Using the word "leader" appropriately
I recently re-read Warren Bennis’s book On Becoming a Leader. In this classic, Bennis lays out that basic ingredients that all true leaders seem to share. These traits or characteristics are:
3. Integrity (= self-knowledge, candor and maturity)
To be sure, this list sets a high-threshold. If you think about these criteria, it seems to me that we are too generous with our use of the word “leader.”
We allow ourselves to automatically label a person holding certain positions (CEO, President etc) as leaders without a thoughtful critique of how they measure up. We mistakenly interchange leader when we sometimes mean manager (more in a later post on the differences between leaders and managers). More recently, since the explosion and blurring of pop culture and marketing and due to the lack of leaders in more traditional, and frankly essential spheres, we have erroneously and interchangeably labeled people leaders when really they are just famous.
The next time you hear someone called a leader, consider whether they are deserving of the label. We should be careful not to overuse or inappropriately use this coveted word so we don’t devalue those who are truly worthy.
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December 4, 2009
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