Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

What Does The World Really Need From Today’s Leaders?

What is leadership all about? What does it take to be a leader in today’s world?

These are questions which I found myself pondering over the last few days after noticing a trend lately regarding how some people are choosing to define the traits of a successful leader. Although I’ve written about the debate regarding whether leadership should be viewed as either an art or a science, this current train of thought has surfaced in part from my dismay at seeing what others are pointing out as valuable lessons that leaders today should adopt in how they lead their team or organization.

For example, one idea that’s garnering a lot of press is the notion that the success or vision a given organization has is the sole product of a single individual. Of course, as many of us know from personal experience, the ability of a team to achieve success is not due to the efforts of one person, but from the ability of the different members to work together in pursuit of a shared goal.

Also, while an organization’s vision originates with its leader, it’s only through encouraging employees to participate in its evolution and development that it truly takes hold and serves to define both what their organization wants to accomplish and how.

Consider the example of President Kennedy’s vision of sending a man to the Moon within a decade. While there’s no doubt that Kennedy was responsible for getting the ball rolling, the idea only became a reality because others were willing to adapt and transform his vision into something that had meaning for them as well.  If the vision rested solely with Kennedy, scientists and engineers would never have been inspired to design and create the Saturn V rockets that took us to the Moon, along with the lunar lander from which we took that symbolic step onto another world.

Another troubling concept being passed about lately is the idea that leaders don’t need to listen to their customers or their teams, but should instead trust their own “inner voice” to guide them in directing their organization. In this age of social media, where hard-earned reputations can be easily and at times irreparably damaged, it borders on the absurd to suggest that leaders ignore those they are supposed to serve, relying only on their limited perceptions to determine the best course of action for their organization and employees.

Indeed, over the last few months, there have been countless examples of CEOs and boards making baffling decisions about their organization, all from the vantage point that they know better than anyone of what’s in the best interests of those they are supposed to serve. Ironically, it’s only when they began to listen to those who do know best that they were able to realize that a mistake had been made and began to make course corrections to help get their organization back on track.

If nothing else, a leader’s unwillingness to listen to others ensures not only a lack of understanding of the needs others have, but of what they can do to address them.

For some reason, it seems that many of these business experts have forgotten that leadership is not about you; it’s about what you can do for others. And how can one truly know what you can offer others through your talents and resources if you’re not attentive to the needs, concerns, and challenges faced by those you serve. We all suffer from our own forms of confirmation bias and assuming that you internally know what others need from you is not only a recipe for disaster, but it’s no doubt the reason why so many reputable organizations are now adrift without any clear sense of direction or purpose.

In a recent conversation with someone whose insights on leadership and vision I respect, I mentioned how it’s time that we stop promoting the idea of the leader being this lone wolf manning the helm of their organization. Those who serve in leadership positions understand that to be successful in this role is to make yourself obsolete, as opposed to making yourself the focal point of attention. This is not wishful thinking; rather, it’s key if organizations are to have a life of their own beyond that of those who man its steering wheel or who first chartered their course.

Again, this goes counter to what many are writing lately about success and leadership, in large part because so many insist that only a rare few can ever achieve greatness as a leader of others. But is it really accurate to say that it takes someone exceptional to be a great leader? Or is it that great leaders are those who are driven to help those they lead become exceptional, by helping their employees achieve greatness themselves through the use and expression of own talents, inspiration, and creativity towards attaining a shared goal?

We have to remember that leadership is bigger than any one person; that it’s about what leaders foster in others to achieve rather than anything they themselves accomplish. After all, the very definition of leadership is to have others who are willing to follow you, something that can no longer be achieved through the command-and-control approach. Rather, what’s needed from leaders is a demonstration of their commitment and desire to not only help others achieve success, but to openly recognize an organization’s accomplishments are the result of a collective effort.

I’ve made the comment elsewhere that business is now facing its own form of global warming; of dealing with changes which, while subtle, will nonetheless require us to rethink not only the way we approach business, but of how we view our roles and functions within our organization.

And while we’ve enjoyed sharing stories revolving around a single protagonist who after enduring almost unimaginable challenges and consequences savours victory at the end, the time has come for us to recognize that this protagonist exists in all of us. We just need to bring it out into the light so we may do our part to move things forward – for our organization, our community and ultimately ourselves.

Although there can be no doubt that each of us has the ability to make a difference, imagine the difference we’d make if we gathered our efforts towards a common objective; of working together to achieve a shared goal and celebrating the effort as an example of what happens when we pool our talent and resources together.

That, for me at least, is what leadership is all about.

Click here to subscribe to my blog so you can get my latest posts sent directly to your inbox.

21 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , , , , | October 13, 2011 by |

  1. On October 14th, 2011 at 11:58 AM @mikemyatt said:

    Hi Tanveer:

    I have written many pieces that echo what I just read here – we're in complete agreement. The days when people buy the "self-made" man/women, hero leader rhetoric have long expired. Leadership does not exist within a vacuum – it has never worked as a proprietary model, but flourishes as an open source model.

    When you closely examine the core characteristics of what really makes for great leadership, it’s not power, title, authority or even technical competency that distinguishes truly great leaders. Rather it’s the ability to both earn and keep the loyalty and trust of those whom they lead that sets them apart. Leadership is about trust, stewardship, care, concern, service, humility and understanding. If you build into those you lead, if you make them better, if you add value to their lives, then you will have earned their trust and loyalty. This is the type of bond that will span positional and philosophical gaps, survive mistakes, challenges, downturns and other obstacles that will inevitably occur.

  2. On October 14th, 2011 at 3:36 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Mike; as I'm sure you know, I value and respect your opinion/insights on leadership so I'm glad, though hardly surprised, to hear you're in complete agreement with this. In a conversation I had yesterday with Art Petty, I mentioned this piece and said that while writing it I felt like I was writing my own leadership manifesto, of the direction and focus I see leadership needs to take, whether it's business or even the political sphere.

    Some of the commentary of late on what it takes to be a successful leader has certainly been discouraging, in how it seems to emphasize more what worked in the past instead of addressing the needs of today and tomorrow. While writing this piece gave me some measure of satisfaction, the real encouragement I find is in people like you who are picking up the torch and demanding that we expect more from those who take on the leadership mantle.

    Thanks again, Mike, for taking the time to share your thoughts on this piece.

  3. On October 14th, 2011 at 1:53 PM Jadwal Sepak Bola said:

    The world need more leaders with heart

  4. On October 14th, 2011 at 3:37 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Succinct and very true, Jadwal. Thanks for sharing that in this discussion.

  5. On October 14th, 2011 at 6:55 PM Jesse Lyn Stoner said:

    I appreciate your bringing this issue to light, Tanveer. I agree that many of the leaders we have put on pedestals are there only because we have bought into the idea that leadership is a solitary effort.

    You eloquently describe how many leaders and business experts have forgotten the real role of leadership.

    I believe we all share responsibility for this phenomenon. These leaders get feedback from the rest of us that their behavior is admirable. They become best-selling authors, are revered by the media and are held up as exemplars in business schools.

    We refer to the Apollo Moon project as "Kennedy's vision" when in fact we know he didn't come up with the idea in a vacuum. Kennedy was in the right place at the right time. His brilliance was that he had to foresight to recognize it, articulate it and marshall resources in much the same way that Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless other visionary leaders have done. Their genius was not in creating the vision but actually in facilitating the process of supporting it.

    John Naisbitt said that leadership is about finding a parade and getting in front of it. This means tapping into the energies that are already present and helping to focus them, maintain momentum and provide the resources needed.

    By attributing the vision to a single leader, we inadvertently continue the myth of the lone wolf leader.

    When members of an organization believe their accomplishments are dependent on the vision of their leader, they lose the opportunity to mature to their full potential and bring the vision forth on their own, remaining instead in a state of dependency, perpetuated by a desire for someone to come save them.

    I agree that successful leadership is about making yourself obsolete. There is truth in the ancient wisdom of Lao-Tsu: When the best leader's work is done the people say, "We did it ourselves."

    Your post both provocative and inspiring. You challenge us to stop waiting for a great leader to come save us and instead for each of us to find the leader within. And you create an inspiring picture of what could happen if we did – a motivating call to action.

  6. On October 15th, 2011 at 1:52 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Jesse,

    Thank you for the kind words and the wonderful insights. I think you're absolutely spot-on that the trait successful leaders share is developing that awareness to see the patterns and connect the dots to understand where things are headed, as opposed to simply drawing them out from the aether as some would have us believe. There's a fascinating 4-part documentary series made by an independent filmmaker called "Everything Is A Remix", where he demonstrates that most discoveries are not that innovative after all as more often than not, there were two or more people working on developing the same technology or intellectual concept. The 3rd part in the series, "The Elements of Creativity" touches a lot on what you mention in your comment. Here's a link to watch it on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wq5D43qAsVg

    I love those two quotes you share from Naisbitt and Lao-Tsu. Again, I think they serve to reinforce the message behind this leadership manifesto of mine and I think these are the quotes we need to pay heed to more to truly understand the role of leadership.

    Thanks again for wonderful comment, Jesse. As with Mike, I'm grateful to you for sharing your wisdom with my readers and I feel a sense of validation from both of your comments. Admittedly, with this piece I opened up a vein to put my passion onto the page, so I'm heartened to see it being so well-received.

  7. On October 15th, 2011 at 9:35 PM Richard said:

    We have many leaders; what we need is great leaders. That something we lack. By the way, great post; keep it up.

  8. On October 18th, 2011 at 10:51 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Richard; I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it.

  9. On October 16th, 2011 at 6:43 AM Jim Matorin said:

    Tanveer: Interesting piece. I just spent some time overseas recharging my batteries. Part of my process was to observe children in playgrounds. The best parents/leaders were not helicopter parents like I witness here in the states, but those that gave their children enough rope to explore – climb the different configurations to develop their motor skills, play (collaborate) with other children, etc., but step forward and reel them in when they strayed. The vision they set for their children was to learn and have fun, analagous to what I think a good corporate leader needs to do now, as well as transform information into insight so their people stay on track.

  10. On October 18th, 2011 at 10:55 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Wow, what a great analogy, Jim, and I couldn't agree more. Looks to me like your sojourn as served you well, my friend. Thanks for sharing this wonderful insight with my readers.

  11. On October 18th, 2011 at 10:56 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Sanjay; I certainly let my passion spill out a bit more than usual with this piece so it's gratifying to see that the message is resonating with so many others as well. Thanks again for stopping by and adding to the conversation.

  12. On October 18th, 2011 at 4:05 PM Ana @ Dias Fertiles said:

    I agree with what Jesse has already said before – leaders tap on the energies and make the most of it. In a way, this may sound as they are doing something easy or that they are just making people do things for them. However, the main point here is being able to be the one who can tap on the energies. There are no more than few people in a crowd that can do that. Those are the people who have that X factor for the leadership.

  13. On October 19th, 2011 at 12:21 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    That is the real function of a leader – not so much to tell others what to do, but to be more of a magifying glass set against a bright light, working to narrow the focus and energy into a sharp beam directed toward a shared goal.

    It's a big disservice both for leaders and those they serve to think that an organization's efforts or successes are the result of any one person, regardless of where they sit on the totem pole. True leadership is about helping others accomplish what they set out to do and not about making it all about you. We have so many great examples of that; hopefully we'll start to reconnect and draw our inspiration from them once again.

  14. On October 18th, 2011 at 7:17 PM davidburkus said:

    I wonder how much of the "leaders don't need to listen to people" ideas stem from an over-simplification of the late Steve Jobs. I've heard many stories of his terrible "customer service" and his nack for being overly brief with people. The irony is that I think Jobs listened to people far more often than we give him credit. His true nack was for understanding what was BEHIND what people were saying and design products that leveraged that. In essence, people didn't know how to formulate what they wanted until he gave them language to describe (see: iPad)

  15. On October 19th, 2011 at 12:13 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi David,

    First off, the simple truth is that the only people who can really say with any authority what Steve Jobs was like as a leader were those who served under him, which is another reason why so much of what's being written about him has to be taken with a bucket of salt since most of it is based on inference and personal biases that impact how a person understands and interprets a situation.

    However, there are some instances that are in the public domain that allow us to see that Steve Jobs didn't in fact listen as well you give him credit for. Take, for example, the whole debacle over the iPhone 4's "antenna-gate". Even when those who his company is supposed to serve – his customers – kept pointing out the problems they were having with his phone, he was quick to dismiss it as being the fault of the user (they were not 'holding the phone right') instead of taking the time to listen to their issues and then examining the situation to see what could be done to correct it. Even the most die-hard Apple fanboy was disappointed by Jobs' solution of offering those free cases because it seemed to be more of a dismissive gesture to shut them up than to acknowledge their problems. That alone speaks volumes of what mattered to Jobs, namely about being right instead of doing right by those he served.

    And this attitude would certainly support why that famous "reality distortion field" that people often said Jobs had around him, where he relied on his charisma and power to convince people to see things his way regardless of what external factors were indicating. This of course, is the real genius of Jobs – of how skilled a communicator he was that he could get people to believe that these products he created actually addressed some unfulfilled need. A good example of this is the iPad. Just do a Google search on it before its launch and you'll see even the Apple crowd was mocking it both for its name and for the fact that it looked like an oversized iPhone (which of course lead to many hilarious spoofs on YouTube about this latest creation).

    Of course, now no one would diss the iPad, but not because it fulfills some unspoken want like you seem to think, David, but rather because just like he did with the iPod, and following in the footsteps of Edison, Jobs created an infrastructure around his device (ie, apps) which suddenly made this gimmicky toy seem to be more of a must-have, if not also tying users to his device much like Edison did with his light bulb.

    And just like Edison, we're conveniently overlooking the contributions of those who were really responsible for the technology we now use today. As any computer technology historian will attest, Jobs' accomplishments stand out only because he happened to be standing on the shoulders of some quiet giants like Dennis Ritchie and the Alto team at Xerox.

    I mentioned in an earlier comment the video "The Elements of Creativity"; I invite you to check it out because, as I wrote above, we're once again falling for the myth of the lone wolf/protagonist going out and changing the world when history clearly demonstrates reality is far more interconnected and interdependent than that.

  16. On October 22nd, 2011 at 10:27 AM Mitch@Learn ESL said:

    Sometimes people in the higher rank or top officials tend to overlook matters like little things that their colleagues have done for them to be able to get a matter solved or a design done. Being so narcissist in a way thinking that their brain is what matters most.

  17. On October 25th, 2011 at 10:53 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Mitch,

    There was a study done recently that showed that as people move further up the management ladder, the less they feel they need to rely on the input of others. The main reason for this is that in the lower rungs of management, people still felt the need to get input/perspective of others to make sure their decisions were sound. However, as they moved into higher management circles, they began to trust their own perceptions and personal judgements, no doubt because they look back on the ones they made earlier and how well they turned out. Of course, as you pointed out, what they're doing is overlooking how the input and contributions of others helped them to make those right decisions. As I said above, progress is not achieved in a vacuum, but from interacting, engaging and listening to understand what matters most to others and what needs they have in order to be successful.

    All of us would be better served if more leaders were to recognize this fundamental truth. Thanks again, Mitch, for sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  18. On November 14th, 2011 at 10:18 AM Mitch@Learn ESL said:

    Hi Tanveer,

    I can seem to relate what you have said and you are certainly right. I love and have been enjoying myself reading your post so it much of my pleasure to be a part of your discussion and thanks for sharing your thoughts. Sometimes we need an eye opener to be able to see things…

    More Power…

  19. On November 14th, 2011 at 4:47 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    I'm glad to hear it, Mitch, and it's my pleasure. My thanks again to you for being a part of this discussion.

  20. On October 25th, 2011 at 7:22 AM kevin said:

    I really loved reading through the whole post, and I agree that we can produce bigger and better results in working together. Leadership is the power to get people focus on the same goal. 🙂

  21. On October 25th, 2011 at 10:58 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Kevin; I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it. Sometimes I think this is a message that we tend to forget thanks to the returning interest in the discounted Great Man theory and that we need to remind ourselves that those accomplishments that have lasting impact are not the sole product of a lone individual, but because someone took the leadership reins to gather and focus our collective energies and passion to do something meaningful and impactful.

    Thanks again, Kevin, for adding your thoughts to the discussion.

Your Comment: