What Makes a Good Leader?

It is said that, in the early ninety fifties a large management firm was recruited to analyze and discover what makes a good leader.  Apparently, after several years of research and interviews, they came up with the finding that, “A good leader is a tall man”.  This may be a tongue-in-cheek illustration but it still speaks volumes.  Let’s examine it analytically.

What is the responsibility of the person in a leadership position? Is it to show courage in adversity? Is it to motivate or encourage others to do their best? Or is it to have the role of advisor, guide, or coach taking others through their paces to become a mature contributor to their community? No matter what your definition or aspirations may be, there are two conditions you must be prepared to manage beyond those where you are well trained or experienced. These conditions are evoked by the natural tendency of everything to be susceptible to change, influenced by forces that are invisible, often unpredictable, and continuously active. These forces do not only infect the conditions you are required to manage. They form the conditions.

As you determine the parameters of a task or event, the forces that form it are already changing those very parameters for which you are devising a solution. The second condition that you must also face is the effect of other forces that are unleashed by other people`s responses to the same conditions you have to address. So you have to deal with a condition that is brought on by forces that are invisible to you. You have to deal with the unpredictable change in those conditions caused by the continuous activity of those invisible forces. Then you have to deal with the reactions or responses of other people who are not as insightful as you and whose reactions to the disruption introduces new parameters that could not have been part of your observation as they did not exist when you examined the event you are attempting to manage. Since these activities occur continuously and well outside of your vision or understanding, and since they remain invisible even as they infect the task or event you are attempting to manage, you are therefore required to change your approach to management on the fly. Anyone can manage a task that remains unchanged while they are managing it. Only a true leader can adapt to conditions that are invisible to the uninitiated, anticipate the reactions of the people he is required to lead, guide them to adapt themselves to the new situation quickly and effectively, and show them how to face disruption with courage, flexibility and a firm sense of purpose. In short, a good leader must be able to do more than manage new, unpredictable, and unprecedented invasions of a well established routine. He has to understand and address the invisible sources of change as well as the unpredictable reaction of the less insightful others that often intensifies or contaminates the issue further.

No one has the authority to show a person in leadership position how to better manage themselves in the reality where they are already a leader or where they are already quite knowledgeable. Therefore, I am not positing here that I can advise you where you may already be much more competent than I am. I can, however, explore with you the human weakness that allows even the most capable person to allow their authority to be compromised and to lose management advantage when conditions change and people react inappropriately to the disruption. But, more important, I propose to awaken you to the fact that the people you are required to lead or manage are even more vulnerable to uninvited change or disruption (or they will be the leaders themselves). To manage effectively, it is important to know the weakness of your charges, believe in their potential for accepting and addressing change, and show them how to reach it when there is disruption to their status quo, unexpected increase in their responsibilities, and urgency in their approach to management.

The Observation

The first consideration, therefore, is to look at the process of change, understand it from a logical and insightful position, and manage with an anticipation of its formation and the consequences from addressing it even if the response is appropriate. There will always be consequences to one`s actions because the action interferes with the immediate flow of the situation, introducing a new condition. So, a consequence is not a punishment for interfering. It is the natural progress of the old situation in a changed form, the change being somewhat influenced by your action. Of course, if there is no action on your part, there is still a consequence, but it is only one that is just not influenced by your determined action. Yet, as the theory of relativity suggests, your mere presence will have influenced it even though not purposefully. Thus, a consequence may be desirable and may be the expected outcome of an attempt to manage an issue. A consequence may also be undesirable as it is an autonomous response to several impositions you can neither visualize nor anticipate, precipitating a new twist to the existing problem and requiring as much or maybe more effort to address differently.

The second consideration is thus to be able to anticipate the consequences and know how to address them when they arrive. Of course, in a social milieu whether at work, at home, or in a non-specific community, the consequence to your presence or determined action will be presented to others as well as they do to you. Then, what may have been desirable to you can be anathema to another person evoking a response that may be illogically defensive or purposefully redirecting the forces to be more compatible with him/her. Can you see where this can lead?

Now, we must bear in mind that these responsibilities or considerations, difficult as they may seem, are not simply the position of the person who assumes the position of the leader. A spouse can and must be able to adapt to the sensitivities of the other, one taking the leadership role in one instance and the other in another instance. Similarly, an employee must know how to manage a boss because a boss is only human and may not always have the flexibility to take the mature position. So being a leader is a quality that every one of us should polish within ourselves.

The Investigation

One cannot manage this reactive consequence by preventing it or suppressing the people who can incite it. Just as the consequence from your passive or purposeful management of the issue must be anticipated or managed creatively on the fly, so too must the consequences from other people`s reactions be either anticipated or managed creatively as it evolves. In other words, after we have learned how to look for the invisible variables that constantly bombard every task or situation and have prepared ourselves for their impact, so too must we learn to read the capabilities and limitations of the people we work and live with and similarly be prepared for their impact. It is only from knowing these parameters that we can both anticipate other people`s reactions and create responses that are pertinent to them. And, of course, we must bear in mind that, as we address these responses, we will incite reactions to our input, again evoking other reactions.

The obvious preference is to be able to relate to other people whose responses are logically derived. Unfortunately, we do not always have that option. People`s logical capabilities are influenced, not only by the level of experience and insight they have developed, but also by biochemical, emotional, and physical factors that can quickly diminish the resourcefulness of even the most astute person. Think about the limitations of an emotionally distraught spouse, or the rapid mental shut-down that can occur when there is fear, illness, or injury.

The Clarification

The human being is imbued with very unique quality. We think! Unlike other life forms that must react instinctually to challenges, we have the ability to consider the energies that can influence and change the status quo of conditions we face. Other animals and insects and even trees or shrubs (for they are organic life forms also) have reactive impulses that dictate the range of responses they can have. Some may be much more elaborate or sophisticated than others giving them somewhat of an advantage. But the human being can look for the invisible activities and deal with them. This capability does not come easily. It requires years of examination and investigation. Think of the length of time it took us to realize that bacteria exist. This did not happen until the latter part of the nineteenth century. And we only discovered the double helix of the DNA in the latter part of the twentieth. The good news is that we live in the 21st century. We have at our disposal a tremendous amount of information we can use if only we take the time to consider it and incorporate it in our daily application of ourselves to our tasks.

The most important factor, therefore, is that we must learn to accept change and disruption as invitations to expand our most refined quality, our ability to think and create solutions. This requirement may seem to be an unnecessary statement. After all, we do that automatically, don`t we? Yet, if we think about it, we will recognize that, when we are faced with change in the status quo or with impositions to our chosen path, we usually react defensively before we accept the normalcy of the disruption. Think about the break-up of a relationship that we eventually accept as a better state. At the time, we will do whatever it takes to keep or stabilize what we had. Or look at losing a job. We hang on to what we knew before we accept and incorporate the opportunity to explore a different path that often becomes more desirable.

The other important factor is that we must learn to see ourselves and others as primarily thinking minds or souls with the mandate to grow, become stronger, more purposeful and more capable life forces. This cannot be accomplished if we see ourselves as bodies, albeit sophisticated organic compounds with the need for survival. In the latter case, change is always an impediment to our goal of comfort or survival. In the former, change is the food that nourishes the soul.

The complete series of discussions offered in the video series will take you on a journey examining and discovering how to use change purposefully and manage as the leader in any situation where taking the mature stand can give you authority and success.