“Leadership is dead! Long live leadership!” This should be our modern-day mantra, allowing for every fad, survey, or new statistic loudly proclaiming that leadership as we know it is “dead” and that something new should immediately follow it.
Let’s unpack this idea a bit, fleshing out the realities of leadership as we know it compared with leadership as it should be.
Real leadership vs. bad leadership disguised
The problem with trying to supplant leadership as we view it today with something “new” is that we tend to see new leadership in its most favorable possible outcomes, while viewing “old” leadership through the lens of the worst possible example. In other words, we compare the ideal of something new with something done incorrectly in the past.
Real leadership—current, existing, successful leadership—has always required a lot of the things that we frequently extol as virtues for the “new” leadership behaviors.
For example, real leaders follow up. There is, however, a difference between necessary follow-up and micromanagement. Micromanaging isn’t bad leadership; it’s simply not leadership.
Now, take the conversation around the Millennial generation. Much has been written, spoken, and opined about how best to lead this group of people who seem to have needs and desires that don’t make a lot of sense to most Baby Boomers in leadership today. In reality, Millennials don’t want anything different than we Baby Boomers wanted 10, 20, or even 40 years ago. They simply have less tolerance for not getting it. And I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
So it goes, down the list, of all real leadership competencies. It’s not “new” just because some consultant or academic writes a new hardback. When you dig into it, you discover it’s just old leadership being repackaged. Don’t fall for the ruse.
Keep it simple
Leadership is not complex. Can it be difficult? Certainly. But we need to remember to keep things as simple as humanly possible.
If you want to know how to simplify leadership, there are some simple ways:
Communicate. Set expectations—clear expectations—for those you lead. Then, give feedback to let them know how well they are progressing toward reaching those expectations (or not). Get good at—and insist on—receiving feedback from those you lead. You can’t survive without it. Finally, listen. Learn to really listen. I don’t mean hear; I don’t mean notice; and I don’t mean simply acknowledge. I mean listen.
Set a positive example. It sounds so simple, but we screw this up more than anything else. You must model the behavior that you want your followers to emulate. Remember that leading by example is not a choice. You do it every time you show up. And part of that example must be remaining positive. There is no place for moaning, whining, and complaining in leadership.
Have integrity. You’ve gotta have it. Be honest, be consistent. Do what you say you’ll do.
That’s it. Sure, there are plenty of other tips, techniques, and methods to fine-tune your leadership approach and success. None, however, will trump the simplicity of the three listed above.