Leadership is not an individual accomplishment. Instead, leadership is a situation borne out of a group of collective elements that have aligned for a specific purpose. Leadership consists of three core elements: a leader, a follower, and a circumstance. An individual who pursues a leadership position for personal agendas, without each of the other two core elements, will inherently fail at his or her endeavor because the situation will lack the fundamental bases of leadership.
Leaders do not choose followers. Instead, followers select their leader based upon whether the leader is suited for the specific set of circumstances the follower is facing. For example, former President Barack Obama decided he wanted to lead America. However, America did not choose him simply because of his desire to lead. Barack Obama was chosen because America’s circumstances warranted a change and Mr. Obama convinced voters that he was best suited to bring about that needed change.
Furthermore, leadership is inherently successful. When the three core elements of leadership are aligned, leadership will prevail. However, if one of the elements goes missing, the triangle fails and there is no leadership. For example, when a follower chooses a leader and that leader is not suited to address the follower’s circumstance, there is no three-way relationship and the entire leadership concept fails. Follower’s no longer have faith in the leader.
At times, followers choose leaders based upon perceived circumstances versus real circumstances. Perceived circumstances are circumstances that are derived from human emotions such as fear and love. For example, a threat to one’s life can compel an individual to seek a leader that will remove or mitigate that threat. Love for another person or thing can motivate a follower to choose a leader that will work to sustain that love. However, power-seeking individuals can exploit such emotions by branding those emotions. That is, by creating a perceived circumstance of fear or love, one can capture the confidence of a follower. The problem with perceived circumstance derived from emotions is that emotions can change, thus causing the leadership triangle to break as the needs of the follower will also change.
To maintain leadership, leaders must change. As the saying goes, “Everything must change.” Overtime, the needs of followers change and so does the circumstances followers face. As noted previously, leaders are chosen based upon their ability to address the follower’s circumstances. When either needs change or circumstances change, the leader’s abilities must be re-evaluated to determine his or her fit within the triangle. If the leader is not capable of addressing the changing environment, a new leader will be selected.
Leadership should never be taken for granted. Leaders who are chosen based upon their ability and fit for the current circumstances will succeed. A leader can only exhibit leadership when the triangle is intact. If one side of the triangle breaks, leadership fails. Branded circumstances can also cause a failure in leadership as they are often emotionally driven, and emotions can change. Finally, the shelf life of a leader will equal the length of the existing circumstance or need. Therefore, leading with a purpose is not as sound as leading because of purpose.
Eddie Howard, MBA, CPhT.
Lead Business Consultant