True Leadership is not winning.
Winners often gain leadership positions because of an election or appointment (because they’re good at winning), but it’s important to realize, as Umair Haque points out in his Harvard Business Review article, “How and Why to Be a Leader (Not a Wannabe)” that mere winners are not true leaders. This is the case because gaming broken systems is nothing but an empty charade of living. Life is not a game, it’s not about what you have, but what you do, and why. That is if you're into living a life that matters.
Haque and I agree that true leadership—is a lost art. This is because leaders lead us not to a place, but to a destination: to our better, truer selves. This I feel is an act of love. Leaders must truly care.
Leaders must lead their followers to truth, worth, nobility, wonder, imagination, joy, heartbreak, challenge, rebellion, and meaning. A destination where followers have enriched lives that matter.
Here’s a brief summary of Haque’s six ways to start being a True Leader:
1. Obey — or revolt? Are you responding to incentives? Or reshaping them? If you're easily bought off with a slightly bigger bonus, then you're not a true leader.
2. Conform — or rebel? Are you breaking the rules or following them? Rules exist to: stifle deviation, preserve the status quo, and bring the outliers right back down to the average. If you're cautiously following the rules, you're not a true leader.
3. Value — or values? People follow true leaders because they promise to take them on worthwhile journeys. If you're creating value without setting values and taking people on journeys, you're not a true leader.
4. Vision — or truth? Wannabes set a vision, often times with fireworks, lights, and glitter. The true leader has a harder job: to tell the truth. Vision is nice, and many think that what inspires people, but they are wrong. True Leaders inspire people by telling them the truth. Nothing sets people free like the truth. True leaders tells the truth because their fundamental task is that of elevation: to bring people to be their better selves. If you have to ask what "truth" is, you’re not a true leader.
5. Archery — or architecture? Wannabes are metric-maximizing robots. Given a set of numbers they must "hit," they hunker down and crack the whip. The true leader knows their job is not merely to maximize existing metrics, but to reimagine them. The leader's job is, fundamentally, not merely to "hit a target" — but to redesign the playing field.
6. love — or Love. Big-L Love is painful and pleasant. Love transforms us, it is the surest characteristic of a true leader. A true leader must have a thirst to love that can only be quenched through transformation.
I often hear it’s a leader’s job to "inspire," but I don't think that's enough. Leaders inspire because they bring out the best in their followers. They are loved because they impel their followers to be the creators of their own futures.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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