Great leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela used their talents to spearhead historic social change. Great leadership in the workplace doesn't necessarily require ambitions as grand in scope as those leaders and, according to Center for Creative Leadership president John Ryan, grandiose visions can be dangerous if leaders can't back them up with extraordinary experience and talent. No matter how large or small an organization's ambitions are, however, good leadership is necessary to turn them into reality.
It's easy to confuse leadership with management--overseeing and dealing with the complexities of the workplace. A leader must know how to manage, but good leadership goes beyond the day-to-day details. Effective leaders have a compelling vision for their organizations and are able to inspire everyone else in the workplace to realize that vision. Award-winning author and motivational speaker John P. Kotter writes in the Harvard Business Review on Leadership that management is about coping with complexity, while leadership is about coping with change.
While leaders may have style, charm and charisma, those qualities aren't what sets good leaders apart from less effective ones. Leadership involves commitment not only to the organization, but to the people working in it. Career training and human resources expert Dianne Walker writes in Network Journal Magazine that a true leader possesses high standards for morality and integrity, a love of learning and an ability to learn from mistakes.
The dynamics of the business world are constantly changing. It's easy for talented people in the workplace to get into a rut, enslaved by old attitudes and ways of doing things that are no longer effective. Good leadership inspires people in the workplace to meet challenges that might otherwise defeat an organization. John Ryan credits the leadership of CEO A.G. Lafley for pulling Procter and Gamble out of financial difficulties and says Ann Mulcahy's leadership rescued Xerox from bankruptcy when she became its CEO.
Young generations entering the workplace often aren't prepared for the business world. After researchers at York University interviewed hundreds of managers and human resource people, they told NPR in 2010 that recent college graduates lacked important professional qualities such as effective communication and listening skills and motivation to finish a task. Strong leadership not only energizes those who are established in the workplace, but rallies and focuses the untried energies of those newly entering it.
Kotter notes that good leadership tends to promote more leadership in the workplace, inspiring people to take charge within their own departments throughout an organization. "This is highly valuable," he writes, "because coping with change in any complex business demands initiatives from a multitude of people." Good leadership begets more good leadership, rather than fostering an atmosphere of mindless following.