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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Vasilca

Mysteries of Leadership - What is Leadership?

In the previous post we reviewed together two foundational concepts in the study of leadership - namely authority and power. Now, I will introduce you to the answer to the very question "what is leadership"?


three interescting circles
Principle-Centered Leadership


On Leadership

Leadership is a fascinating theme full of complexities, ambiguities, and controversies. Numerous books and learned papers have been written on this subject, many theories and models have been advanced, and many explanations have been given over the years to the achievements of great leaders. Yet, every leader has an entirely personal point of view regarding his or her leadership style. This attitude can lead to only one conclusion: the question of leadership has not been fully answered and most likely will never be. For this reason, we can safely say that leadership has been, is, and will remain a mystery.

Leadership is what makes human communities function.

By human communities, we mean a community of one, a traditional family or clan, a society organized for specific purposes, an ethnic group, or a larger nation-state. Historically, the leader of a family has been the male whose responsibility was to assure the family members' safety and well-being. Larger related families, clans, or tribes would also have a strong, wise, and clairvoyant man as their leader. Society's natural law governed traditional communities. The leaders had a role in assuring their safety and well-being and resolving internal disputes between its members and external conflicts with other clans.

Communities organized for specific purposes, such as military and religious groups, are also as old as humanity; others – such as political, trade and commerce, cultural, etc. - have appeared a bit later but are still quite old. All such groups had leaders or influential people who were in charge of their activities.

Leadership deals with the mysterious human brain

The very essence of leadership is highly personal because it reflects the practitioner's unique qualities, experience, and skills. The leader must first understand himself, determine who he is and where he wants to go, and learn to lead himself. In other words, he needs to deal with the phenomenal complexities and mysterious ways in which his brain works, and out of this to create his moral character. But this is not enough.

The leader needs to deal with the mentalities, attitudes, and peculiarities of other people, the people that he must lead. And this is an enormous task, an uncertain undertaking, and an elusive process in itself. On top of this, the leader has to develop a new paradigm, called multidimensional relational thinking, reflecting the complexities and ambiguities of human relations.

Leadership is a dynamic interactive process

Experience shows us a clear and irrefutable link between good leadership and the proper functioning of an organization. This link embodies the interactive processes which take place between the leader and the organization. Such techniques are unique and specific to each situation, so no one single leadership style can assure the organization's success or point to its demise. The leadership process emerges out of the necessity to handle the fundamental tensions that hold the organization together as a living organism


Leadership is about morality and ethics

This is the crucial finding of recent studies in leadership issues. It all boils down to the leader's moral fiber, character, and outlook on life. We have known for centuries, but only now it receives full credit as the fundamental link between leaders and followers. People follow a leader because of who he is and what he represents. The followers admire the leader's moral character, which gives him the moral authority to lead. Besides, the followers as a community respond by creating an ethical environment aligned to the leader's morality.

The group's moral values bind the community together; it makes it march in sync with the leader's drumbeat. Leadership thus gets democratized in the sense that everyone in the community can provide their input on any leadership issue, particularly those concerned with the moral compass of right or wrong.

For all of the above reasons, we can say that leadership is a mystery of man and his community. Leadership connects to the age-old questions about the creation of man and the evolution of human society. Leadership touches the heart of human existence, brushes the soul, and yearns for freedom, morality, and justice. That is why the issues of governance should be of concern to each of us.

Leader and people behind him
Leader and followers

Principle Centered Leadership

Many scholars consider principle-centered leadership as the most advanced and effective style of leadership. Why is that? Because it shares values, principles, and vision. As such, the leader does not have to use coercion or utilitarian power with his team. The relationship between leader and followers centers on honor, respect, and commitment to each other. The leader uses the moral authority emanating from this character to influence his team. Team members sense this right away and reciprocate in kind. They offer their energy, time, and dedication to the common cause as their contribution to the bargain. As a result, the relationship is stable, healthy, and enduring.

I call a person who voluntarily adopts the principle-centered leadership style a Super-Effective Leader. He is an individual of high personal integrity who does what he says and acts from a center of principles. He articulates a vision in which he sincerely believes and shares it with other people. The Super-Effective Leader is always persuasive, persistent, and consistent in his message. When people start listening, the Super-Effective Leader inspires and encourages them to work together for the common cause. In his interaction with team members, the leader is sincere, kind, and patient. He is like a beacon of light to his team members, who find in him direction and comfort.

The Super-Effective Leader considers his primary role to develop other people, particularly identifying, mentoring, and growing new leaders. He teaches people to grow from within and out, create a Diamond Soul character first, and then use age-proven principles to govern relationships with others. In a sense, the leader promotes shared values, inspires, encourages, and rewards self-leadership in individuals. The strength of the leader measures his ability to facilitate self-leadership in his team members. His job is accomplished when the team is self-sufficient and can motivate, sustain, and manage its daily tasks.

Great leaders are always great simplifiers:

they cut through the arguments, debates,

and doubts to offer a solution,

everyone can understand.

The Treats of a Super-Effective Leader

If you have the opportunity to be around a principled-centered leader for some time, you will notice they exhibit specific characteristics in thinking, speaking, and acting. Such features are common to all quality leaders, and they can be summarized as follows::

• Proactivity. Leaders are the perfect embodiment of proactivity. They do not wait; they act. They do not take no for an answer; they persist.

• Radiate positive energy. Leaders not only radiate positive energy, they have an abundance of it and are eager to share with others. They are tireless, working for many hours in a day under stressful and challenging conditions.

• Believe in other people. Leaders genuinely believe in the unseen potential, capacity, and commitment of other people; they are always on the lookout for individuals who show initiative and dedication to help them develop personally and professionally.

• Eager to teach and encourage. Because leaders believe in others, they are always prepared to assist, mentor, and coach those who show the proper attitude and possess skills above average.

• Humble and service-oriented. Best leaders are always humble and service-oriented. They see themselves as facilitators, not as achievers; they see life as a mission, not a career opportunity.

• They learn continuously. Leaders seek training and take classes; they are always curious. They learn continually from their own mistakes, from the errors of their associates or others' wisdom. Their deep humility allows them to say with sincerity, "show me" in situations where they feel their experience is inadequate.

• Problem solvers. Leaders do not shun problems; they confront them head-on. They can recognize a problem before it becomes a crisis and address its cause roots.

• Live humble and balanced lives. Most leaders are persons of humility and discipline, living balanced lives in all roles they play in life: in family, in organizations, community, and society. Within the limits of age and health, they are physically active, have fun, and enjoy life to its fullest.

• They are risk-takers. Leaders do not like the status quo; they always want to promote transformational changes. They take calculated risks to push their vision and agenda with their followers.

• They renew themselves. Leaders take care of their body, mind, soul, and spirit.

• They see life as an adventure. Yes, for them, life is an adventure, not a chore. They savor life in all its forms, are not afraid of its unpredictability. Because their security comes from their inner character, they are always eager to try new things, to take new challenges.

• They are synergistic. When facing difficult problems, leaders always look for the third alternative. They use creativity and a win-win mentality to create more from less. They are catalysts for change.


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