Leadership – a Misunderstood Concept?
When we look around our world, we see all kinds of characters and personalities calling themselves leaders or being perceived as leaders. This can leave one to wonder if there are different ideas about what leadership is and leadership concept including servant leadership.
Throughout my long career I have often been left struggling with the approaches perceived leaders used and I kept thinking leadership should be different. Over the years it slowly became clear to me that true leadership needs to be differentiated from simple “Leadership” as a managerial role, or position. I kept on wondering why Leaders would be allowed to or getting away with hurting people and belittling people. Then one day I came across the book by Robin Sharma “The Leader who had no Title”. Now I finally started understanding that leadership was actually more an inner attitude and did not automatically come with a Senior position. Hence it is possible for someone to be perceived as a leader, because of their position and yet not having true leadership traits.
Years later when I was part of the Project Management Institute Leadership Institute Master Class I finally formally learned about the concepts of Servant Leadership and found my home in leadership.
In this article I want to dissect some of the concepts and facts about leadership and share a few resources that have helped me understand leadership better:
1. Leadership Positions
Positions are often associated with leadership, like political positions, Senior people in churches, organizations and companies. This however does not guarantee that the person holding the position really is a real leader at heart. Often such positions can be abused, and the holder of the position can be more interested in their own glory and advantages. These positions are big responsibilities, since you can really damage people’s hearts, minds and souls.
2. It is Not About Yourself
Leadership is not about me getting a big title and everyone looking up to me. It is not about my glory. If you think that a leader is the one on the top of the hierarchy, whom all others listen to, then think again.
Leadership concept is about bringing the best out in others. As Ken Blanchard said
“Leadership is not about you; it’s about investing in the growth of others.”
A leader wants their team members to grow and become the best version possible of themselves. Once this is achieved the leader will stand on the side and cheer for the achievements of their team members. A leader is not jealously protecting their title and position.
3. It is About the People
Leadership coaching services help others develop, helping goals to be achieved and moving things forward. It is also about motivating, cheering on, achieving goals and enabling growth. The team is in the center. As a leader you need to be willing to get deeply involved in your team. If the entire team gets involved in the development of ideas and suggestions you will have so many more resources at hand, than you would if everyone just listens to you.
4. You Can Be a Leader Where You Are
A leader does not need a big title in a hierarchy. You can actually start leading where you are. You can become someone who influences others in their development and the development of the organization they are in, from within.
5. Leadership is Not About Instructing and Dictating
Often people think that the leader is the one who tells us what to do and where to go. However, a true leader will not make such decisions by him / herself. They will instead get the team involved and bank on the ideas and creativity of the team. A leader will actually create an atmosphere where people feel safe to speak and then let them define and develop their own ideas. The leader will be on the side lines cheering on, ensuring people do not deviate from the goal, but also assess new ideas carefully while enabling and encouraging innovation.
6. Leadership is Hard Work
If you want to be a leader, you need to be willing to give yourself, your whole person, warts and all. If you try to look so perfect and faultless you will lose credibility. As a leader you do not need to know it all. That’s what your subject matter experts are there for. But you need to be willing to learn on your feet and analyze which ideas are feasible and which are not. That’s how I as a Nurse can run Data Infrastructure or construction projects. I allow the experts in the team to lead their parts of the work, while I manage the people and work on creating an enabling environment. If you do not know or understand something, say so! You will also encourage your team to do the same. That way you can ensure no one is bluffing their way through.
7. Building Meaningful Relationships With Your Stakeholders
This is key! Yet many of us fear getting involved in the lives of our team and other stakeholders. However, finding what connects you with each of these individuals and building a relationship around this can be the difference of success and failure in a crisis. Make sure you connect well with each person, and you will see that even disagreeing, arguments as well as innovation will be much easier. Actually any difference of opinion can be turned into an opportunity for innovation if handled right.
8. Project Management is About Leadership
Project management has evolved over the years to become more and more about leadership. The project manager is no longer the subject matter expert, who decides what is done how and when and directs via all the project plans. The project manager is now the one who pulls the team together, helps them through the different stages of team development to become a cohesive team that trusts each other and performs well. Then the project manager gets the team together to create all project plans together with everyone’s input. This also ensures buy-in and ownership. The team for example has created the timelines and is sure that they are realistic.
Project managers need to continue learning more leadership skills and all associated soft skills like communication, conflict resolution, influencing skills and many more.
Overall, I personally believe learning about Servant Leadership and embracing it is the best way for a project manager to progress.
5 Practices of Exemplary Leaders
A book that really helped me to understand modern leadership concepts and that I still refer to regularly is “The Leadership Challenge” by James M. Kouzes & Barry Z. Posner. This book is based on over 40 years of research around the world. The authors and their teams keep interviewing leaders and those being led on all continents and in all societies about leadership and the best practices. The 5 practices of exemplary leadership laid out in the book are among the top 10 practices in every country and every culture researched in:
Model the way
It is so important that you as the leader do not give yourself special rules but do the same that you expect from the team. Make sure they can see what you preach in the way you act and interact.
Inspire a Shared Vision
If you create a wider vision of what you are working on in your team, the effect it will have on the world, then you can be assured of their buy-in and their commitment. Make sure every team member, even the cleaner or janitor knows that they are part of something bigger and that their work is important to enable the rest of the team. Let them understand that for example you are not just building an office block or a residence. Spend some time envisioning with your team what will later happen in this building. What exciting points in people’s lives will happen, but also which dramas may play out.
Challenge the Process
Every time you use a process ask yourself if it is applicable in this case and if it is useful in this case. Look at it critically and see if it can or needs to be improved or changed to suit the current project. Teach your team to do the same and discuss with them.
Enable Others to Act
As the leader it is your responsibility to remove obstacles from the way that would prevent your team or individual team members from performing. This can be simple and obvious things like ensuring they have stable and well-functioning internet with enough bandwidth for the work at hand. But it can also be more complex things, like finding out why someone is currently not performing as usual and then finding solutions with them. Know what is going on in your team members
Encourage the Heart
Praise your team. Point out individual achievements. Celebrate achievements and life events with your team. This does not need to be an expensive party. But spending 5-10min acknowledging what someone has achieved or contributed will make all the difference and pull the team together. It will also encourage others to achieve more.
Robert Greenleaf first defined Servant Leadership in an article in 1977. This article talks about a leader being a servant for the team and enabling them. Actually, my points above all fit into the concepts of servant leadership.
Greenleaf defined 10 Elements of Servant Leadership:
- Commitment to the Growth of People
- Community Building
For me leadership is about getting deeply involved with your team, encouraging them, bringing out the best in them and at the same time sharing about yourself.
If you are willing to do this, then you are on your way to become a servant leader, who will deeply affect the development of future leaders.
You and your team will achieve so much more, if you allow them to develop their ideas and listen to their suggestions.
Stephanie Jaeger has over 20 years experience in handling projects in the Healthcare & IT Industry in both private and NGO environment. The last 9 years in employment as full time Senior Project Manager. Experienced in internal process improvement projects that help improve internal efficiency and lower costs. The key to Strategy Implementation.