Skip to main content
leadership lab

Trainer, coach, facilitator

I’m a big fan of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, world-renowned authors who write about leadership. They say anyone can be a leader. It begins with a choice and continues through learnable practices, one of which is being able to inspire a shared vision from those who follow.

But a leader is not the same as a manager. A manager administers, directs and controls. Leaders, on the other hand, drive change by helping people get from “here” to “there.” That might be an uncomfortable journey, fraught with obstacles in unknown terrain. The journey can be everything from uniting a neighbourhood of strangers to getting to the moon. In business, it might be closer to the former, but sometimes the goal really is otherworldly, so nothing is really off the table.

Leaders inspire a vision that is shared by many, and they understand the importance of mood, because moods produce behaviour. If we can influence mood, we can shift what people say and do. Moods are a reflection, in the present, of what we foresee for the future. This is why organizations facing change need people to be in an ambitious mood – so they remain positive, enthusiastic and eager to act.

No true leader would ever understate the ambition of those who follow. Ambition is produced when we look off into the future and see exciting possibilities. But beware the opposite mood of resignation, where a glimpse into the future reveals bleakness and an absence of possibilities. Resignation is a contagious, debilitating condition in which people do nothing but whine and moan. It is a recipe for failure and all good leaders know that.

However, good leaders also know that inspiring vision is more than just telling people where they want to go. It involves guiding their senses so they can perceive the possibilities and fill themselves with passion.

Think of a leader as an ophthalmologist’s lens that helps team members focus on a stagnating, deficient present while painting a vision of a compelling future filled with endless possibilities. This is how leaders create the urgency to act.

Indeed, great leaders invite contributions from members of the team that will augment the vision because great leaders know that people are persuaded by what they contribute, not by passive listening.

Once where you want to go – your “there” – is firmly established, the journey begins in earnest. But good leaders also understand that as people tire, they become increasingly vulnerable. This is why, when we embark on a journey, we are excited at the beginning and at the end. The challenge is in the long middle area, where energy flags, challenges occur and disillusionment is felt. This is when we most need a leader who can keep the compelling view of the future front and centre.

Back in 2006, I was training for a marathon and we were running up hills on a hot July afternoon. I felt like I was tackling my 50th mountain of the day, and an internal voice said, “Who needs to complete a marathon anyway?”

Thankfully, I had an excellent coach. As she saw me falter, she took my hand and said to close my eyes. Then, when my eyes were closed, she told me to see the finish line, listen to the applause and bask in the pride in my husband’s eyes. And it worked. I finished that marathon.

Commitment comes from within – not because it is mandated – and this is yet another difference between a manager and a leader. A manager can demand obedience, but obedience doesn’t have the legs to push through the obstacles on the journey.

Leaders make us laugh and help us learn from our missteps. They know their actions either encourage or discourage the behaviour of team members. There is no neutral for a good leader. A leader knows that such a misstep is not the time for discipline, but instead, a time for all to share in lessons learned and to celebrate wisdom gained from failure. This is how each lesson and how every single encouragement from the leader takes us closer to “there.”

Leaders, the really good ones, appear bigger than life because their vision is bigger than life. A strong leader ignites our imagination and keeps those embers burning.

We’ve launched a new weekly Careers newsletter. Sign up today.

Interact with The Globe