Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Seeds of Leadership

When asked about key leadership traits, I respond with characteristics such as initiative, confidence, big-picture thinking, and pride of ownership. Then I realize that my list describes how individuals approach their personal efforts. These traits don't directly relate to how a person leads others. Nevertheless, I keep coming back to these ideas as fundamental to what I mean when I talk about leadership.

Certainly these types of traits are important to the success of a leader: They provide the motivation for a person to enlist a team to larger successes than they could accomplish themselves, and they are valuable tools to leading others successfully. But, even folks who would never think of taking the lead are more effective personally when they show initiative, have confidence, look at the big picture, and take pride of ownership.

I think these traits may be the seeds of leadership skills; fundamental kernels of approach that engender others to want to follow someone. I have seen many people who have a strong desire to lead others, but somehow have been unable to get others to follow them. They tell me about reading books, studying other leaders, and trying new approaches, all with little success. I see them struggle and fight to get others to follow them on a project. They are often successful through pure drive alone, but their teams don't follow willingly, effectively, or joyfully.

This may be why I keep falling back on these personal seeds of leadership in my descriptions. I have seen group leadership techniques fail, while shy-but-charismatic people can't seem to find time to work on their own projects because their teammates are constantly coming to them for leadership. People with these leadership traits seem to be forced to the front, even though they don't want to be.

So, if you are working hard to become a leader, looking to climb the corporate ladder, or are eager for others to follow your lead, look first to your personal character. The techniques for getting others to follow you grow from your approach to your own work. Leading others can be taught; learning to lead yourself is a more difficult exercise.


Miki said...

Ken, The characteristics you cite are part of what I call MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™), so it's not surprising that you find them as a common factor in those that lead. Leading isn't a position or even something you do, it's who you are and who you are is determined by your MAP.

Ken Flowers said...

Thanks for the link. There's some good material there.

Debra J. Slover said...

Ken, I couldn't agree more that the key to leadership is learning to grow yourself first. In my book U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within, I outline eight principles and practices to do just that. I use a Leadership Garden analogy of that consists of the heart, mind, and spirit working in unison with a unique purpose and aim.

The word lead means simply to guide and direct and you are the only and only true leader that is guiding and directing your life in any given moment. Even if you choose to follow another you do that.

I offer a free eBook that outlines those principles and practices that you an your readers may be interested in. It is can be accessed at"

Debra J. Slover

Emmanul Abdulsalaam said...

ken, i cannot agree with you more,we intuitively know that a leader cannot impact what he does not have! It is the quality and the content of his character, values and beliefs that commands and attracts others to him and his cause. just like insects to light

Ken Flowers said...

Debra, I'm looking forward to looking at your ebook. Thanks for the pointer.

Ken Flowers said...

Emmanul, I like the metaphor of a insects to a light as applied to leaders.

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