What does an effective leader look like?
This question came up in a recent conversation with a colleague. In my experience, most people tend to answer this question in one of three ways:
- They describe an effective leader with whom they have interacted.
- Their picture is shaped by whomever the business media currently identify as a successful leader that others should emulate.
- They cherry-pick the most laudable characteristics from a group of leaders to create some mythical super-leader.
None of these approaches are effective in helping you identify how you can be an effective leader. (Which is really why we ask the question in the first place, right?). Introverts and extroverts can both be effective leaders. Visionaries and those with a process orientation can both be effective leaders. The highly educated and bootstrap entrepreneurs, with a diverse set of skills and experiences can be effective leaders. Birth order, gender, height . . . there have been those who have attempted to connect all of these traits and skills to leadership success, and yet a singular picture of effective leadership remains elusive . . . maybe because there is no such thing as a singular picture of an effective leader.
Leadership is about two things: goals and influence. To lead effectively, you have to have a clear picture of where you are going, and the ability to persuade others to follow you in the quest. And while the first half of that equation may seem to the be easiest, it is often where would-be leaders struggle the most. Too many leaders set goals that may seem clear on the surface but, in trying to remain open to a myriad of possibilities, are actually way too broad. We want to serve children and families — okay, how? We want to expand into California — okay, LA or Sacramento? We want to be the industry leader — okay, what steps are we going to take to get there?
Part of setting effective goals is connecting the dots for those you would hope to influence. Here is where we are going — specifically. Here is why we are going there. Here is what I need you to do to help us get there. Why is that so hard? Because the more you focus on the singular thing you are working towards, the more you say no to other options. It there risk in a singular focus? Sure. But it is also hard to maximize your influence when you are hedging your bets.
Want to be an effective leader? Start with the goal you are leading towards.