It’s pretty confusing to explain to people what I do for a living because my line of work is pretty unique. To put it simply I’m a research assistant focused primarily on leadership development. The professors I work for help people get better at whatever they want to get better at. I also help teach classes to college students and high schoolers about logic and leadership.
In studying leadership I come across many different leadership perspectives, but most of them are missing the meat so to speak. All of the different theories present good ideas, suggestions, and practices, but many are missing a core foundation.
So here are my top 5 ideas that I’ve gleaned that make understanding any leadership theory simpler.
1. The definition of leadership is subjective, but many definitions share common ideas:
The commonality between the associated words is social involvement. Leadership always focuses on people, that much is simple. Leadership can be applied to work, family, social groups, and beliefs. On the other hand, management focuses primarily on goals, deliverables, and projects, all mostly related to the work environment.
2. An effective leader must understand people and how they progress.
Most of the key buzzwords listed above relate to growth. Since leadership is a social function, and most people seek to learn, improve, or accomplish new goals by following a leader, it can be said that leadership is also closely tied with human growth and progression.
3. Growth and progression cannot be forced.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” No matter how you roll the dice, if a follower is unwilling to grow or change there’s nothing that can be done. A person has to be willing to progress in order to be receptive to a leader’s guiding hand.
4. Influence is a term used express a coerced or inspired change.
Merriam-Webster defines influence as “the power to change or affect someone or something.”
If progression cannot be forced, then no one has the sole power to “change or affect someone.” Without the power to change someone, influence is non-existent in how we commonly know it today. Individuals must choose to be changed or affected (consciously or unconsciously).
5. In place of “forcing change”, a leader must predict and nurture it.
A leader doesn’t have the power to change someone against their will, but people have the power to choose to change according to their own will. By aligning someone with the correct resources, a leader helps a willing follower change at their desired pace, capability, and chosen direction. Just like the horse, the individual may then choose to “drink” the water or remain unchanged.
Key Take-Away: Good leadership will always require understanding and accepting the people around you.
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