Answers are often before our very eyes or in front of our noses – particularly if we read the American Heritage Dictionary!
Explore with me how some of the multitudes of definitions for the word “leader” actually serve as a performance standard for leadership.
Leaving behind the standard definition of “one who leads or guides”, consider the second definition: “one who has power or influence”. Have you known people in a leadership role who seem unable to influence the people around them? The ability to make connections, to speak clearly, and to frame information so everyone hears a “what’s it in for me” message are essential for influence. We are also persuaded by people with conviction and passion. We are influenced by people whom we think we can trust. Lose or misuse any of this and a leader’s power vanishes.
A leader is defined as “a conductor or the principal performer in an orchestral section”. Finding ways to bring together the different talents of employees or volunteers so that all play from the same sheet of music and blend their instruments into a harmonious whole is a skill demonstrated by the finest of leaders! As a principal performer, we look to a leader to have one talent that is heads above the other people in that arena of “play”. We don’t want a leader who professes to best at everything. But we do want a leader to have one clearly recognizable skill.
The foremost animal in a harnessed team is a leader. Do we not look to leaders to guide the way, joined shoulder by shoulder to the rest of the team? Remember how the presence of a leader at a front line became the rallying point for many a battle?
A leader is also defined as “a duct for conveying warm air from a furnace.” Care is a four-letter word heard more and more frequently in business circles. Employees want to know that a leader cares for them. The cold, stern dictator might get some results but never the full-blown commitment, creativity, and loyalty of a warm and caring leader.
There’s the leader that is an economic indicator and the leader that is “loss”. A leader better be in command and have a clear indication as to the economic viability of the enterprise. A leader also needs to know when something is done to attract talent or customers – not to make money.
A short length of gut, wire, or similar material by which a hook is attached to a fishing line is a leader and so is the blank strip at the end or beginning of a film or tape used in threading or winding.
What’s the correlation with the world of leadership in these final definitions? Both are used for setting up the profit potential of the venture. Depending upon the type of fish one wishes to catch, a fishing leader strengthens the connection between the hook and the rest of the line. There are times in which the executive’s presence helps solidify the relationship between the customer and the sales team so that the customer “bites the hook”. Other times, a leader gently paves the way for a real presentation to the potential buyer or the investment community. He is the “blank tape” that opens the doors for the full presentation of the company.
If a picture is worth 1000 words, a metaphor is worth 1000 pictures. Using the metaphors provided by other meanings to the word “leader”, we gain a rich image of the scope and possibilities of true leadership.