Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The meanings of leadership

What is leadership? It is a process by which one person
influences the thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors of others.
Leaders set a direction for the rest of us; they help us see what
lies ahead; they help us visualize what we might achieve; they
encourage us and inspire us. Without leadership a group of
human beings quickly degenerates into argument and conflict,
because we see things in different ways and lean toward
different solutions. Leadership helps to point us in the same
direction and harness our efforts jointly. Leadership is theability to get other people to do something significant that they
might not otherwise do. It’s energizing people toward a goal.
Without followers, however, a leader isn’t a leader, although
followers may only come after a long wait. For example,
during the 1930s Winston Churchill urged his fellow
Englishmen to face the coming threat from Hitler’s Germany.
But most Englishmen preferred to believe that Hitler could
be appeased—so that a war could be avoided. They were
engaged in wishful thinking about the future and denial that
the future would be dangerous. They resented Churchill for
insisting that they must face the danger. They rejected his
leadership. He had very few followers. But finally reality
intruded—Germany went too far and war began. At this
point Churchill was acclaimed for his foresight, and became
prime minister of the United Kingdom during the Second
World War. During this period almost all Englishmen
accepted his leadership willingly.
True leadership is sometimes hard to distinguish from false
leadership, which is merely a form of pretending. Winston
Churchill was a real and great leader. But there are also
people who wish to appear to be leaders, but aren’t actually.
They say that they are leading others; they posture as if they
are setting direction and inspiring others. Yet often they are
merely pretending. There’s an old saying that the way to
become a leader is to find a parade and run to the front of it.
We refer to a person “leading” a parade, but walking at the
front isn’t really leadership unless the person in front is
actually choosing the direction! If the person isn’t choosing
the direction, then being at the front of the line is merely a way
to pretend to be a leader.Leadership can be used for good or ill. Hitler seemed to be a
leader of the German people, but he set an evil direction. He
had great leadership skills, but put them to terrible uses.
Sometimes people in business use leadership skills to exploit
others. Sometimes people in charitable organizations use
leadership skills to benefit themselves rather than the people
they are supposed to help. Leadership skills can be perverted
to pursue bad ends.