There are many definitions of leadership and most, if not all of them, have some value and relevance. Because I continually challenge myself to distil concepts to their most essential meaning so they apply to people at all levels, my definition of leadership is “taking people to a better reality”. There’s a lot that you can hang onto that simple definition but essentially my view is that, if someone is taking people to a reality that is worse than the one they’re currently experiencing, they’re not leaders. Such “leaders” are merely exploiting people for their own selfish goals to take them to a reality that suits only them. Any names come to mind as you cast your eyes around the world?
This, of course, begs the question: are those leading South Africa, and I include all political and business leaders in this, taking us to a better reality? Or are they taking us to a reality that they consider to be better for themselves, regardless of the reality others will experience?
Yet another question could be: do those leading us actually have any idea of where they’re leading the country? Or are they leading us on the basis of a “me, me, me” philosophy? We’re inclined to point fingers at political leaders only, forgetting that there are business “leaders” who are quietly amassing vast sums of wealth while paying employees minimum wages.
Leaders who are compassionate, responsible and selfless will do everything in their power to ensure that the future reality they are taking people to is better than the present reality. That, of course, implies they have a clear vision of the present, and a clear vision of the future reality to which they want to take their people.
Leaders who are committed to ensuring that the future reality will be better than the present one will invest time, money and energy into developing leaders for the future. A country or company that fails to develop its future leaders is heading down a dead end street. It’s just a question of time. No leader can live or lead for ever (although Mugabe is making a serious attempt to defy that view). Part of good and responsible leadership, therefore, is developing your next leaders so that those who get handed the baton will run the race even better than those who have gone before them.
Judging from the lack of leadership development happening in the political and business worlds, it would appear that the main leadership development strategy is hope. Political and business leaders seem to be hoping that, when they leave, there will be someone who can take over from them. I have previously quoted former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s astute comment that, “Hope is not a strategy.”
If you’re not developing your next leaders, you’re not leading in a responsible manner. Start identifying those with the potential to lead your company into the future. Remember that you’re not looking for another you. You’re looking for someone who will have the potential skills, qualities, expertise and vision to lead the country into a future that doesn’t yet exist.
One of the most effective ways of retaining good talent is by offering them a clear, customised career path. If you have someone with the potential to lead your company, or a division, department or a team, sit down with them to understand what their vision, needs and goals are. They may not necessarily be aligned to where the company needs to go. But, through a collaborative process, you can find significant opportunities to map out a path that ensures that, when the time comes, that person is able to move into a role that has been prepared for them – a role for which they’re ready, willing and able. And succession is a smooth process.
Leaders with true vision don’t lead only for today. They lead for tomorrow as well by developing the next generation of leaders. By doing so, they will be leaving a legacy after they have moved on.