What distinguishes great leadership? That kind of inspiring and effective leadership that both excites us and makes us want to bring our ‘A’ game?

The key understanding these types of leaders embody is that the music of leadership is emotion. Those people who are really good at leadership are able to help inspire, and help us manage our emotions in the process.

Simple Comparison Exercise

Here’s a simple exercise that will help show you what I mean.

Please get a pen and a piece of paper. Draw 2 columns. On the top of the left hand column write the name of a leader that you've worked with or for in the past, someone who brought out the best in you; somebody who was exciting to work with.

On the top of the right hand column, I'd like you to put the name of a leader you've worked with or for who did not bring out the best in you. Somebody who you thought was a lump.

And then as you think of those 2 specific people, remember what it was like to be around them. What did they typically say or do?

And under each person's name, write a few observations about what they typically said or did and how they made you and others around them feel.

Let's first look at the leader on the left, the one who brought out the best in you. These are the typical descriptors of this type of person:

  • That person excited me, they empowered me, they inspired me.
  • It was fun being around them. They valued me.
  • They helped me to understand where I was in the bigger picture. They helped me to find a meaning in what we're doing.
  • They trusted me.
  • They engaged me personally. They asked me questions.
  • They encouraged me to take risks. They challenged me.
  • They engaged me in ways that, a lot of times, people wouldn't.
  • They made me feel a real part of things.

Now let’s look at the person on the right, what did they typically do? Typical descriptors here include:

  • They were micro managers, they blamed us for things but they took the credit.
  • They were demeaning, they were hostile, they were negative.
  • They said things that made us feel like we didn't want to be there.
  • They treated us like a, a resource, a human resource not really a person.
  • In a lot of ways, they were very narrow or self-centered.

You Already Have the Model

So what could we learn from this? My first suggestion to you is that you already know what great leadership is.

It didn't take a whole lot of time for you to think of a person to put on the top of the left hand column, the one who brought out the best in you. You know in your heart what great leadership is.

So my first point is that you already have a model inside, from your own experiences.

And that's what we are looking for here. That's the kind of interaction that is really dramatic.

If we start to look at what you wrote, it is clear that there is a difference within the relationships.

This is the second key point, leadership isn't just about a person, it's about the relationship and the depth of emotional connection within that relationship.

So when considering leadership, its about moving your focus away from the individual, to the interactions, to the relationship.

Resonant Leaders

There is a term for outstanding leaders (coined by Richard Boyatzis), they are resonant. That is, they're in tune with you, in sync.

This is very different to the traditional image of a top down leader where the leader's the person that sets the goals, the visions, the strategies. And tries to get everybody beneath him in the organisation aligned underneath their view.

If you mean aligned together (in sync together), then I agree with you. But a top down alignment doesn't work.

Even within the military, it has become increasingly clear that outstanding leaders don't use 'command and control'; they use 'ask and inspire'.

So, this consideration of leaders being in sync with the people around them is a vital ingredient to great leadership.