What is Leadership?



Dear World,

While my list of interests, passions, and eFields is long and always evolving, my daytime career has been on a very stable path for over 30 years. I am software builder, I love to write code, and to lead those who write code.

My field requires keeping constantly updated on the latest and greatest technical trends. Wearing my leader's hat also requires a constant study and honing of leadership skills. Leadership is a complex art to master, it doesn't come with a debugger, and to improve I am always studying it both on the field and through the work of many authors and great thinker.

Last night I came across this quote in Bill Gates blog:
The best leaders have the ability to do both the urgent things that demand attention today and at the same time lay the groundwork for innovation that will pay dividends for decades.
I could not agree more! I've seen leaders being perpetually consumed with the hottest problem of the day, and simply work their way out of significance as the competition takes the time to innovate and improve.

But, what is leadership?

The best answer to this question that I have found so far is contained in a book titled “Leadership is an Art”, by Max DePree. Max DePree, on paper, is a "furniture guy", as he is the president and CEO of Herman Miller. However, he is much more than that. He is an amazing leader. His words are pure gold, and are applicable to any industry. He wrote:
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you.
Pause on this one for a moment or two. Let those words sink.

DePree continues with more profound insights and wisdom:
In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.

[…]

The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head, but the tone of the body. The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict?
Those words have been a guide to me. They say that leaders are measured by the results achieved by the people who permit them to lead. That is telling me that, when I wonder how well I am doing as a leader, I don’t have to look any further than how well the people that allow me to lead are doing, and for how long.

The “how long” part is key. To me, the sustainability of results obtained is as important as their quality. Great results that burn out the people around you are, IMO, not a sign of great leadership.