“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” — Lao Tzu
Leadership is about people, and the focus of the effective leader is in large part the people who are being led and the beneficiaries of the enterprise that forms the context for the leadership. Leaders do not primarily lead processes, for these can only be managed. When a leader states that they lead a process or an activity, they demonstrated a lack of understanding about leadership and their role in it. If a leader is leading people well, the processes and activities will be well-managed. This is true even in rough times or when the challenge is to adapt. If the leader is focused on leading the process, the people who need leadership will not be led, and the process or activity will likely not flourish.
If leadership is about people, then it is both relational and influential. Kouzes and Posner stated in “The Leadership Challenge (2007), “The most significant contribution leaders make… is to the long-term development of people and institutions so they can adapt, change, prosper, and grow.” The institution or enterprise cannot adapt, change, prosper, and grow if the people are not encouraged to do the same. No institution can rise above its people, and its people cannot rise above their leadership. The core of it is influencing people, and through them influencing outcomes. The work of the leader then is to build relationships that are open and interactive enough to encourage people to thrive and to allow the leader to influence the team members both directly and indirectly. If the institution is not effectively meeting its challenges and opportunities, it is likely that this is due to the leadership level not meeting its responsibilities and opportunities to truly lead.
Effective leaders to not tell people how to perform; they model the performance that is necessary for success. Again, Kouzes and Posner identify one of the critical features of successful leadership as “modeling the way.” When many in leadership “lead” by telling others what to do and how to do it, effective leaders quietly model the performance they seek. By this, I do not mean that a leader must be able to perform every task in the organization. By modeling the way, the leader is consistently demonstrating the character qualities, the commitment to success, the relational behaviors, the responsibility, and the drive needed by the team to succeed. If leader needs selfless performance from the team, team members who are hard workers who exhibit diligence and drive, it is up to the leader to model these traits all the time. If the team requires honesty and integrity at all levels, no can more consistently demonstrate these character qualities than the leader, all the time.
If your leadership is growing in its ability to exemplify a deep concern for the people on the team and those who consume the product of the enterprise, to influence others through sincere relationships, and model the behaviors and character qualities needed for success, you are well on your way to effective, adaptive leadership.