Back to the Basics: What is Leadership?
Last year I heard the well-known writer, Richard Reeves, say something interesting about US presidents. He was referring to President Kennedy and why he was considered to be a great leader, when he said, “We don’t elect presidents to manage the government. We elect presidents to lead the nation.”
But can you lead a nation successfully while mismanaging the government?
The US president (as any other leader), has the final responsibility to make sure the executive departments of a government are run well. In the USA these are: the Departments of State, Treasury, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Defense, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security.
As with any other world-government, the top executive official (whether it is a prime minister like in the UK, or a president like in the US) holds the final responsibility to make sure these areas are handled well. There is usually a “minister” or a “secretary” who reports directly to the president or prime minister who oversees these departments.
In your own leadership, you have similar areas of core responsibility—the departments you lead, the metrics you follow, the new clients you garner, the profit you produce, etc. Taking care of these areas (i.e. managing your government) is paramount. But this is not leadership.
So, beyond management, what is leadership?
As leaders, we must manage successfully. While the absence of good management can cause failure of leadership, its presence does not make a leader great. Great leaders, just like President Kennedy, do more.
Leaders must extend themselves beyond management to:
- Clarify our purpose.
- Protect our values.
- Give us hope.
- Keep us dreaming.
- Hold us steady in storms.
- Show us that we matter.
- Make sense of the chaos.
- Keep us together.
President Kennedy did those things. Regardless of what you think of his politics, he kept us dreaming, kept us strong in crisis, and kept us believing in ourselves and reaching for the moon (quite literally).
For Further Reading: