This is the conclusion of ‘LEARNING: The Mystery of Leadership‘
It is also true that the leader may not have an official position or title: he or she seems to guide things without a formal office or authority. This is the quality of presence that I referred to above. Whatever it may be, it is useful to identify people who are leading, at work or elsewhere, and to ask yourself how they do that. You will certainly come up with many different answers, and that should not trouble you. There is no one way to lead. And different environments and circumstances will produce, or even require, different modes of leadership. It is not just that the cycling club is different from the corporation. It is that the people in the two organizations are different, the relationships among them are different and the demands the organizations face are different.
If I am right about this, then there are further implications. The first is that participation is as important as observation. If you do not participate with others, there is no school where you can learn from your observations and about the dynamics of human relations that you need to understand. Practice, as we are all reminded, makes perfect — or at least pretty good. A second implication is that a leader has to be a chameleon, not changing colors to hide, but to quickly adapt to new environments.
It is more important to have mentors than role models because it is from mentors that you learn the essence of your craft, trade or profession. We tend to think of mentors as teachers, and so they can be. I think it is preferable to think of them as guides.
A piece of advice about choosing the perfect mentor: Do not try. There are no perfect mentors because no one is perfect, and no one will ever be a perfect match for anyone else. As a result, you must settle not for what you want but for what you need. You certainly want a mentor whose intellect and temperament complement your own, with whom you feel comfortable and who feels comfortable with you. But to find these intangible qualities will most likely mean that you will need more than one mentor. If you have too many, however, you risk turning your mentors into consultants.
You can solve this problem by having a couple of mentors at a time, or as I did, by having serial mentors. At different times in my life, I was ready for, and in great need of, different kinds of guidance. Fortunately, I found the right person each time I needed a mentor.
Once we become leaders, whether as sergeants or generals, the learning curve does not flatten out. To the contrary, it gets steeper because the higher we rise, the more there is to know, the more complexities there are and the more daunting is the juggling act we have to perform.
To deal with the learning curve, I developed four rules that helped me over the last 30 years. I do not guarantee they will do you good, but I am sure they will do no harm.
First, I make a point of writing a personal reply to every letter and message I get. This is time-consuming, but it enables me to connect with strangers and acquaintances.
Second, always keep in mind that a good strategy is only as good as the tactics used to implement it. A big new idea is just something written down on paper. To make it work requires the appropriate tactics.
Third, I always appreciate the importance of casual perception — how I appear to others as I walk down the street. If you want collegiality and civility, then you must be collegial and civil. If you want energy and enthusiasm, then you must project energy and enthusiasm yourself.
Fourth, never underestimate the importance of the media. You always need to be camera-ready. That does not mean every hair must be in place and every word rehearsed and polished in advance. It does mean that you need to know, at all times, what is happening in your organization, or your part of it, and explain it clearly.
Not one of these four points is easy, nor is anything else I have been talking about. Neither is leadership. If it were, we probably would not need leaders because everyone would be a leader and, somehow, work harmoniously with everyone else. But the world and our work are not harmonious. That is why we need leaders. And, that is why we especially need leaders practiced in dancing with people rather than brooms. Only in that way do they know how to keep us in time with the music.
Credit: Stephen Joel Trachtenberg