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What Leadership Really Is

One of my earliest memories growing up in the early 70’s was “Watergate.” I didn’t know what it meant just like I didn’t understand “Vietnam”, but they were constantly in the news when I was a really young boy.

I also had no idea what “leadership” really was, but when President Richard Nixon declared “I’m not a crook” I knew somehow that real leaders don’t have to proclaim their innocence.

There’s No Need to Define It

Most people start with a definition of leadership. I don’t think that’s necessary. Instead, all you have to do is give people a choice. Here’s someone who wants to be your leader. Will you follow them or not?

Someone you would follow meets the minimum criteria of leadership. They may not be a “great” leader or the “best” type of leader, but if people will follow them, they are exercising some kind of leadership (good, bad or awful).

I think of the movie Forest Gump where Forest takes off running across America during the jogging craze of the late 70’s. He attracts a crowd of followers who are hungry for a word of wisdom from someone who appears to be going somewhere.

Leadership is What Leaders Do

I know not everyone will like this view of leadership. It leaves too much unsaid. Won’t we end up with too many bad or unethical leaders or even “non-leaders”?

I would say we already have them, and giving a textbook-perfect definition of leadership won’t change that. If you want to understand leadership, study all kinds of leaders, both the good and bad ones.

The negative examples like Nixon actually teach us a lot about the failures of leadership, helping us understand what authentic leadership is.

If you want to practice good leadership, be the kind of person and do the things that people naturally want to follow you.

Picture This

Children learn through pictures even before they have words. “A” is for apple. “B” is for banana. We learn ABC’s through fruit and concrete things we can see, not through abstractions.

I learned about leadership at a young age through a negative example. Show me a picture of a leader practicing leadership and I get it. A true leader? Not a crook. A leaders is someone you trust and will follow. Strive to be that kind of person.

Ron  Oltmanns is a leadership coach and consultant striving to be the kind of person that others would follow. You can follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter or connect with him by sending a message and requesting a meeting.

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