“Real leaders,” wrote the novelist David Foster Wallace, “are people who help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.”
Over the years I have been asked many times to define leadership. As you can well imagine, there are a number of very good, relevant definitions, depending on the challenge, the cycle the business is in, the resources available, etc., etc. But, for me, a common thread running through all of them is the ability of the leader to bring out the best in people and get them to accomplish more than they would on their own. It’s not about manipulating people, or browbeating them. It’s about finding a way to release the potential in people, engage them, and establish a human link with them. Many years ago, I was working with a CEO in Cleveland, Ohio. As I was walking down to corridor to his office, I ran into one of his direct reports. I asked him what is was like to work for this CEO. He paused, and then he looked me in the eyes and said, “He’s driven. That’s for sure, but he’s the kind of person you don’t want to let down.” That’s what leadership looks like in the real world. What would those who you lead tell me about you?