Is Leadership Really That Complex?

President and General Dwight D. Eisenhower said,  “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” In other words it is the art of influencing someone to complete a task while convincing them it is their own idea and something they want to do in the first place.


Notice he said “art”, which indicates that it is not a “science”, that it is a skill acquired through learning, observing, and practicing. Furthermore, since it is not a science, leadership is separate and distinct from management, which is associated with resources such as goods, services, products, procurement and similar functions. Human Resource Management deals with the hiring, orientations, training and policies that deal with employees of the organization.

 Management is a complex function, dealing with the science of inventory control, financial planning of procurement, expenses, liabilities and profit. It requires analyzing of the effects of change, including the financial risks to profits and loss. These complexities require accounting, financial management and their associated mathematical compilations.

 When all these infrastructures are in place, what is left is the art of influencing and convincing the human factor, the employees, toward the execution of the plans initiated by management.

This is where leadership comes into play in an organization. James C. Hunter in his book The Servant: A Simple Story about the True Essence of Leadership, pointed out that “You manage things, you lead people.” Further, he defines leadership as, “The skill of influencing people to work enthusiastically toward goals identified as being for the common good.”

Complex? I am of the mind it is not all that complex. Difficult? That is another story.

Leadership is a skill and therefore must be learned to be effective. Furthermore, one does not have to be in a top-level leadership position to be a leader.

Maxwell’s Leading from the Middle Myths

Position: “I can’t lead if I’m not at the top.”

Destination: “When I get to the top, then I will learn to lead.”

Influence: “If I were on top, then others would follow me.”

Inexperience: “When I get to the top, I’ll be in control”

Freedom: “When I get to the top, then I’ll no longer be limited.”

Potential: “I can’t reach my potential if I’m not the top leader.”

All-or-Nothing: “If I can’t get to the top, then I won’t try to lead.”

What Maxwell is saying is, “One doesn’t have to be at the top to be a leader.” Nor is he saying that one only learns, or even starts learning, leadership principles when they are in a designated top-level position.

When a person decides on their line of work, that is the time one should begin learning about leadership. One fault of MBA Programs is that their focus is on management, with very little leadership principles and practices being taught.

Another myth is that one has to attend college to learn leadership. Wrong! There are literally thousands of leadership books on the market from which one can learn leadership principles and practices.

A young sailor who worked for me mid-way through my Navy career – Guy Haxton – is a perfect example of the myth that one has to be in a leadership position to be a leader. Seaman Haxton led the following manner:

He learned every aspect of our radio shack onboard ship, every piece of equipment, every system that was made up of this equipment.

He did not hesitate, or have to be told, to train others in the use of the equipment or the various aspects of our communication center.

He could function as a watch supervisor, which required communicating with upper-level management and leadership.

He took the initiative to troubleshoot problem, preventing major disruptions.

Guy Haxton was a leader.

It is really not that complex. Yes, it requires skills to be able to efficiently deliver leadership because we are dealing with people. This is the more difficult part.

Leadership requires practice, experience, making mistakes, control of one’s emotions, listening skills, awareness, self-awareness – Knowing Thyself, empathy, and intense, empathetic listening skills.


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