What makes a Great Leader?

Sitting having coffee with a colleague today, I was told “Andrea, you’re a leader.” Very nice, thank you. Later today, I was flipping through several trade magazines, getting caught up on the news. On page after page, the word leadership seemed to jump off the paper at me. Sometimes it was in an article and sometimes an advertisement for a university program. In the afternoon, the topic came up again in a casual conversation.

So, as frequently happens when a topic surfaces multiple times, my mind got to thinking about it. What is leadership? Is there a universal definition? Is it situational? I can identify times when I definitely took on a leadership role, but I can just as easily think of times when I hung back in the shadows. Wikipedia’s first definition is “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”. Websters’ defines it as “the office or position of a leader, the capacity to lead, and the act or an instance of leading.”

Leadership, and more specifically the development of, is a central focus of my work as an action learning coach (www.wial.org). Every session begins and ends with a discussion of each member’s particular leadership skill they have selected to work on. Action learning is used as an integral part of many organizations’ leadership development programs and I’ve had the privilege to see it transform leaders time and time again. So, why does it have such a dramatic impact?

This brings us to my perspective of what leadership means. My personal definition is “to influence and drive results by asking the right questions.” Wait!, you say. Lead by asking questions? Absolutely. Previous generations may have gotten away with being the boss with all the answers, but the pendulum has swung, and leaders must rely on the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of their staff to develop new and creative solutions to the problems faced each day. So, yes. As a boss, ask questions of your staff. When they come to you with a question, instead of blurting out an answer and sending them away, try asking them what they think. You’ll be surprised at how capable they are and how quickly they will develop. And as your staff develops, they work more independently, and you have more time to focus on the things you need to do. Give it a try. When you go to the office tomorrow, ask questions, be curious and watch things change!


About Andrea Cole

Four years ago, I followed my dreams and my heart by quitting my job, selling my home, and moving myself back to Seattle from Washington, DC. I didn't know how things would turn out, but I knew whatever life held in store for me, it was going to be in Seattle. And what a ride it has been! I now help others live their lives through rewarding career and meaningful retirement coaching. My website is www.colecoach.com
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