Leadership for today’s organizations

What is your definition of a leader?

What is a leader? A leader can mean different things to different people. One may think of an executive, an elected official, someone who inspires or motivates others for action or a coach or team builder. In fact, a leader can be one, all or none of these. A leader does not even have to be the person in charge; they may arise for the specific task or situation.

A leader must have the courage to review the past and take responsibility for the future. As there can be fear of the unknown, a leader must also overcome this fear and potential conflict as the only thing that is truly a constant in any circumstance is change. History provides that Abraham Lincoln told the following story, “It is said an eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’" So how does a leader then exercise leadership in this ever-changing world?

A leader must realize that leadership is more than just change. Leaders must also look to persuasion and authority as vital parts of the process. General Dwight Eisenhower was said to have defined leadership as “getting a man to do what you want because he wants to do it.” One may expand upon this view adding the concepts that in leadership one may convince someone to give up something they value in order to get something that you value.

 Leadership, therefore, is also influence. While leadership contains an element of authority, others give such authority to you and such authority has its limits. If one exceeds his or her authority or if the person in authority does not meet the expectations of the followers, then one may witness the act of repealing one’s authority and leadership.

Leadership may be accomplished in three directions. Leading up is designed to work with the governing body of an organization. In the case of local government, this would be a city council or county board. Leading out looks to work with the specific parts of the local community. The third direction, leading down, is defined as the inner workings of the local organization itself.

Since leading up is designed to work with the governing body, the manager or administrator has the responsibility of identifying problems and working within the authority structure to accomplish different tasks. The manager must inspire, mediate and negotiate change. As the local administrator, he has the background and training to see the big picture. As a full time employee for the unit of government, he should suggest the long-term goals or success of the organization, but always remember that the council/board determines policy as the council/board owes their decisions to the voters that elected them. As part time workers in government, they may not have the leadership skills or background in administrative matters. Therefore, each part of the organization, manager and council has his or her role to play. In working with the council/board, the manager/administrator must not fall into the trap of determining what the council/board wishes to see and then alter or modify one’s advice accordingly to match the pre-determined outcome.

Leading out is designed to provide influence by building relationships. These organizations may be peers as in other units of government or they may be a local business or citizen groups. Care must be taken in working with external organizations for the media may play on one’s every word and could be waiting for the manager to offer just one contradiction or misstatement. In today’s world of social media, such a happening is true on many occasions.

Leading down will involve balancing the needs of the organization with the needs of the staff. This interplay will permit the manager to maintain employee morale, while at the same time allocate limited resources to achieve department goals and interests in managing the organization’s staff. Here, the concept of relationship building is also of great importance. Conflict must be kept at a minimum if one is to achieve positive results. In organizational leadership, one thought must always be kept in the minds of staff. While the boss is not always right, the boss is still always the boss. However, every person from elected official to management to employee has a vital role to play in the success of the organization, as no man or no person is an island.

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