A Look at Leadership

What is it that makes a leader worth following? Is it their wardrobe? Their fiery rhetoric? Their charisma? There is no shortage of theories, arguments, or self-help books written on being a leader, and most of them come down to this simple platitude: Be someone worth following. It’s how you craft that identity that can be tricky. Thankfully, a program like the University of Tennessee Chattanooga’s online Professional Master of Business Administration can guide you to creating that identity.

Substance Over Style

Leadership stems from an awareness of power of one (or more) individual over a group of others. In some cases, this power may be more overt than in others (a dictatorship versus a team-elected captain, for instance), and how this power translates to effective leadership relates directly to how the organization understands the basis for the leader’s power. When membership of the organization is voluntary (i.e., someone works for an organization that has a clearly defined leadership position), the power afforded to the leadership by the members is equally voluntary, and it depends upon either a perceived reward for membership or upon a perceived referential respect.

What we — the members — expect from our leaders is that they are going to carry us forward. Whether we are a company or a hardy group of explorers looking for a new place to eat, we expect our leaders to assume the responsibility for the well-being of all those who follow them. Not only must our leaders bring us success (or keep us safe), they must do so in a manner that includes the majority of us. The leader is the focused intent of the organization, but their vision cannot will not come to be without the effort of every part of the organization. They can’t do it all, of course; they need our help.

Knowing Versus Guessing

We prefer to be in motion — as employees, as customers, as a culture. We want to know where we are going to be tomorrow, we want to know why we care about tomorrow, and we want to know what we’re supposed to wear. In some organizations, the person with the loudest voice might be the one who says, “We’re heading in that direction, we’ll arrive on Tuesday, and we’re all going to wear orange shirts as we go there.” Whereas a leader will explain why it is critical to the organization that it end up over there on Tuesday, and as a sign of organizational unity, orange shirts will be the uniform of choice.

In the first case, the organization lumbers blindly in that direction, leading to someone asking why the company is going in this direction, which will result in a team meeting on Monday that throws the whole “arrival on Tuesday” part of the cycle into question. Then the organization might stumble to a halt, and people mill about, wondering why they’re wearing this particularly bland shade of orange.

In the second case, the organization understands both a goal and a duration — as well as the importance of solidarity. The leader who knows the how and why of their decision-making process — and can communicate that to their employees — is a leader worth following.

Quantitating Your Qualities

How do you learn to become a better leader? Learning about yourself, your customers, your employees and your marketplace can put you on the road to being a great leader. An online MBA from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga offers opportunities to learn not just about best practices in financial accounting, organizational behavior or strategic management, but also about having the curiosity of an entrepreneur, the savvy of a well-organized production manager and the intensive data mining tools of a systems analyst.

Leaders don’t have to know everything, but they need to understand collaboration. Not only does it mean work actually gets done, it also means that you are sharing your vision with others. When you give your employees ownership of an aspect of your vision, you are giving them that part of your vision, making it their vision too.

Leading Isn’t Always About Being in Front

As ownership of the vision spreads, a leader can focus on other aspects of guiding the organization. When people get more decision-making opportunities, they will become more invested in the ultimate goal of the organization. They will become more self-directed and more likely to work harder and more efficiently because they will more clearly see the results of their actions within the organization’s vision. In many ways, as an organization becomes more self-directed, its leader will almost become invisible.

The best leaders are not the ones who tell us to follow them; they inspire us.

Learn more about the University of Tennessee Chattanooga online MBA program.


MindTools: Core Leadership Theories

Boundless: Theories of Effective Leadership Include the Trait, Contingency, Behavioral, and Full-Rang Theories

Forbes: Top 10 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Fast Company: Your Most Productive Self

MindTools: French and Raven’s Five Forms of Power

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