Two Fundamental Truths about Leadership

With so many differing views on leadership, how are you supposed to make sense of what you should be doing as a Leader?

What do you need to do to get it right?

If you want to know how to get it right, read on…

To start with, it’s worth going back to the fundamentals!When running my leadership programmes I often ask participants to name the Axioms (self evident truths) of Leadership. How would you answer that question?

I often get lists of traits such as trust, integrity, communication, etc. Of course, all these are valid as they are about how you lead but they don’t define the truth about leadership.

For me, the two most fundamental Axioms of Leadership are:

1. To be a leader you have to be going somewhere
2. To be a leader you must have followers.

Let’s examine what I mean by each of these:


1. To be a leader you have to be going somewhere

Leadership is about going somewhere, preferably to a better place! Leadership guru Warren Bennis rightly observes – “Too many bosses are driven and driving but going nowhere”.

At every level of an organisation, managers should be going somewhere as well as managing the status quo. You don’t even have to be a people manager to be a leader. You just have to have an idea to improve how things are done – to work ‘on the business’ as well as ‘in the business’. Your idea may be a process improvement, an improvement to customer service or a new product or service offering.

In other words, I’m talking about having a Vision.

I am reluctant to use the word Vision as it is so over used in leadership development but what I mean is an aim. Steven Covey says “Begin with the end in mind”. So make sure you have a clear idea of where you are going and communicate this to others.

So, where are you going? And, do your followers know?


2. To be a leader you must have followers

It’s possible to talk about self leadership but leadership is really about bringing people with you. To be a leader you must have followers. But why should anyone follow you?

This question was addressed by Goffee and Jones in the book “Why should anyone follow you?

This question prompts self reflection:.

What are your strengths as a leader?
What is it about you and the way that you lead that would cause others to want to follow you?

The emphasis on the word want is deliberate: a leader may be able to get compliance, where others have to follow, but commitment, where people want to follow, is much more likely to get the best out of them by harnessing their energy, creativity and perseverance.

Goffee and Jones advocate more than authenticity – that you should “be yourself – more, with skill”. In other words, be self aware or aware of your natural strengths and weaknesses and then selectively reveal yourself using your acquired skill.

To summarise, there are two very important questions that you should ask yourself regularly:

1. Where am I going?
2. Why should anyone follow me?

So, do you know where you’re going and why should anyone follow you??

What are your fundamental truths (axioms) of Leadership? How do they impact on the way you lead?

We’d love to hear your thoughts so we can compile an exhaustive list to share with other leaders. Please let us know by adding your comments in the box below.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Next month, out for our blog on Business Partnering.

Posted by Mark Procter

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