True leadership is not about giving orders or receiving obedience from followers. One can be a leader without a title and yet have the ability to motivate people to achieve more than they believe themselves capable of achieving.
A leader, first and foremost, cares for those who follow. He or she is more of a guide and mentor than a director. The best leaders, in fact, seldom give orders; they create visions and communicate that vision to others in such a compelling way they follow out of curiosity. Great leaders are great communicators. They are able to paint a vision of the future and translate that vision into terms that others can understand and believe in.
Leaders are honest. They do not tell people what they “want” to hear, but what they “need” to hear. They have integrity. A good leader does not have to describe correct behaviour and conduct –– he/she models it in everything he/she does or says. A good leader has the courage to take unpopular actions for the good of those who follow, rather than pander to special interests, or take the easy way out.
A leader, if he/she is to be effective, puts the good of the many ahead of the benefit of the few.
The world is a complex, and occasionally dangerous place. Groups without leadership are little better than mobs, surging from crisis to crisis; energies dissipated in unfocused groping for coherence. Leadership is needed to move the mass in a positive direction. It does not matter if it is a social club or a nation, without effective leadership, progress is accidental, and opportunities are missed.
A leader focuses on doing the right things. This is not to say that things are not done right, but before expending energy on a task, a good leader first asks if it should be done at all. One can argue that the Holocaust was an efficiently run programme of extermination of a race of people, but it is inarguable that it was not right.
We have lots of bosses and rulers, but if we are ever to have a world of peace and prosperity for the people, we will need even more leaders.
Charles A Ray,
US ambassador to Zimbabwe.