October 5, 2017

Leadership is About Achieving People Through Results

The time for re-defining leadership has come. When you critical examine what leadership involves, you quickly discover that it is necessary to turn the conventional definition of leadership on its head.

Conventional Definition of Leadership

Whenever I ask people to define the word ‘leadership’ the definition most frequently has two components. The first component will have something to do with people. People speak about coaching people or guiding people or directing people. The second component would refer to an outcome of sorts, such as a goal or a vision or a result.

These components are generally put forward in such a way as to suggest that the vision, goal, outcome, or result is the end and the people and the things done to them are the means. In short, people think that leadership is about achieving a result through people. Ask the man on the street, or the CEO of a large corporation, what is leadership, this is what he will tell you. They will not use these exactly these words but this is how they will think about leadership.

Re-defining Leadership

Unfortunately, from an intent point of view, the industrial definition of leadership leads to failed leadership. Consider the following two scenarios: both my employees, Fred and Joe, need to do a job that I am very experienced in.

In Fred’s case I tell Fred: ‘Fred, in 1980 I did what you need to do now and what I did worked. Don’t argue with me, go and do what I did.’

In Joe’s case I tell him: ‘Joe, in 1980 I did what you need to do now and what I did worked. It may be helpful to you, take a look at it.’

If these two interactions consistently reflect how I treat these two people, then over a period of time Fred will be disengaged and Joe will be engaged. On the surface it looks like the reason for this is that I am bring too directive with Fred I am being nice and collaborative with Joe. However, there is more going on in these two interactions than the apparent than meets the eye at first. To see what is going on you need to look a level deeper.

When you look deeper you get to the level of intent/deeper motive. From an intent point of view, in the Fred interaction I am using Fred as my means to my end of getting a job done. I’m trying to get/take something from Fred.

However, the Joe interaction is different. Assuming I am being sincere with Joe, it is possible that I could get a completely different result to what I got in 1980. It may even be worse. I am taking a risk in order to give Joe the freedom to use his own initiative. Because I am putting the job at risk, we must say that in the Joe interaction I’m using the job that he is doing as an opportunity to teach him something. My intent is to give to Joe, I am concerned about his best interest.

Excellent Leaders Produce Excellent People

To summarize, the problem with the conventional definition of leadership as “achieving a result through people”, is that it is consistent with Fred interaction. The intent of conventional leadership is to take. To define leadership in such a way that it would reflect the Joe interaction I would have to invert the means and ends of the statement. Actually, I would have to say that ‘leadership is about achieving people through results’. While this phrasing may sound a bit bizarre, this is, in actual fact, what leadership is about.

You can see this more clearly when you examine the relationship between the coach and the player in a sports team. If the coach told the payer that his job as a coach is to achieve a result and he was going to use the player as his resource to do that, the player would be offended. After all, it is the player who achieved the result. The coach is not there to achieve results. The coach is there to set the players up for success.

A good coach would understand that it is the player who achieves the result. It is the player who is the hero. That does not mean to say that the coach has no interest in the game that’s being played or the result. However, he uses both of those as his means to instruct the player. He quite literally grows or achieves a player through using the result and the game that the player plays. This does not suggest that the coach is hostile to the result. In fact, he cannot coach the athlete if there is no game that’s being played or a result being achieved. He achieves people through results. The coach produces excellent players, not results