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Leadership is about People

posted May 9, 2013, 6:12 AM by Lisa Shelley   [ updated Oct 1, 2013, 3:29 AM ]

Somewhere along the line, leadership forgot who it was leading.

Leaders are often selected based on their business acumen and “results,” – not necessarily their ability to lead people. Unfortunately, the ability to produce results as an individual does not always scale to effectively lead others.

In addition, leadership development has evolved to focus on developing business acumen, often at the expense of developing critical people skills. Leadership, in many ways, has been reduced to managing outcomes.

The problem with this approach is that you can’t lead outcomes – you can only lead people. Without focus on the business of leading people, you are left with an organization operating well below its true capability, and likely not making full use of the business expertise at the helm.

Leadership is a social business. It is most simply defined as the act of motivating a group toward achieving a goal or vision. It’s fundamentallyabout people.

Leadership, in many ways, has been reduced to managing outcomes.

How do we put people back into the Leadership equation? For starters let’s review how we select and develop leaders. Let’s consider the characteristics that enable someone to become a great leader of people.

A great leader is interested in people.

They have a deep curiosity about what makes others tick, and a genuine desire to help them become a better version of themselves. They take the time to get to know, and connect with, those they lead. They naturally build a culture of respect.

A great leader believes in people.

They see, and mirror, the talent and potential in their people. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.”

A great leader recognizes an employee’s strengths and aligns them with roles in the organization where they can best be utilized, and respectfully helps them find another job when they are not needed. A great leader provides support and resources necessary for employees to be successful. They empower people.

A great leader is inspired, by their mission, and by their people.

They see the unique talent, story and circumstance behind every employee and allow themselves to be impressed. Per Simon Sinek , author of Start With Why, “A leader must be inspired by the people, before a leader can inspire the people.”

Great leaders see what each individual has to contribute, value diversity of thought and experience, and naturally build a diverse workforce. Their ability to be inspired is infectious. A great leader naturally inspires people.

These characteristics should be the litmus test for any candidate in consideration for a leadership position. People with these foundational characteristics can be taught and will easily learn an arsenal of leadership and business skills. Unfortunately, without this foundation, it’s impossible for someone to become a truly great leader.

Great leaders see their people as the source of what the organization ultimately achieves. They recognize that as the leader, they alone have nothing but a vision. Their ability to bring their vision to life is dependent upon the extent to which they engage their people with it. They understand that engagement is about more than clear objectives and measureable outcomes; it’s about human connection and collaboration.

So what about business acumen? Does it have a place at the leadership table? Of course. However, the leader’s ability to leverage their business knowledge is predicated on the level to which they’ve earned their team’s trust and respect, empowered them to get the job done and inspired them to action.

Great leaders see their people as the source of what the organization ultimately achieves.

Leadership is a social business. Being a great leader requires more than a great business plan: it requires a deep appreciation of what can be accomplished when people align in support of a vision, as well as the interest, belief and inspiration to facilitate that connection and collaboration.

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