Leadership, Wherefore Art Thou?

What is leadership?  What does it entail, exactly?  And how is it different from the skill set of management?

If you’re interviewing for a leadership position of any kind in today’s market, you can’t afford to “phone it in” when it comes to these types of questions.  You need to arrive at each hiring conversation with a clear, thoughtful, and inspirational set of talking points to pass along that demonstrate your ability as an effective leader — showcasing the strategy/philosophy/approach you follow to getting the people under you to embrace change and accomplish great results.

This isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds, however.  And based on a variety of data points I’ve seen lately, there AREN’T very many job candidates today who are earning an A+ grade on their ability to project themselves as competent leaders.

Case in point: one recruiter I know recently informed me that he has been working on a non-profit Executive Director search for 6 months now, but has already burned through all of the immediate candidates he was able to turn up, without finding a successful match.  The problem?  He says he can find hundreds of folks who have the right technical qualifications and pedigree, on paper, but he can’t find any true “leaders” who seem to have the ideas, drive, and inspirational presence necessary to take the reins and lead a significant turnaround at the organization in question.

In my own world, as well, I’ll confess that I’ve been doing a ton of interview role-playing with clients lately — and have been a bit underwhelmed by many of the answers I’ve heard to questions like “What is your leadership philosophy?” or “How do you get the best out of your team?” or “How do you foster positive change, morale, and teamwork in an organization that’s been going through tough times lately — and is in need of revitalization?”

Just giving a pat answer like “I have an open-door policy” or “I put the right people in the right roles to achieve success” isn’t going to get the job done, I’m afraid.  These types of generic responses are not only way too shallow to impress most interviewers, but they’re also what one would expect out of a 26-year-old junior manager who just thumbed through “Leadership for Dummies” last weekend — not a seasoned executive with years of experience leading successful (and not-so-successful) corporate initiatives, and who is asking to hold the future of an organization in his/her hands.  You’ve got to dig deeper than this.  To knock this kind of question out of the park, you’ve got to analyze your entire historical body of work, as a leader, and come with some original thoughts and compelling sound bites that showcase your authentic beliefs about what it really takes to rally a team — or an organization — to a new level of successful performance.

How do you win the hearts, minds, and allegiance of the people you’ve been entrusted to lead?  How do you get them to change their behavior and practice “good followership” as you shake up the status quo and instruct them to start doing things in a different way than they’ve ever been done before?

On this note, Anna Bernstein of Brain-Voice Connection was kind enough to recently have me on her “Sound Like a Leader” radio show to talk about this very topic.  We had a grand old time kicking the issue around in the studio, and in addition to my own commentary on the issue, Anna shared some very interesting points about how the most effective leaders tend to “sound” and how an aspiring leader can modify their vocal delivery to create a more impactful, winning impression.  Here’s a link to the recorded show, for those interested:


Additionally, another acquaintance also sent me a link to the excellent video you’ll find here, featuring Simon Senek speaking to a TED gathering, where he discusses the concept of leadership and how great leaders are able to inspire action.  This material might be a great “pep talk” to watch right before you go into an interview, if you’re a leadership candidate looking to get psyched up before you go chat with an employer or recruiter about a top assignment!


One Response to “Leadership, Wherefore Art Thou?”

  1. Matt-I love this topic and believe I have some provocative answers for you.

    A leader is someone who others follow, A leader is someone who once followed, A leader is someone who conquers fear, A leader is someone who is willing to sacrifice for his or her belief and Vision, A leader starts by leading him or herself, A leader “Earns” things like Trust, Respect, Love, money, friends, power, and Commitmen from others, on the Virtue of his or her Character, A leader takes “Action”

    Everyone is a “Leader” and everyone starts by leading themselves. Some do a good job and some do not. A leader does not profess to be a “LEADER” he or she just “IS” and just “DOES”. Some times you lead and sometimes you follow…… A True Leader has “Awareness”, “Confidence” and “Courage”. A Leader is Chosen by those who follow not by professing to be a LEADER! Some lead for a moment, and some lead for a lifetime!

    Lets Start by Leading our Self and staying true to our own beliefs, values, and guiding principles! If you can’t lead your self how can you lead others.

    Food for Thought!

    Greg Stern

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