Becoming a leader starts with leading without authority. Leading a group of people requires their consent, therefore being able to generate and maintain this consent is much more important than the titles or authority others convey upon you. Leadership can be thought of as coordinating a large group.
What is it?
Leadership is much less about what you do and much more about who you are.
Leadership has a “know it when I see it quality”, and it is separate and distinct from management. Subbu Allamaraju had a decent treatise on1 what defines leadership. He notes several qualities:
- Leadership is about being a better person. Personal flaws greatly hinder progress as a leader.
- To create a high performing team, you must help others grow as leaders. Taking time to scale people allows more time for the leader.
- Leaders must set unarguable goals for the team they lead
When trying to accomplish the above, he points out the following behaviors:
- Setting the pace (decision making, task execution, progress tracking etc). Don’t let issues linger
- Watching for excuses -> probe into why constraints exist. Do not stop at team boundaries.
- Use your leverage. Use your title to solve problems appropriate for your scope.
- Follow through with commitments
- Sharpen your knives (keep your understanding of technology). Use this expertise to ask better questions.
- Picking up the hard parts of growing people
Qualities of a leader
From Jim Barksdale2:
- Justice - know the argument and don’t play favorites
Leadership means being able to think for yourself and act on your convictions
- William Deresiewicz3
Leading a group in a new direction requires:
- having an idea that is separate from the main stream, if were not distinct, you would not have to lead your group from the consensus:
- having conviction in your correctness
- convincing others to follow you and your new idea
In order to accomplish that, first you must be able to think for yourself. Second, you must know yourself and have a firm grounding on what is right and what you believe. William Deresiewicz argues that you can only achieve both through solitude3. Solitude in thought: i.e. singular focus separated from main stream thoughts and opinions. Solitude in friendship, having deep connections with a few people you can trust rather than a diffuse network.
Leader as Shock Absorber
Ed Batista views a leader as a shock absorber4. Wherein a leader buffers the forces between their team/org, while still transmitting them. This is a bi-directional flow. So, this means managing an outside or top-down message (both in force and style) while still making sure the message gets to the team. Conversely, your team may be struggling, and the rest of the org should know that, but in a productive way.