Imagine it’s late on Friday (crises always seem to happen late on Fridays); you just finished a telephone conversation with your boss who is halfway across the country and is anxiously attempting to close a major account. The sticking point of her negotiation is a proposal incorporating detailed multi-year projections you and your team have been working on for months. You and your boss had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. The meeting was sooner than expected and sooner then you had planned, but now you are in the crosshairs of competitors who have all their ducks in a row and are trying to squeeze your organization out from this potentially very lucrative client.
The client has generously agreed to one final meeting on Saturday morning. Your boss is in a bind and now you’re in a bind. It’s crunch time. Your team members, already stretched thin with other critical work, have started to disperse for the weekend. What’s your strategy for getting the job done?
Are you going to rely on carrots and offer rewards as enticements to snap your team into focus and get team members to burn the midnight oil?
Or are you going to pull out the stick and coerce team members to get what you want and the organization needs now?
Carrots and sticks are age-old tools used to influence and manipulate behavior. Carrots or rewards are the potential for gaining something; in this case money, time off or a promotion perhaps. Sticks or punishments are threats to take something away; in our example time off, a shot at a promotion or even keeping a job perhaps. Human beings are motivated by carrots, the potential for gain, but they are extremely motivated by sticks; the threat of losing something. We’ll do more to keep what we have – whether we like what we have or not – than we will to get something new.
Knowing the threat of loss is a more powerful motivator than the potential for gain far too many bosses rely on sticks – threats and coercion – to get what they want. The truth to realize is using either carrots or sticks is not leadership.
Employing the potential for extrinsic rewards or the threat of punishment to motivate people is not leadership.
Over the last couple hundred years, since the term was coined, we’ve come up with a variety of definitions of leadership:
- person(s) in position(s) of authority
- ability to lead
- an act or instance of leading; guiding; directing
- the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group
- the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal
- a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal
We associate leadership with accomplishing a mission, goal or some task by whatever means is necessary. But is that what leading is really about?
People take a lot of pride in occupying positions of authority. We label these positions boss, supervisor, manager, director, executive, chief, head, and so on. Occupying a position of authority however is not synonymous with leadership. Being in a position of authority equals leading is an erroneous assumption. While millions occupy positions of authority and possess the ability to employ carrots and sticks, genuine leadership is a rare commodity indeed.
And I bet you’ve realized our organizations, communities, country and our world need genuine leadership now more than ever.
So what then is leadership?
Leadership is the act of inspiring people to grow toward their full potential.
After reading that definition of leadership redefined, you’re probably inclined to challenge me asserting that that definition says nothing about missions, goals or tasks. How can that be leadership if nothing gets done?
The idea of leadership redefined is simple. I can illustrate from a personal-family, a market-business or a community-political perspective. I’ll use market-business.
The purpose of business, all businesses operating in the marketplace, is to satisfy people’s wants and needs. Everyone is in the people business. There is no other type of business.
We, all of us, make money by helping people get what they want. There is no other way to make money. Making money is creating value for others.
Producers, workers, add value and make money by helping other people get what they want.
Business and making money is all about satisfying other people’s desires. By satisfying other people’s desire we ultimately get what we want.
And while people in positions of authority often use power to get what they want (managers, supervisors and bosses employ the entire spectrum of carrots and sticks) leaders lead. Leaders are out front inspiring people to move toward their ultimate need (as I have redefined leadership): fulfilling their purpose and becoming all they are capable of becoming.
Achieving a mission, goal or task can be a contributing step, as all experiences are, in route to the ultimate objective. All other strategies – the use of carrots and sticks – risks making the mission, objective or task about that person in the position of authority. Leadership is not about the leader; it’s about the followers.
Leadership is about inspiring people on the journey; the journey we are all on. Leadership is fundamentally about helping people achieve their highest purpose.
To lead is to inspire.
Leadership is the selfless act, the selfless art of inspiring people to move beyond their comfort zones and sometime beyond what they believe is even possible, to become what they are truly capable of becoming.
Leading and leadership is no small matter. Inspiring people with vision and motivation to get better and grow – incrementally through missions, goals and tasks – is what leading and leadership are all about.
You can employ a wide range of strategies to get a job done, accomplish a mission and complete a task. Just don’t confuse the strategies, tactics and techniques most of us commonly employ, carrots and sticks, with leadership. Leadership is the act of inspiring others to grow toward their – their – full potential.
When you are out front leading; helping others grow; inspiring others to grow; you too are growing toward your full potential.
When you genuinely lead – inspire others – you redefine leadership and everyone wins.