Three Critical Shifts in Thinking for the Evolving Leader

When I spoke at Cultivate 2015 in Portland, OR, about the mental shifts necessary for leaders to make, the response was so positive that it was clear that the preliminary post I had written for strategy+business as I organized my talk was too brief to fully explore this territory. Here is a deeper dive.

Despite writing thousands of books and articles, academics have yet to agree on a definition of “leadership.” What makes someone a leader? For my colleagues and me at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, it’s really as simple as this: people are voluntarily following them. Followers are investing their energy and initiative toward some outcome articulated by an individual they deem a leader. The question, of course, is why? When I ask groups to think about someone they have personally known who they consider to be a great leader, they have arrived at a common, more descriptive definition, and the initial lists of characteristics are consistent: these people have integrity, a positive vision for the future, an ability to motivate people, a bias toward action, and are adept at making tough decisions to name a few. Letting people do their jobs and encouraging them to develop are often mentioned, as are empathy and ego control.

These all reflect values and behaviors, not role or rank. Never has anyone said that a person earned the designation of “great leader” because they were promoted to senior vice president or ...

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