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THE ART OF LEADERSHIP

I usually turn a jaundiced eye toward comments by politicians.  It’s not really fair, but I seem to become increasingly cynical over time.  However, I recently saw a newspaper column by Missouri State Representative Dennis Wood that struck a chord in my heart. I’d like to share some of his thoughts in this blog.
He began with a quotation from Dwight D. Eisenhower: “You don’t lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.”
Wood likes to describe himself as a “servant leader”.  That coincides with my belief that we are all “workers among workers,” and that the highest calling is to be of service to another human being.  Wood goes on to differentiate between a boss and a leader with the words of Russell H. Ewing’s, “A boss creates fear, a leader confidence.  A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects his mistakes.  A boss knows all, a leader asks questions.  A boss is interested in himself; a leader is interested in the group.”
These powerful thoughts struck home with me.  As a corporate executive in the 70’s, I now realize that I was a “boss,” not a “leader.”  When business leaders were preaching the credo of MBO – Management By Objectives, we jokingly referred to our style as MBI – Management By Intimidation.  Part of this was the cockiness of youth, but a greater part truly described our management style.  We believed that you could only manage people by engendered an atmosphere of fear that would force them to perform.  We were wrong!
Wood’s article went on to say, “There are ‘leaders’ who think they have to scream and shout so they can be heard.  They yell and throw tantrums because they believe it’s the only way to make change. Other ‘leaders’ fell they must be quiet and hidden, operating behind the scenes as manipulators.  However, the true leaders are positive servants – people willing to help other people accomplish their best.”
Many people will find fault with the term “servant leader.”  Maybe they think that it’s a little soft or that such an attitude can’t engender motivation and loyalty.  They might even think that “servant leaders” ignore and avoid problems – sticking their heads in the sand.
Woods takes issue with those beliefs.  “Servant leaders acknowledge the problems, but also dwell on the positive accomplishments, as well.  Their positive attitude helps find the best ways to solve problems in a constructive way – as opposed to becoming a bull in a china shop.  They use wisdom and discernment to help foster communications and solutions.  They maintain a positive ‘can-do’ attitude.”
Positivity is hard, negativity is easy!  It’s far easier to moan and groan about the difficulties that face us than to nurture a positive attitude.  People tend to gravitate toward gossip, whining and complaining – rather than focusing on the good while solving the problem. That’s part of why change is so difficult.  The devil we know is easier to handle than the one we don’t know.  
On the management side, do we tend to be sarcastic to the point of putting people down and talking behind their backs?  Do we find it easier to instill fear or create skepticism?  Do we tend to assign blame and make accusations rather than investigating root causes in order to develop solutions?  This approach might resolve a problem temporarily, but a true leader solves problems for future generations.
Leaders don’t bask in accolades for personal gain and ego boosts. Leaders serve as a conduit, passing the accolades down to the workers who really earned them. Leaders boost people, rather than tear them down. Leaders revel in the accolades earned by their staff!  
This does not mean that leaders are pushovers.  Leaders are willing to take the stands necessary to implement change.  Leaders will fire people – but only after determining that the person is at fault – rather than inept management, poor training, or placement of the person in the wrong job.  Leaders determine the source of the problem and then take the necessary action.  Leaders must be tough when toughness is indicated.
Above all, leaders create emulation!  People who work for leaders strive to develop similar attitudes and standards.  People who work for bosses become “bossy.”
Are you a leader or a boss? Are you creating leaders among your people?  These are questions we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis.  Because we might sometimes be blind to our own faults, it makes sense to check our own best thinking and personal assessment with a trusted friend who is willing to be honest with us.

Jack Burke
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