As of July 2014, log on to Amazon and you’ll find 116,796 titles under the heading “Leadership”. But if you’re in too big of a hurry to read a book, open up the American Heritage Dictionary. A careful examination of the various definitions of “leader” presents a fascinating and brief explanation of great leadership.
1. Has the Power to Influence
Leaving behind the standard definition of “one who leads or guides”, consider the second definition: “one who has power or influence”. Have you known people in a leadership role who seem unable to influence the people around them? The ability to make connections, to speak clearly and to frame messages so everyone hears something compelling is essential for influence. We are also persuaded by people with conviction and passion. We are influenced by people whom we think we can trust. Lose or misuse any of this and a leader’s power vanishes.
2. Conducts the Orchestra
A leader is defined as “a conductor or the principal performer in an orchestral section”. The finest of leaders discover ways to bring together the different talents of employees or volunteers so that all play from the same sheet of music and blend their instruments into a harmonious whole. We look to a leader to have the larger picture of how great “music” can be played and to hold prima donnas in check.
The finest of leaders discover ways to bring together the different talents of employees or volunteers so that all play from the same sheet of music and blend their instruments into a harmonious whole.
3. Becomes the Foremost Animal in a Harnessed Team
Think of Iditarod and sled dogs. Do we not look to leaders to guide the way, joined shoulder by shoulder to the rest of the team? The lead dog is not back at camp, yelping commands from a cell phone but rather providing muscle and mind to move forward. Remember how the presence of a leader at a front line became the rallying point for many battles? You get the picture.
4. Serves as a Duct for Conveying Warm Air
Don’t laugh. This is not the “hot air of a blowhard”. The dictionary states it is a duct for blowing warm air from a furnace. What is more conveying of warmth than a person who cares! Care is a four-letter word heard more and more frequently in business circles. Employees want to know that a leader cares for them. The cold, stern dictator might get some results but never the full-blown commitment, creativity and loyalty of a caring leader.
5. Becomes an Economic Barometer
There’s the leader that is an economic indicator and the leader that is “lost”. A leader better be in command and have a clear indication as to the economic viability of the enterprise. And a leader also needs to know when something is done to attract talent or customers – not to make money in the short term but rather for LONG term benefit.
6. Stands at the Front to Connect to a Desired Outcome
The dictionary also defines a leader as a short length of gut, wire, or similar material by which a hook is attached to a fishing line and a leader is the blank strip at the end or beginning of a film or tape used in threading or winding.
What’s the correlation with the world of leadership in these final definitions? Both are used for setting up the profit potential of the venture. Depending upon the type of fish one wishes to catch, a fishing leader strengthens the connection between the hook and the rest of the line. There are times in which the leader’s presence helps solidify the relationship between the customer and the sales team so that the customer “bites the hook”. Other times, a leader gently paves the way for the real presentation to the potential buyer or the investment community. She is the “blank tape” that opens the doors for the full presentation of the company.
If a picture is worth 1000 words, a metaphor is worth 1000 pictures. Using the metaphors provided by other meanings of the word “leader”, we gain a rich image of the scope and possibilities of true leadership.