There is so much written about leadership that one could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. The characteristics of some good leaders can also make them dangerous. A person who doesn’t take “no” for an answer, might also be a bully. A person who is sure of themselves and their actions might also be unwilling to listen to opposition.
There is one rule most important to remember for leading self-ruled and self-governing (democratic) organizations:
This might make everything you do take more time and make your communications more argumentative. The plus side is that it will also mean that your decisions are more likely to be accepted and enacted by the group. All that time talking and arguing can actually lead to longer and more sustainable actions.
1. A good leader is a good follower
A leader is a “lone nut” without the first follower. In this short TED Talk, Derek Sivers describes why good leaders are good followers and how the first followers are key to building a movement.
“If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in.”
2. A good leader is persistent, but doesn’t bully
A bully bosses others around. A good leader joins in the work. A bully forces his will on others. A bully is abusive to anyone who opposes her. A good leader welcomes opposition. A bully causes chaos and disorder. A good leader helps us make sense of a situation.
3. A good leader makes others aware of possibilities
A good leader makes the seemingly impossible, possible. Peninah Nthenya Musyimi is a great example. She grew up in the Eastland slums of Nairobi, Kenya, becoming the first woman to graduate from university from her entire region. She returned to the place she grew up to create a program for girls and women called Safe Spaces. Here is what she had to say about making change happen:
“I am the change. Everyone is the change. And together you can change a community. By empowering yourself, being a mentor to people around you, you can start the change from the bottom up.
If you want something you have never had, you must be prepared to do something you have never done.”
4. A good leader takes steps to make their convictions real
In our interviews with people who had led organizations and movements, we found one thing that united them: they were absolutely convinced that they were right. Maybe in the private space of their own minds they have doubts. In public, however, they do not express them. They see their failures as successes or mere bumps in the road to success. They have a confidence that most don’t.
This could be a great asset. It means they can get things done that others cannot. They pound on closed doors. They push and push and push.
5. A good leader steps down
A good leader shares information and decision-making power. She lets other team members take the lead and even fail. A good leader makes sure she is not needed for the project or organization’s success and sustainability.
A flock of birds flying in a v-formation gives us a good lesson for sharing leadership and knowing how and when to step-down. Birds that fly in a v-formation share the lead position. Each bird has to fly just a bit differently than the leader to make the flock successful. The bird at the front works the hardest. The birds in the back get a bit of rest and have the lowest heartbeats. Eventually, every bird that is capable will be a leader at sometime during the flight.
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