Leadership has been one of the central concepts in the study of business management since its origins. Much has been written about this reality, which is continually adapting to a complex, multifaceted concept. In addition, the evolving business sphere, the appearance of new trends, and the need to adapt management to changes happening in economy and society, require us to continually revisit the concept of leadership in order to attribute new characteristics and specificities to it.
This is why focuses such as the following have emerged: emotional leadership, coaching leadership, charismatic leadership, agile leadership, lean leadership, and more. Likewise, aspects as disparate as diversity, digitalization, globalization, innovation, and personal branding have come to occupy a central role in the definition of leadership.
New models of competency have been designed in line with these new approaches, models that attempt to identify the critical capacities that every leader must have: from strategic vision to the ability to influence, including situational adaptation, managing ambiguity, the ability to innovate, and resilience. With each new model of leadership, mechanisms for evaluating our leaders are also highlighted, sophisticated strategies for professional development and hundreds of workshops and resources directed at getting our leaders closer to the model of a leader who never stops evolving.
All of these developments and the concept of leadership add value to leadership positions, but it’s no less true that, in these times of dizzying changes and fleeting thoughts, it is helpful to get back to the essence of what it means to run an organization to keep from getting lost in each new evolution or trend.
The essence of leadership
The R.A.E. defines liderar, or to lead, as “to run or be at the head of a group, a political party, a competition, etc.” Leading is governing, directing a group on a path in order to get to an objective, a goal. Being a leader on this journey involves at least four essential attributes that every leader must fulfill. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about leading a company or a small group since these attributes are applicable to any leadership role, regardless of its magnitude.
The attributes a leader must have
- Having a vision. It is impossible to direct any expedition when there is no clear goal our ship is heading toward. Having a vision is having a clear idea of where we want to get to and what we actually want our organization to become. Leading is having a vision and sharing it, as well. It is projecting, proposing an organization for the future. A leader’s charisma, a trend’s strength, or just the need for action can get an organization in motion, but these only make sense if they are supported by a vision. The vision must be authentic, genuine, and coherent with what the organization is today, but at the same time, it must address a challenge that guides it toward a better future.
- Making decisions. Having a vision is just the beginning. Leading involves having the willpower to materialize our vision through the necessary decisions. Making decisions involves moving from an intellectual exercise to action. The leader must have a vision and the determination to act while knowing that deciding involves taking risks and facing the consequences. Leading is accepting that that role involves choosing some options and discarding others, facing conflicts, managing opposition. Lack of determination is one of the main characteristics of insufficient leadership. A leader who is more worried about maintaining the status quo than challenging it will not be taking on full leadership.
- Surrounding oneself with the best. In the business world, there’s no one important objective that is worth just one person striving for. Leading is understanding that participation from the best is necessary to the process of making the vision a reality. It’s not only about having the best professionals but relying on them to respond to the demands of the challenge we have before us. It is about making them key agents and participants in the journey and supporting them when they are faced with adversity. The best leader is the one who has the best team, the one who has been able to find the necessary pieces and fit them all together as one whole. To go back to the previous point, decisions about people are almost always the most difficult ones, but they are also the most necessary.
- Being a loyalist. The last of the four essential elements is the backbone for the other three. A leader must be an example of loyalty to the project itself. Being a loyalist is defending the meaning of the vision we are pursuing, defending it against attacks and setbacks. Being a loyalist is not an exercise in irrationality, but the result of a rational, emotional conviction that the objective is obtainable and that what we’re doing is worth the effort. Being able to generate this culture within the organization itself is one of the essential goals of all well-rounded leadership. Being a loyalist is exactly the opposite of individualistic, egocentric leadership that can cause so much harm for organizations because nothing is as powerful as sharing a belief.
It is impossible to understand the role of leading a modern-day organization without talking about concepts like globalization, innovation, diversity, and digitalization. But for all of this to make any sense, we must not forget that there are some key attributes without which leadership roles would simply be impossible. These are precisely the same attributes that have always been present in any position of governance for any organization, and they lay a foundation for all the rest. Human resources professionals, such as agents responsible for choosing, evaluating, and developing directives, must actively make sure that these attributes are present and prioritized.
In conclusion, there’s often nothing more revolutionary that going back to what’s been there all along, getting back to the basics.