Many are challenged when asked to define leadership. Whilst challenging, it’s critical you create your own definition.
When lacking a clear definition of leadership it’s impossible to develop the skills necessary to drive superior results. Without a practical definition you have no idea what good leadership looks like. A lack of clarity makes the development of leaders a hit and miss affair, as it’s impossible to know what skills drive superior results.
To help bring clarity to the discussion of what makes an effective leader we can start with a definition as to the purpose of leadership. As a start, let’s the explore one definition of leadership.
“Leadership is a process of influence that generates the commitment and capabilities required to translate vision into reality.”
Expanding on this definition helps to explain the purpose of leadership:
- Leadership is a process that creates change. It’s the purpose of leadership to bring about change, to drive innovation, encouraging people to take risky action. If there is no need for change, there is no need for leadership.
- Leadership is about influence. Leadership is a social process resulting in the voluntary commitment by others to the achievement of a shared vision and the process of change.
- As leadership is about change it requires the development of the capabilities necessary to translate vision into reality.
Now we have a definition let’s move on to discuss what makes for effective leader.
The Three Domains of Effective Leadership
Effective leadership is exercised through three domains – strategic, team and personal leadership. Exploring leadership through these three perspectives helps provide insight into the skills and practices that make for an effective leader.
The effective leader develops by evaluating their leadership skills through these three interrelated lenses. Then seeks to strengthen the gaps identified in each of the three domains.
“Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers.” – Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus, Visa
Before exploring each leadership domain in more detail, we must acknowledge that no model – however good – will comprehensively capture all the elements that makes for effective leadership. As George Box noted “all models are wrong, but some are useful.” This model is useful as it provides a representation of the key domains of effective leadership. And effective leadership is one that leads to the achievement of shared vision and outcomes. It’s intended to be used to help guide the development and growth of effective leaders.
Strategic leadership is about understanding the context, trends and systems in which you’re leading. Strategic leadership helps you take advantage of the changes occurring in the external environment. It forms the foundation for your strategic choices, goals and coherent action.
“The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Strategic leadership leverages the changing context to set a compelling future vision, shared values, goals and outcomes. This means change – a change from the current reality towards a shared future vision.
Some of the practices that support strategic leadership include:
- Keeping an eye on macro trends and the big picture
- Making time for strategic thinking
- Getting clarity on strategic priorities and outcomes
- Deliberate decision-making
- Focused execution
Ultimately, strategic leadership seeks to answer the questions; what future do we want to create? What outcomes are we seeking to achieve?
Team leadership is the recognition that nothing of significance is created alone. All great work is the result of a group of people working together towards a common goal.
Team leadership is about engaging the hearts and minds of others in the pursuit of a shared vision. It creates the space for everyone to contribute according to their own unique strengths and talents. Team leadership demands collaboration, creativity and innovation in how the team works towards achieving their goals.
Team leadership requires that leaders connect with others. To develop authentic, trusting and caring relationships. To lead effectively in a distributed and interconnected world means developing not only vertical relations, but also strong horizontal relationships.
Some of the practices that support team leadership include:
- Developing trust amongst team members
- Encouraging innovative solutions to problems
- Nurturing team norms and culture
- Facilitating alignment and collaboration across teams and functional silos
- Developing the leadership skills within others
Team leadership rests on the foundation of personal leadership, the values, strengths and competencies of individuals.
Personal leadership acknowledges the individual dimension of leadership, it’s about how effectively an individual leads oneself. Personal leadership is based on the recognition that to lead others requires you lead yourself first.
To lead yourself first means taking ownership of your own life, growth and development. It’s the recognition that leadership is not about position or title. Rather leadership begins with a choice, reflected in your personal philosophy – an attitude towards life and the impact you want to have on the world.
“Leaders have nothing but themselves to work with…. we are our own raw material. Only when we know what we’re made of and what we want to make of it can we begin our lives – and we must do it despite an unwitting conspiracy of people and events against us….. To become a leader, then, you must become yourself, become the maker of your own life….. Know thyself, then, means separating who you are and who you want to be from what the world thinks you are and wants you to be….. Until you make your life your own, you’re walking around in borrowed clothes.” – Warren Bennis
Personal leadership recognises that effective leaders require a self-knowledge and deep awareness of where they are effective and where they need to partner with others. This requires an awareness of who you are, what are your values, skills, strengths and weaknesses.
Some of the practices that support personal leadership include:
- Deep connection to purpose and mission
- Awareness of your values, beliefs, strengths and weaknesses
- Management of your attention and time
- Openness to feedback and challenge
- Continuous learning and growth
- Setting the example for others
Personal leadership is the expression of your values, your character and beliefs. It’s your leadership philosophy in action. Personal leadership is the inner source of a leaders effectiveness. It’s also the most powerful of the three domains.
The three leadership domains are interdependent, without the vision provided by strategic leadership, it becomes difficult to build collaborative teams and inspire commitment to a future vision. Without the foundation of personal leadership, teams become dominated by infighting and political battles.
It’s only as you integrate the three domains that a leader becomes effective. When any of the domains are missing or weak, leadership falters. You fail to translate vision into reality.
Leading in fast changing and uncertain times is like walking a tight rope. Effective leaders deliberately balance the strategic, team and personal leadership domains.
- Are you balancing your focus amongst the three leadership domains
- Which domain is your weakest and requires more focus?
- What three action can you take this week to strengthen your weakest leadership domain?