Leadership matters. Any person may affect the behavior of others at any time. The nature and intent of that effect determine leadership's influence, direction, and outcome. Organizations depend on leadership for direction, momentum, and a plan for sustainable success. How do we recognize leadership exists? How do we develop leadership? How can leadership be measured? These are questions this article seeks to explore.
How do we recognize leadership or know that it exists? Generally, leadership is defined by characteristics and results. Yet formal leadership development nearly always focuses exclusively on characteristics, relying on hope that results will ensue. Unfortunately, leadership is seldom really measured beyond an intuitive or anecdotal approach.
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For example, a person in a leadership role is deemed "successful." We want to replicate the leader's success, so we try to replicate the leader's characteristics, skills, values, competencies, actions, and behaviors. We edify and attempt to emulate these qualities in others, but we seldom get the same results. Corporate America is full of "competency-based" leadership development programs, what one might call the "injection-mold" approach. Competency-based leadership development has an effect on organizational culture, no doubt, but not always the desired effect. Leaders who somehow "measure up" to the desired competencies do not always produce desired results.
Ultimately, producing results is the reason we study leadership, the reason we seek to develop leaders, and the very reason we need leaders. So it stands to reason that leadership has also been measured based on the results produced, regardless of how they were achieved. We need to look no further than Richard Nixon or Kenneth Lay to recognize the downside of such one-dimensional measures.
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The leader's role is to establish the conditions (the culture, the environment) under which others can take the right action to achieve desired results. "Desired results" are best defined by the team or organization's vision, mission, values, and goals. Therefore, leadership is best measured by how well followers execute the vision, mission, and goals while "living out" the desired values. This leads us to a new premise: that leadership should be measured by the results produced and how they are produced, as so often stated. However, there is a third critical element: by whom are the results produced. If the leader has the desired results, then this should rightfully be attributed to individual action without any contributing effect from the behavior of others.
There is an apparent link between communication and leadership -- the primary reason for contact and leadership is to prompt some behavioral response or action. Leaders must communicate by speaking, listening, reading, writing, and action. Leaders produce results, and as other authors have stated, "Leaders get results through people." Follower behavior, not leader behavior, defines leadership. This might lead one to wrongly argue that there is little difference between leadership and coercion. However, coercion, or creating an environment using fear or incentives as motivational tools, may work temporarily yet is seldom sustainable. Performance declines, conflict ensues, or people leave.
Using the intuition I had on leadership, I thought that writing this article would indeed be worth the trouble. Therefore, most of the relevant information on leadership has been included here.
Ultimately, the brand of leadership we seek in contemporary life is best defined, developed, and measured based on whether intended results are achieved, how they are achieved, the value of these results to others, and whether followers take discretionary action to achieve the leader's vision, mission, and goals. Leadership depends on the achievements of followers. Leadership development must be tied to the intended results of those who are lead more than competency sets of those who lead. Evidence of effective leadership can be found in followers' daily attitudes and habits. Ultimately, leadership can be measured by the achievement of discretionary goals by followers
All this matter was written with passion, which led to the speedy completion of this writing on leadership. So let this passion burn for some time.