Napoleon once said: “One bad general does better than two good ones.” It takes a
moment for the sense of this to register, but it is the same as our modern saying that “too
many cooks spoil the broth” Having one set of instructions, even if they are flawed, is
preferable to having two sets of perfect directions that, when enacted together without
reference to each other, cause havoc…
This is the principle of leadership in a nutshell. It is all about maintaining focus
and creating positive outcomes.
The same can be applied to individuals who strive to become leaders. There needs to be
focus and determination. Advice can be given, but does not have to be heeded. History is
full of leaders whose beginnings were disastrous, and had they listened to the naysayers
of this world, the world would be a poorer place today.
Leadership can be learned. Some people are certainly born with leadership skills, but this
is not a prerequisite for becoming a leader. More important is dedication to the art of
leadership. Leadership involves understanding how to inspire, influence and control how
people behave. It is not a simple matter of shouting, or having a deep and booming
voice; or being great in physical stature; Gandhi possessed none of these attributes, but
managed to lead a nation and inspire millions around the world.
Sometimes, leadership may be no more than having a poignant message for a receptive
audience at an opportune moment. Of itself, leadership is neither good nor bad; the world
has known more than its fair share of evil and charismatic dictators.
In the world of business, the perception of leadership has changed from its early
days when it largely mirrored the military model of leadership from the top down,
with powerful individuals dominating large groups of less powerful people.
Nowadays, leadership in business is far more knowledge-driven. The lowliest employee
may end up effectively leading the direction of a vast corporation through his or her
innovative ideas. Anyone with critical knowledge can show leadership. This is known as
thought-leadership. In other situations, leadership can be about taking a stand for
what you believe in, and trying to convince people to think and act differently.
Leadership has been variously described as the “process of social influence in which one
person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”
“creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen”; “the
ability to successfully integrate and maximise available resources within the internal and
external environment for the attainment of organisational or societal goals”; and “the
capacity of leaders to listen and observe, to use their expertise as a starting point to
encourage dialogue between all levels of decision-making, to establish processes and
transparency in decision-making, to articulate their own values and visions clearly but not
impose them. Leadership is about setting and not just reacting to agendas, identifying
problems, and initiating change that makes for substantive improvement rather than
There is truth to all of the above definitions, but they all apply to the ideals of leadership.
So what of leadership gone awry?
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