Human Skills: Leadership

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This Series: Human Skills

Leadership is a tricky topic. When the subject of leadership comes up, most people automatically think of the person “in charge” as the natural leader. They rightly look at them as the person responsible for leading them. But leadership is broader than the person “on top.” Leadership describes behavior, rather than position, and emphasizes how we act, rather than the titles we have.

Let’s take a look at three different kinds of leaders, and the benefits of each.

The Very Model of a Modern Major-General

Many people see leadership as a top-down command-and-control type of leadership that is often emulated by the military and its leaders. The exercise of leadership by captains, generals and others is the kind of leadership that extends its influence not from working to acquire respect, but by enforcing discipline. In short, this kind of leadership is about the use of power, not the art of persuasion.

This kind of leadership has its place; after all, it wouldn’t make much sense to ask leaders in combat situations to persuade their troops to put their lives at risk. Still, when we speak of leadership in the workplace, the command-and-control model is not the most current way of looking at leadership. We need a different model.

Managing resources

Another way of looking at leadership is to examine the relationship between the pilot of an airplane and their crew members. Following the loss of several aircraft in the 1970s, the National Transportation Safety Board examined the cause of the accidents and found that the top-down military-style leadership often exhibited by captains of flight crews was a significant factor in causing the accident. Out of this came Crew Resource Management. United Airlines was the first airline to launch a CRM program. As a result of this program, airline disasters have declined steadily over the years.

Pilots are trained in how to be the final decision makers while listening to their copilots and even flight attendants about operational and safety considerations. In other words, they are still the boss – the leader – but it’s not an authoritarian top-down system, like in the military.

This kind of leadership can serve an organization well. Leaders who listen to their underlings and then make critical decisions about direction are more likely to succeed than leaders who simply go it alone. But still, there’s something missing for many people. They feel that they cannot be leaders in their own right, because they’re not in a decision-making capacity. What about these individuals?

The servant-leader

The third kind of leadership is “servant leadership.” A term often employed in the church environment, a servant leader is one who leads by example, by doing and serving others, rather than asserting authority. This is leadership through persuasion rather than authority. Since the servant leader may or may not have actual authority (or the capital to use it), they often fall back to persuading others that they are correct in their assessments.

Persuasive leadership is something everyone can practice. It’s practiced by developers who are chief architects of their products despite having no title to that effect. It’s practiced by low-level executives or even assistants who help “manage up” and keep companies and businesses on track. And it should be encouraged for everyone to participate in this kind of leadership, because it helps move a business forward without a tremendous amount of top-down authoritarianism.

Moving forward in servant leadership

Becoming a servant leader is both easy and complex. It’s easy because all it takes is doing the right things for people and considering people’s best interests. What makes it complex is the time it takes to develop the rapport and skill necessary to navigate complex political environments and understand the consequences of particular decisions and choices. Still, it’s worthwhile.

Even people in positions of authority who practice resource management can be servant leaders. They do this by asking people to “follow me” rather than directing people out into the field. They do it by standing firm on principle when it’s appropriate, while negotiating a bit on issues that can handle some give-and-take. And they succeed the most when they consider the needs of others around them and whether those needs are being met through the actions of the leader.

Persuasion beats power every time. When you persuade someone that you are right, they will do anything for you. By contrast, someone may act on your behalf when you exercise power, but they may only do it because they fear consequences too great to accept if they don’t meet the ask. In those cases, resentment can build up, and resentment will destroy an organization faster than almost anything.

Considering the needs of others and acting in the best interest of others is not a weakness. It’s leadership.

Brandon Savage is the author of Mastering Object Oriented PHP and Practical Design Patterns in PHP

Posted on 1/7/2022 at 1:10 pm
Categories: Uncategorized

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