Brute Force Not Necessary : What exactly is leadership?

What exactly is leadership? We talk about it all the time, but what exactly is it?  

I certainly didn’t know much about it or how to do it when I started out. I definitely didn’t know how to do it in a way that was comfortable and natural for me.  

Happily, I discovered with the help of mentors and real-world experience that leaders are built, not born. And good leaders can become great leaders. 

Jim Collins, considered the world’s leading authority on what makes great companies tick, says there is no such thing as a ‘leadership personality.’ Do not confuse personality with leadership.  

You do not need a powerful, charismatic personality to inspire people to do great things. Some of the greatest business leaders of all time lacked any obvious charisma. Some of the worst episodes of corporate decline and failure happened with colourful charismatic leaders at the helm.  

Nor do you need formalised power. That’s the second important point. Never confuse brute power with leadership.  

True leadership only exists if people follow when they would otherwise have the freedom to not follow. Many business leaders think they’re leading when in fact they’re simply exercising power, and they might discover to their horror that no one would follow them if they had no power. 

One of the first books I ever read on leadership was by General Colin Powell. I picked up a copy when I saw him speak at a conference in London imaginatively called ‘Leaders in London’.  

The speakers were Powell, Richard Branson, Bob Geldof, Alan Sugar and a series of other high-profile business, sports, and armed forces leaders.  

I did feel a bit out of place in the audience of managers and CEOs from publicly traded companies, while I was running a business that couldn’t yet afford to pay me and I was trying to lead an army the size of one employee.  

I remember trying to convince my business partner to join me at this conference and he dismissed it, telling me he already knew how to lead people. I wasn’t so sure of myself! Anyway, I was uncomfortable and awkward, but I went. And I learned.  

Here’s a quote from Colin Powell on leadership that stays with me: “In my thirty-five years of service, I don’t ever recall telling anyone, ‘That’s an order.’” Powell learned that it is often far better to exert “command with the most delicate touch.” 

Jim Collins defines leadership as the art of getting people to want to do what must be done. Read that again, carefully. Each word is important. 

  1. As a leader it’s your responsibility to figure out what must be done. Use your insight and instinct, as well as dialogue and debate with the right people. But get clear. 
  2. It’s not about getting people to do what must be done but about getting them to want to do it. 
  3. It’s not a science; it’s an art. You have to cultivate your own elements of style, a distinctive leadership artistry that makes you effective at getting the right people to work passionately with you in accomplishing what must be done. 

If you want to start elevating your leadership abilities and developing the leaders on your team then we’ve got everything you need at the upcoming OSA Live event “Scaling Up For Success” – go here for the details and to book your seat (