Sunday, June 21, 2009

What do Leaders do?

tiannamen square Pictures, Images and Photos

First and foremost, leaders challenge the status quo. They interrupt what is going on now in order to influence the future. Leaders look to the horizon, the end game, deep into the future and ask what will get us there? They question everything.

Managers, by contrast, ask how can we keep current things going, or how can I maintain the status quo? Managers embrace the status quo, not stand up to it.

Aspiring and working toward a future vision requires a lot of things of the leader. Aspirational leadership requires detachment. Many people benefit and are complacent about the current state of being. A leader who desires to innovate and adapt to the needs of the future must detach from the emotional grousing of the people who admire the status quo. To accomplish this detachment, a leader must have confidence, courage, and commitment about doing the right thing for the sake of the future. This commitment and courage to doing the right thing are the internal resources a leader draws upon as many people work to keep things as they are.

The powerful image from the revolution at Tiannamen Square in 1989 makes the point that a leader can emerge from anywhere. This unnamed man stands on principle, courage, commitment, and hope for a better future for China. He stands strong despite risk of personal injury. He stands before the rigid, powerful status quo, the Chinese government so wonderfully epitomized by the might of the tanks. As we remember from watching the coverage, this one stand off disrupted and created many protests throughout the city.

A leader protests. He declares the status quo as unsafe, objectionable, unsustainable, unsuitable for the needs of the future. He expresses in many ways, as many as are needed, a vision for the future that is more relevant. A leader acts. She stands up and leads that first step toward realizing the future and invites others to join in. In these ways, a leader transforms.

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