Leadership, for the most part, has been placed inside a box of traditional and conventional understanding. Leaders plan, communicate, fill needs, train, direct others, and motivate to achieve goals. These are all good things; whether you are a scoutmaster, supervisor, coach, manager, parent, teacher, town councilman, or the President of the United States. Outside of that box you will find how leadership today is so much more and requires so much more from the leader.
Abraham Maslow penned a paper in 1943 titled; “A Theory of Human Motivation”. This is where he presented the idea of a “hierarchy of needs”. Basically put, he introduced a theory that beyond the fact that humans have needs they require to be filled; these needs can be categorized and prioritized beginning at basic human needs such as food, progressing into more complex needs (Cherry, K. ). All of these needs lead to different levels of self-actualization in the various compartments of our lives. He demonstrated this with a Pyramid in which he included the different types of human needs.
Leaders cannot be leaders if they have no followers. For leaders to continue in leadership roles they have to manage those followers to either maintain or grow their numbers. Leaders don’t want to lose any followers; it shows their leadership may not be at an optimum level. One of the best ways to do this is to be that “authentic” type of leader where one would try to identify and fill the needs of those individuals or groups that follow. Whenever speaking about his, I am reminded of a scene in Lawrence of Arabia, where Anthony Quinn (playing a sheik) is conversing with Peter O’Toole (Lawrence) and says: “I am a River to my people”. As a river provides sustenance to a village or tribe in the fish they catch, the water they drink, the vegetation it helps to grow, or as a means of transportation; that is what leaders need to be to their followers. You first need to be able to identify those needs, which requires a high level of awareness and understanding.
The best leaders are genuine. You can’t fake genuine, and I’m not sure if you can learn it fully. Being genuine is engrained in the makeup of an individual. For it to come to fruition it needs to be identified and nurtured through an individual’s heart felt sensitivity and empathy, and a highly developed sense and knowledge of one’s self. What I find works for me is I put great effort in learning as much as possible about those I lead, and I intentionally place myself in their “shoes”. I personalize them and thus can have empathy. This leadership trait brings an individual to an awareness of others and a true understanding of the human element and their needs.
Leaders must motivate and inspire. To be able to do this you need to have clearly defined and well communicated goals and a vision. In other words, you have to have a finish line to win a race. Going back to Maslow; each person has their own perception of what their needs are. Leaders have to tap into those perceptions. Leaders must also be able to know the difference between needs they can actually fulfill and those they cannot. One way to motivate others is to fill the needs of the individual and/or the group. Humans are, for the most part, a selfish lot. Normally whenever a leader needs its followers to do something different to get a result, the first thing that enters people’s minds is “what’s in it for me”. Now, not everyone has that thought process, others may just need to know why it’s so important in order to do more to get a better result. Others may need encouragement or some level of acknowledgement in order to engage in doing “more”. Still others don’t need anything; they just have that great personal work ethic. In my background, since I know more about the associate (previous paragraph) I find out what motivates them by engaging each in conversation and actually ask them what motivates them. As a group I include a little bit of all the individual motivators and try to reach as many as possible. Leaders need to know their followers and identify what motivates and inspires them individually; as well as the group dynamic.
Personally, as a leader, I’ve spent a lot of time studying people in so many different environments and situations. To be able to lead people, you must truly understand them, know them, feel for them, identify with them, and engage with them. This must be done in a personal way, as you try to get inside their head as well as their heart – because you care. As someone who enjoys watching inspiring and true to life films, I often dissect the actors’ portrayals and their human responses to others in the film. Watching “We were Soldiers” I found Mel Gibson’s instruction to his platoon leaders to take care of their men and his own portrayal as the Colonel that leads them as a genuine and caring example; a good illustration of how leaders need to be in the real world.
In conclusion, a more unconventional leadership may be one that is not as much concerned about upward mobility, promotion, pats on the back and accolades. It may just be that they are psychologists in Leader’s clothing. That they see the potential in others and develop that; they see the deep needs of others and try to fill that. It may be that they create their own vision and inspire others with it. It may be that unconventional leaders are transformational, but not in a global sense; but one person at a time.