What Leadership Tune Are You Playing?

Recently a friend of mine asked me, “How do you define leadership?” A very simple question, right? Well, as much as I think about and am passionate about leadership, I found myself having difficulty putting into words what leadership really means. It was a little embarrassing, actually. I had to give my friend the old, “let me get back to you” answer. I spent the next few days thinking on that question. When I had questions as a kid, my mom would say, “go look it up.” I hated it when she said that. So, when the question of “how do you define leadership” came up… well, mother knows best. Merriam-Webster.com defines leadership as follows:

the office or position of a leader; capacity to lead; the act or an instance of leading

I thought about calling my mom and telling her I didn’t like that definition, but I decided to just think on it some more. The longer I dwelled on my friend’s question, the more questions I had myself. What is the purpose of leadership? How do you determine what good leadership is? And, what is the response to good leadership? What happens when leadership is poor? Eventually, I landed on what I believe leadership is:

“Leadership is the music played by which all who listen will dance.”

I often talk to other leaders, managers and supervisors, many of whom are frustrated with their teams’ or organizations’ performance and/or overall attitude. These conversations always come back to what I believe are the two possible reasons:

  1. It’s the leader’s fault.
  2. It’s the leader’s fault.

Now, for all you “Type-A” personalities that are freaking out right now because you think I just made a typo, let me assure you, I did not. A leader bears incredible responsibility for the way their team acts and performs. If a team member routinely displays a bad attitude or performs poorly on a consistent basis, there are two possibilities. Either the leader is not taking the proper steps to correct the negative behavior or poor performance, or, even worse, the leader is displaying poor attitude or performance, and is therefore condoning it. Simply put, the leader is playing rotten music, and the dancing follows suit.

Now let me be clear… I can’t dance. I can’t ballroom dance, square dance or break dance. But, I know what good dancing looks like. My job as a leader is to be sure that the tune I’m playing encourages good dancing. Every frustration I have ever had as a leader, whether at home or in the workplace, really came down to the fact that, as my music went off-key, the dancing subsequently became erratic and out-of-sync. It’s times like this when a long look in the mirror is needed to begin the process of getting the music back into the correct key. This “facing the music,” so to speak, is not only good to do when things are going badly, but also a good check-up on how well you are leading.

So, pay attention to the dancing going on within your team. It will tell you a lot about your musical skills. Oh, and by the way, playing beautiful music takes practice. If you get lazy in your playing, the music suffers. It’s a never-ending rehearsal, so keep practicing!

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