Reading Notes: The Powers to Lead Ch. 3

Powers to lead

Leadership Types and Skills

We often describe leaders in terms of charisma, but this is difficult to pin down as a cause of success. Leaders are often called “charismatic” only when they are doing well. Charisma is more about the followers-when they are looking for dynamic change they will follow someone who articulates that change well, and in that moment the leader is called charismatic. Then one of two things can happen- either the leader maintains focused on her own vision or she remains focused on listening to and reflecting the changing vision of the group. The first path can get tyrranical and disastrous.

This leads us to the difference between transactional and transformational leadership. Transactional leaders focus on the mechanics of getting things done, and transformational leaders focus on the moving towards a broader vision that is empowering for the group.

Transformational leadership requires a couple of skills:

Emotional Intelligence: is about understanding one’s own emotions and having empathy for others. This is vital for the listening and communicating that leaders need to do.

Communication: both broadly to groups and in small conversations. This is largely about rhetorical skills, but it’s also about the ability to put together a good narrative.

Vision: The ability of the leader to clearly articulate the a solution to the needs of the group. Visions which lose touch with these needs, or with the feasibility of a solution, can be problematic.

Organizational Skills: This is about the day-to-day of task management, but more importantly it is about the design of information flows and decisionmaking processes within an organization. 

Machiavellian Political Intelligence: The set of political skills required to build coalitions to achieve a vision. This can be about Machiavellian bullying so long as the end game is the goal and not the assertion of hierarchy. It can also be about an in-depth, intuitive map of the stakeholders who influence an outcome and their leverage points.

Ultimatley, leaders need to understand how to combine the above skills to fit their situation. In order to develope leadership ability, one must both hone the above skills and learn to utilize them strategically.


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