What makes a good leader?
That question has troubled the minds of leaders, would-be leaders, and eager followers for ages. Some other burning questions could be:
What skills are required to be a good leader? What are good resources for learning about leadership?
Here are four resources we can turn to for examples of good leadership.
Well, we could start long ago with the ancient philosophers of any culture.
Whether from ancient Greek, Roman, or Chinese cultures, we can find ideas for what good, ethical leaders should do.
The Bible, for example, is a rich source of good and bad leadership examples. King David comes to mind as one who demonstrated both good and bad leadership.
And there were unlikely and reluctant leaders such as Moses. His background seems a bit unorthodox, as far as leaders go: a baby abandoned in a basket, a man handicapped by a severe stutter, and, finally, a murderer on the run.
And then, when he was called to be a leader, he told God to find someone else who was better qualified for the job. Of course, we all know how Moses’ leadership story ended, but still–talk about an unlikely and reluctant leader!
We can also find an abundance of books on the subject of leadership. Aspiring leaders eagerly devour the many best sellers.
Some books tell us that if we just do this or that, we’ll be a good leader. They offer a secret formula or magic miracle as a solution to all of our leadership issues.
Other books are more complex and represent years of experience and solid research There is an enormous variety of suggestions for leading and problem solving. There are so many books and so many theories from which to choose.
I highly recommend reading as many books as possible on leadership, but these books represent almost too many options for us.
How do we discern what’s applicable and apply it to our own situation?
While we can learn from every book we read; beyond merely reading, we need to develop our leadership lens and look through it to examine the books.
This is how we can discern the various theories and ideas such as:
- Adaptive versus Technical solutions (Ron Heifetz, Marty Linsky, Alexander Grashow)
- Transformational leadership (James MacGregor Burns)
- Authentic leadership (Bill George, Bruce Avolio), Followership (Ira Chaleff, Barbara Kellerman)
- Servant leadership (Robert Greenleaf),
- and many others.
Movies are another leadership learning resource.
Once we understand and begin to use our leadership lens, almost every movie we watch contains leadership lessons. We just haven’t necessarily thought to look at movies in that way.
I mentioned leadership-specific books in the previous paragraph, but leadership learning can also be found in biographies and fiction. We just have to use the right lens.
The World Around Us
Another excellent source for examples of good leaders is our everyday world.
Take a look at:
- the workplace,
- a religious institution,
- your community,
- or committees on which you serve.
Our experiences are rich leadership laboratories. They offer the opportunity to immerse ourselves in leadership learning. We can also observe group dynamics, preferences, and reactions to change with these experiences.
We simply need to look through our leadership lens to learn. Every group in which we participate is an opportunity to examine how things work and how people respond.
Here’s a personal example of how I looked at my personal experiences through a leadership lens.
For eleven years, I ran a year-long leadership learning program for executives. Even though I planned each learning experience for specific learning outcomes, I discovered differences each year.
Though we repeated many of the modules year after year, each group was different. They were composed of different personalities and preferences, and different sectors of the work world.
The dynamics and direction of the same content were received and processed differently. The people and the situation changed every year, just like the real world with its ever-shifting economy, environment, and political circumstances.
So take care to remember this when thinking of leadership methods that others tout. Things change, variables change, and static methods can’t keep up with the changes of life.
I sometimes wonder if Jack Welch and the GE Way that worked so well for him in the eighties and nineties would work today. The times, the internal organizational and external environments, and the people have changed.
Would his way still work as well? Would basketball legend John Wooden’s Pyramid for Success that worked so well at UCLA from 1948-1975 work with today’s student athletes?
Constraints to Leadership Solutions
We must also consider the constraints to our leadership solutions.
Each organization has its own culture – the norms by which everyone operates. This often binds us up in continuing to do things the ways we’ve always done them.
A worse constraint is not being able to think outside the organizational norm. This can create a situation where we think we’ve tried many different ways to solve a pesky problem; but in reality, all of our solutions have been very much alike because our thinking is confined within the boundaries of our organizational culture.
Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting attempting a solution that is totally radical and upsetting to the organization.
What I am suggesting, instead, is that we consider new possibilities outside our usual scope and figure out ways we can translate and adapt them to our situation and culture.
Another constraint is our personal comfort zone. It is truly uncomfortable for us to leave this zone. We can do it, but it certainly isn’t what we prefer to do.
As a result, we often keep doing the same thing, or almost the same thing, over and over, somehow hoping for a different result.
These familiar constraints are common ones that we, as leaders, must take care to keep in mind when considering a solution. How can we overcome them?
Now, over to you.
What are some resources you turn to for examples of good leadership?
What are some movies, books, ancient leaders, or everyday experiences that exemplify leadership to you? Tell us in the comments.
Lastly, I’ve mentioned looking through all of these examples of leadership through a leadership lens.
Make sure you subscribe to our blog at the top of your screen for my next blog, where I’ll define how you can develop your personal leadership lens.