Listening to the Freakonomics podcast, The Power of the President, recently led me to think that more of us need to be aware of the different nuances of leadership. I really enjoy listening to the Freakonomics guys but I'm not sure they ever got going in the right direction on this one.
I say this respectfully but, getting yourself elected president doesn't mean you are a leader. You may be. Or you may just be popular, charismatic, a good salesperson, an opportunist, a strong manager, a good fundraiser, etc, etc... None of those things are bad, necessarily, but they can cloud vision when it comes to focusing sights on what a leader is. I realize many people have attempted to define leadership. Some definitions are short and specific and some of them are... not short and specific! This is borrowed, modified, adapted from a hundred different authors but I have a three-part, simple definition of a leader... a leader is someone who influences and organizes people toward intended change. First part, influence. Second part, organize. Third part, intended change.
Interestingly, many presidents are unable to influence and organize toward change simply because change is not desired! When change isn't desired you don't need a leader, you actually need a manager. This isn't right or wrong. It's reality. Managers are better at taking what they have and making it work smoother, better, cleaner, and more efficiently. But if change is needed a manger isn't your best bet. At that point you need a leader. If someone entered into the presidency at a time when the nation was doing relatively well or when the perception was that the status quo was fine then change wasn't needed. If change wasn't needed then we didn't have real opportunity to determine whether or not that particular president was a good leader.
If this is true of presidents, it's true of CEO's, pastors, generals, principals, coaches and other organizational heads as well. If you're on a board or a search committee... if you're running a campaign... if you hold influence over who might get promoted, elected or hired to run something you're involved with take a moment and reflect on your organization. Do you need change? Or do you need to continue as you are but do it more efficiently? The answer to those questions could lead you down a manager path or a leader path. I would've loved the Freakonomics guys to discuss this because the truth is some presidents have been leaders and some have been managers. Then again, it's highly possible that some have been neither!