or her own vision, rather, a leader understands the followers visions, understands the context with which those visions are derived, and draws the connections between those visions and his or her own vision.
The leader in me is frightened. Afraid to fail, afraid that no one will follow. But the leader in me knows that if I am true, and if I follow my own lead, someone else will find it worth following as well.
"What is a leader" has already been analyzed to death. Taking a look at what would make a leader I would like to follow, on the other hand, has some value to me. Maybe it tells me what kind of a leader I would want to be.
- Awareness (sees the whole picture)
- Flexible (able to see the situation through various viewpoints)
- Sensitive to connections (sees the interdependencies)
- Understands the power of vision and stories
- Can play with different frames of mind
- Long term thinker ... can make the connection to the short term
- Recognizes cause and effects
- Recognizes and can handle unanticipated consequences
- Differentiates the issue from the person / looks to the system instead of assigning blame
- Creates context in which people can explore themselves, in order to lead themselves
- Tries to make herself obsolete. Doesn't try to hang onto the "leader" role, but rather tries to make it unnecessary by making sure everyone has confidence in their own ability to act without obvious leadership.
- Able to translate vision into something that fits and is acceptable to other peoples own vision.
- Understands own frames, and where own thoughts and stories are coming from. Knows self, and constantly strives to know more about self.
- Takes us out of comfort zone while at the same time offering support so our comfort zone grows.
- Forces us to rethink our boundaries, both in terms of limits and impacts.
There is much talk of the characteristics of leaders, some talk of the role of leaders, but little talk of the responsibility of leaders. Has our idea of leadership somehow evolved to be devoid of responsibility? If so, why? And more importantly, what are the responsibilities of a leader?
What makes a leader I would like to follow?
I can be led, but not easily. I will fight it every step of the way, resisting any attempts to fiddle with my mental models. But, if in the end, where the leader is trying to lead me makes sense, I will follow wholeheartedly, or attempt to take a lead myself. What kind of a leader would I follow?
A leader who can lead me.
Present me with a direction I want to follow by showing me how what I want now is related to what the leader wants. Or, alternatively, the would-be leader may opt to try to change my mind outright by presenting me with an entirely new mental model. If it is strong enough I may change, but there is a much greater chance to lead me if the leader can draw the connection with what I already know.
A leader who can lead me is a leader who will not give up when I fight his/her vision tooth and nail. I want to preserve my own way of thinking. I want to believe that I am right. I want to go in my own direction. If someone wants me to change directions, they had better be well versed in my vision, and know how our visions are related.
A leader who can lead me is one who makes sure I have the skills I need to follow. (This does not mean that that leader teaches me him or herself.)
A leader who can lead me is one who gives me incentives. This need not be from his own pocket, rather, it may simply be a matter of showing me how my vision of a desirable future is helped by following her or him.
A leader who can lead me is one who ensures that I have the resources necessary to follow and be productive. This doesn't mean that he provides the resources, but must instill in me the drive to seek out the resources for myself. Without the resources, I will not follow.
A leader who can lead me is one who provides the context I need to make it make sense for my life.
A leader who can lead me is one who follows his own lead.
A leader who can lead me is one who shares my values.
A leader who can lead me is a leader who knows when to follow.
A leader who can lead me is one that makes me think I am leading myself.
A leader who can lead me is one who will share in the responsibility for our missteps.
A leader who can lead me is one who is afraid with me, but takes me past it.
A leader who can lead me is one who can push me past my fears. But not let me forget why I am afraid.
A leader who can lead me is one who treats me as a colleague.
A leader who can lead me makes me a leader of myself and others, makes his own leadership seemingly obsolete.
A leader who can lead me doesn't let me know he has led me anywhere.
A leader who can lead me doesn't tell me how to follow, or even tell me to follow for that matter. The leader who can lead me makes me want to follow... but not know that I am following.
A leader who can lead me understands everything about me... but doesn't let me know that he understands.
A leader who can lead me will allow me to do what I can do, and push me to do what I don't think I can.
A leader who can not lead me has to lead me someplace I have never been, or show me that I missed something where I was before.
A leader who can lead me shows me / makes me believe that what I do has worth.
A leader who can lead me is harder on himself and his own failure than I am on myself and my failure.
- Which of these traits are REQUIRED for the leader, and which are just additional?
Leadership in context? How much of who is a leader is controlled by the times and the context in which the ideas and vision are presented?
Do leaders really exist? I hope so. Are they rare? I hope not. Does that mean we all sit back and enjoy the ride? No, because the leader is not driving the bus, the leader is showing us how to drive the bus. The leaders are the people who are afraid, who don't know where they are going, but know a little better than I do how to manage that fear. They are a little more comfortable with their fear.
Leaders do exist, and without them, we are all screwed.
Can someone be taught to be a leader? Yes. All leaders are taught to lead... leaders are learners. That is how they become leaders.
Failed attempts to lead me?
Successful attempts to lead me?
Part of being a leader is being a conscious follower, meaning, knowing yourself, and who you do and want to follow, as opposed to following just any charismatic speaker.
What is difference between a leader and someone who sows the seed of an idea? Anybody can present an idea that I may go with, but I will only "follow" someone who epitomizes that idea... but then what is the difference?
But maybe the most important characeteristics of a leader is that they keep their promise to hand in their leadership essay on time...
The photos are more of my "best of" collection, reminders of the life I will soon be returning to in Tokyo.