Think of the most effective leader you’ve known or read about? What characteristics made that person come to mind? Pick up any magazine, journal, or periodical and you’ll probably find one or more articles that talk about desirable leadership best practices and/or about becoming a better and more effective leader. Most of those articles make leadership sound like a mystical process that blends heart and head into someone who magically morphs into a super powerful, charismatic, influential, and bottom line human being. And the authors sometimes seem more concerned with whether a leader is good or bad than with whether or not the leader actually makes something happen.
Let’s take “good” and “bad” out of the picture for a moment. Instead, let’s focus on effectiveness and ineffectiveness. Can the same leader be effective and ineffective? Does it matter who’s being led? Do skill levels of the followers make a difference? Does individual willingness to follow make a difference?
Well, the answer to all four questions is yes. What comes first, however, is understanding what leaders actually do. In simplest terms, leaders use power and influence to produce results. Period. And everyone leads one or more someones, even if it’s only themselves. When led effectively, people and organizations grow. When led ineffectively, people labor and organizations can feel like a prison.
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