Thoughts on Leadership from History

Successful supervisors and managers don’t boss their employees around—they lead them. However, not everyone has the same definition of effective leadership. In today’s Advisor, we will try to define “leadership”—with the help of some historical figures.

Leadership is:

  • Guiding people to take appropriate initiative. General George Patton said, “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
  • The art of getting others to do things you want done. President Dwight Eisenhower defined leadership as “the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
  • Inspiring people, President John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
  • Taking people where they need to be. Former First Lady Rosalyn Carter said that “a leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
  • A skill that can be developed through hard work. Football coach Vince Lombardi said, “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”

Coach Lombardi is correct—though it may not be easy to hear: Leadership can be developed, but it takes hard work.

The definition of leadership doesn’t stop there, however. Leadership can be further defined as:

  • Having a vision. Former Notre Dame President Theodore Hesburgh said that “the very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision.”
  • Simplifying and offering solutions everybody can understand. General Colin Powell said, “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”
  • Empowering. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said that when a good leader’s work is done, those he or she leads will say, “We did this ourselves.”
  • “Growing” others. Former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
  • Lifting aspirations, raising performance, and building beyond limitations. Management expert Peter Drucker said, “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

Now that you’ve been inspired by these specifics of what true leadership is as expressed by some great historical leaders, the next important issue to discuss is how to get managers to use the power of their leadership to achieve these inspirational goals.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we discuss the balance between leadership and power.