Leadership is More Than…

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All of us involved in organizations run the danger of using the term leadership as a one-liner quick fix, because everyone in the room will nod in agreement. “The difference is leadership.” It’s almost so overused it has lost significance.

More than Just Leadership 

In further defining good or better leadership we often talk about what good leaders do: cast vision, draw people and resources toward that vision, set strategy and inspire achievement. I applaud all those activities, and they will lead to levels of success.

However, the activities of a leader often change over time, in different situations, and to address different challenges and opportunities. Also, I can show you two highly effective organizations with two great leaders who do very different things. The activities on their “to do” lists are quite different.

Some look at the characteristics of a leader, or leadership styles. Others look to past performance, experiences, education, skill sets and even IQ/EQ. My case studies of successful organizations would show a variety of styles and resumes that could not be more different—yet measurable mission results are evident.

More than Just Passion 

I use an unusual word for leadership differentiation: crave. A thesaurus produces these similar words: long for, desire, need, want, yearn for, require, hunger after, pine for. I know the more common term is passion (another much overused word that may have lost most nuance).

But the leaders I observe are not just passionate. Passion produces a white hot glow—craving produces energy to pursue (most often to pursue a passion). I’m passionate about my favorite football team (fyi: University of Arkansas Razorbacks)—but it’s not a craving.

I crave social sector organizations using all their resources effectively to produce transformational results in improving people’s lives. I pursue this. I give time and money to this, and want to give more. I enlist others to help. My desire to add organizational octane that will change the world trumps every other priority in my life, except my faith and family.

More than Just One Leader 

While I can make a strong case for isolating on the CEO or executive director, I’ve noticed in the “best of the best” organizations this leadership craving isn’t contained in just one per- son. Leaders at the top include a few key volunteers and staff. In many organizations, I’ve observed this has been the CEO, one or two senior staff, and one or two long-term volunteers.

At any and every opportunity, this small group leading the best organizations will tell you what’s on their heart and mind, in terms that are clear, concise, compelling and consistent. Their craving is on the tip of their tongues.

In the great organizations I’ve worked with, I’ve observed true team leadership that isn’t manufactured because of a best-selling book or seminar. The team members are often very different in skills, positions and styles; but they have a deep, shared conviction. And, they care about each other personally, beyond the cause.

More than Just Organizational Responsibility 

Leaders of great organizations have a profound sense of responsibility for the cause—not the organization. They have a personal call to see the organization’s purpose statement produce real results, not just to build a large organization with big budgets, membership and buildings. In fact, craving a great organization can bring with it ego, pride and decisions for glory instead of good.

In the great organizations, leaders desire media coverage about the impact the organization is having on people, communities and society—rather than how wonderful the institution or leaders are.

Tom Massey
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