What Makes an Effective Leader?

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No, this post has nothing to do with the election. It’s sheer coincidence that I’m writing about leadership on the day President Obama has been reelected for a second term. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I wrote a post a while ago on the difference between management and leadership, in which I quoted my friend Mike Lehr as saying, “The difference between management and leadership is that you can be a leader on accident.” I’ve thought more on leadership and have come to this conclusion: not only can you be a leader on accident, but you can’t be a leader on purpose. Let me explain what I mean…

What is Effective Leadership?

In order for a person to be a leader, he or she must have followers. You can’t claim to be a leader and have no one following you. But, more than that, I think the generally accepted definition of leadership requires not only followers, but voluntary followers. You can be a manager and have people listen to you because you’re the boss. But, if you are a leader, people listen to you because they want to. Leadership requires people who willingly follow you, not those who do so out of compulsion.

So what makes an effective leader? If we agree that a leader is someone whom people willingly follow, then I propose two criteria:

  1. A leader is made more effective when he or she gets more followers.
  2. A leader is made more effective when he or she gets more devoted followers.

In other words, there’s a qualitative aspect and a quantitative aspect. There is breadth and depth. A leader becomes more effective when a greater number of people choose to follow her AND when any number of people choose to follow her more closely. So, that’s what effective leadership is: having more people that are more willing to follow you.

How Does a Leader Become Effective?

Organization Behavior theorists generally recognize two types of leaders: task oriented leaders and relationship oriented leaders.

  • Task-oriented leaders focus on processes. They are diligent about getting things done tend to focus heavily on results.
  • Relationship-oriented leaders focus on people. They tend to be popular and their focus is on building relationships.

So, which of these is more effective? Most organizational behavior theorists will tell you that, while relationship-oriented leaders are more popular, task-oriented leaders are more productive. In other words, people like relationship-oriented leaders but they listen to task-oriented leaders. I’m not so sure about this theory…

The two most recent audiobooks I listend to are: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and One Click by Richard Brandt.

Delivering Happiness is somewhat of a memoir by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, about his company and the philosophy with which he runs his business and his life. Tony is very clearly a relationship-oriented leader. He is responsible for creating what is believed by many to be the greatest company culture to have ever existed and he is well-known as the most active CEO on Twitter.

One Click is more or less a biography of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com. Jeff is very clearly a task-oriented leader. He is a computer geek and a problem-solver that uses a flow-chart for every decision he makes in business and in life. He has been known to be agreeable to employees but not incredibly involved. The focus of the company of culture at Amazon.com isn’t who they are; it’s what they’re doing.

Both Tony Hsieh and Jeff Bezos are very successful leaders. They both have gotten many people to follow them with sincere devotion. And these are just a few anecdotal examples. If you look, I have no doubt that you can find countless examples of effective leaders on both ends of the spectrum. So, what is the missing variable???

It’s All About Charisma

If you look at effective task-oriented leaders and effective relationship-oriented leaders, they will have one commonality: charisma. They believe unquestionably in themselves and are confident about communicating that belief to others.

If you look at the leaders who get elected in politics or hired as executives or promoted in organizations, they will all share this trait. Regardless of your political opinions, you can’t watch President Obama’s Victory Speech and tell me he doesn’t have charisma. He believes in himself and does a fantastic job at getting others to rally behind him.

We can say we look for a number of things in a leader: integrity, resourcefulness, fairness, etc. But what we really look for is someone who sincerely and unapologetically believes in himself and his mission. That’s what we are drawn in by.

What does this mean to you? Well, if you want to become a more effect leader, you need to work on believing in yourself. If there’s something about you that needs to change first, change it. If not, why the self-doubt? It’s literally holding you back.

You can be a nice person, you can be be smart, you can be known for always doing the right thing. But, if you really want people to follow you, you will be confident. You will be charismatic. You will be so convinced of yourself and your mission that no one dare question their importance.

If you want others to follow you, you first have to be willing to follow yourself. (TWEET THIS!)

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I am bookmarking this for future reference, namely for pre-interview reading. Good stuff. Thank you for sharing.



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