Leadership--It's a Village, Not an Island

island in the distance
Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stories of great leadership can inspire. We often think about a great person, out in front of a huge issue, taking on the whole world by themselves. Contrary to common thinking, though, leaders are not out on an island. They are part of a bigger world–one that both inspires and supports their vision.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review reminds us that great leaders are part of a community. In the post, John Coleman discusses the three ways leaders are affected and influenced by the communities they live in and serve. 

While these lessons speak broadly about community, that can be defined in many ways. We speak of the broader community of people when we discuss great political leaders. But the same lessons can be applied to a corporation or business, which is also a community of people with a common goal. 

Leaders are in the community: Leaders do not generally act alone, without advisors. Great leaders attract people who are willing to lend an ear–and a hand–to help sharpen ideas and plans. Barack Obama famously cited Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln as one of his favorite books. Even though he disagreed with the politics of many of his peers, Lincoln was able to acknowledge that they were working toward a common good, and found value in their advice and opinions. The lesson? Ask for advice. Whether you follow it or not, you'll learn something.

Leaders are with the community: No idea, no matter how great, can succeed without a group of people to implement. Leaders need to acknowledge the value of the community they gather to execute their plan. (The easiest place to gather resources to help the community is within that same community of individuals.) Conversely, if you can't mobilize supporters who back your idea, you're bound to fail.

Leaders are for the community: Great ideas take off when they benefit a community. While the individual may eventually reap rewards, the greater good of a broad group of people is what will inspire followers. To really excel, you should not just try and make your slice of the pie bigger–you should aim to make the whole pie bigger, so that everyone gets more. 

Great leaders are rarely out on an island. They act side-by-side with and for the people in their communities. To quote a great leader, Abraham Lincoln: “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.” 

Lincoln’s quote—and Coleman’s article—are great reminders that the definition of a “leader” is one who has people who follow their vision. 

If you’d like to learn more ways to develop your entrepreneurial leadership skills, take a look at our Entrepreneurial Leadership Certificate, which develops skills business leaders need to launch, grow, and manage their own businesses, or to contribute creatively within their organizations.

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