We are told that leaders inspire others and facilitate success. But we shouldn't confuse motivation and coaching with leadership. We need to get back to the basics of what leadership is all about. Leadership has always been, fundamentally, about indicating what direction to take.
Business today is too complex for those at the top to determine direction all the time. Expecting only those at the top to be leaders, we distort the concept to fit what they do.
Today, much leadership will come from market focused product and service developers. Much of the role of the senior executive is coaching and mortivating, which is good management, not leadership. Instead of seeing yourself only as a leader, focus on encouraging leadership in others.
If your organization allows employees to behave entrepreneurially - to strike out in new directions with your support - then they are also leaders. To exhibit leadership yourself, start by developing a compelling vision or idea for changing the substantive direction of the organization. Set an example or use more direct influence skills to get people on board. Forget about not having formal authority.
Too many would-be leaders mark time by worrying about having the right personality or developing influencing skills, but this is putting the cart before the horse. The real first step is to develop or discover a compelling new idea. If your idea is good enough, you will find the enthusiasm to inspire others. Trying to create an inspiring personality first is impossible, backwards and operating in a vacuum.
Focusing on your personality is inward looking, like an internally focused organization. Leadership begins with an external focus - looking outside for ways to do things better than your competitors. Start there and your enthusiasm, sense of purpose and determination to succeed will take care of themselves. Enthusiasm is not a personality trait. It's an attitude toward things, so you need to find something to get excited about first.
Leadership is also not about how you relate to people reporting to you - this again is an internal focus and a management task in any case. As a leader you may or may not be a manager - you simply have a better idea that will improve the organization's competitive advantage.
To exhibit leadership, simply show the way for others, either by example or by explicitly promoting a better way. Leadership is about selling the tickets for the journey; management drives the bus to the destination.
Management, however, needs to be upgraded so that we regard it as a more positive, empowering function.