Leadership expert John C. Maxwell, whom I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for, asserts that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” I don’t think there’s any better way to say it. The importance of leadership cannot be understated. How successful an organization is ultimately leads back to its leadership, or lack of. If you trace the success of a company back to its origin, you will see the root is always exceptional leadership. Whether it be a non-profit organization, a large conglomerate, a sports franchise, an elementary school, or a small mom-and-pop diner, leadership is the most influencing factor of achieving and sustaining success.
Great Leadership is Rare
I had over forty professors during my time in college, but I would estimate that about three or four really stand out to me. The reason they stand out to me is because they were leaders, and every student in the classroom knew it. They genuinely cared for each student and wanted to see improvement and growth.
Dr. Vincent Mumford was an influencing person during my time at school. I was lucky enough to have him for two different classes. His leadership reached every student because he was able to get students out of their comfort zone and push each and every individual to improve. In the beginning of each semester, he would cast a vision for the class. He would set expectations of us and of himself. He fulfilled those expectations, and as much as we sometimes didn’t want to, he pushed us and made us grow.
Thanks to him, my classmates and I were able to put on a sand volleyball tournament that we put together in under three weeks. It was a fundraiser for Special Olympics that raised nearly $1,000. In another class, we raised funds and donations for the Student Emergency Fund, which aids students who find themselves in an emergency and need financial assistance. Undoubtedly, it was because of Dr. Mumford’s leadership that my classmates and I were able to have the success that we had.
Professor Gary Gagnon, the Professor of the Year in the state of Michigan in 2005, is another professor that stands out because of his leadership. A hospitality teacher, his enthusiasm is contagious. With his knowledge and experiences, he was able to reach the students through generating excitement. He talked about his travels and experiences in the hospitality industry and really opened our eyes to the world. His leadership planted the seed in everyone to want to explore and learn. Andrea Smith, a classmate of mine, really liked that he made every class personal, saying “He made the students learn each others names to reflect what students would encounter everyday in hospitality business.” He even tested us on each other’s names!
Leadership is a Reciprocal Relationship
Leaders care for their people and want the best for them. Both leaders and leadees must work together. It’s a reciprocal relationship; both parties give and take. If people have a leader they believe in and that they know cares about them, they will work that much harder. Once people buy-in and begin to support the leader and everyone works towards a common objective, the organization is lifted to a higher level. The leader is lifted to a higher level. The leadees become leaders themselves. The entire organization is better for it.
Leadership allows for people to learn, grow, and improve far beyond even they believe they can. In the absence of leadership, people become stagnant, lack motivation and urgency, and have no long-term goals. Leadership inspires, motivates, and guides people towards a goal or a vision. Without a leader, people and organizations become average, settle for the status quo, and get too comfortable. Leadership presses forward; learning, growing, and improving are the driving forces. Organizations with good leadership play to win. Organizations without leadership play not to lose.
"The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been." - Henry Kissinger
I’ve been working on this web site for a little over two months now, and I’ve received a tremendous amount of support from friends, family, and colleagues. The feedback has been very helpful and I am thankful to everyone who has helped me so far. I’ve also encountered my fair share of people who have tried to discourage me from continuing with this web site. I’ve always been aware that there are people out there who are negative and try to hold or push others down. These are the “You can’t do it!” people.
Constructive vs. Destructive Criticism
There is a difference between constructive criticism and criticizing to push people down. Constructive criticism is honest advice that is given with the intent to help. It may not be pleasant to hear, but it is information that is meant to aid you. Most of the people I have asked for opinions about this site have provided constructive criticism. I am really appreciative of everyone’s opinions. Because of the input I’ve received, I’ve learned about the perception of this web site, my writing, the strengths of my site, and some improvements I can make.
“You can’t do it!” people are negative, pessimistic, and generally make people around them worse. If there is such a thing as the complete opposite of a leader, “You can’t do it!” people are it. They are incapable of creating their own vision and working toward achieving it. When “You can’t do it!” people see someone with a vision, they seek to bring that person down in order to feel better about themselves. They list reasons why you can’t do things. They point out your flaws or weaknesses. They question why you even want to do something in the first place. But they also create adversity, and you can use that to your advantage.
How to deal with adversity
I’ve encountered many “You can’t do it!” people in just these few months while working on this web site. There have been more than I anticipated. I expected to have obstacles and barriers since I really don’t have much experience with designing web sites or writing. I’ve encountered opposition from people regarding the design of this web site, the font I use, and even the colors. One particular example stands out to me; someone who I thought was a friend of mine has even challenged why I’m starting this blog. He also bluntly stated how he would not support my web site. That’s tough to hear. Even my creation and use of the word “leadee” has been laughed at! It doesn’t bother me, because “You can’t do it!” people are not my target audience anyway. They don’t get it, and many never will. I’m going to concentrate on those who want to improve themselves and develop as leaders.
“You can’t do it!” people create additional adversity for those who are striving to reach their goals, vision, or dreams. They may stress you out. They may get under your skin. They may discourage you. Use it as fuel. Prove them wrong. Keep working towards your vision and don’t let them bring you down. Focus on people that support you and want you to succeed. As a leader you will continuously face adversity. It’s important you learn how to deal with it and use it as motivation.
There will always be people who want to knock you off track. They may distract you temporarily, but it’s important you get back on track. People that see you working towards your goals or vision will try to hold you back or push you down because they see you’re well on your way to achieving what you set out to. It’s important to just ignore these people. They will always be there. If you want to take something positive from the presence of “You can’t do it!” people it’s this: if they are around, you must be doing something right.
"Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant." - John C. Maxwell
"Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success."
- Dale Carnegie
I remember when I first learned about the idea of organizational culture. It was in a Hospitality course in college. My professor stressed this word, culture. We spent an entire class period on it. That semester, we took a trip to Chicago and toured the Ritz-Carlton. Our guide kept using the word culture. She emphasized that the culture of the Ritz-Carlton was important to the way they do business and how it’s a key element to their success. When we returned from the trip, during the first class period back, my professor called on me and asked me what I learned on our trip. I shouted “Culture!”
The College Days
Staying in my college years, I was part of a student organization called the Hospitality and Tourism Society. I joined as a sophomore to expand my horizons and meet new people. I met many fun people. The meetings were especially fun and entertaining. The meetings were loud and cheerful with laughter and joking. The atmosphere was very much representative of the students’ interest in hospitality. Everyone was kind to one another. It was a very loose culture. Anyone could speak at any time; even the executive board was run loosely. We always had pizza and pop and talked about semester trips, volunteer opportunities, and fundraising. I remember looking forward to going to the meetings each week. It was an exciting time.
The meetings had a loose agenda with no time allotment for the meeting; whenever we finished, we finished. No one was in a hurry and no one was anxious to leave. In spite of the loose atmosphere, we were able to have very productive meetings and finish everything on the agenda.
As the year wound down, it was time to elect a new e-board. The President was not coming back to the club the next year, so we would have a new leader when the new academic year started. This election saw two members of e-board return and four new members elected. I was elected to the position of Financial Director for the club. The new President and Vice President were the two returning members of e-board.
As the new leadership team, we would finish out the academic year as the new e-board for the final few meetings. We had weekly e-board meetings the day before the club meetings to prepare. Those first few meetings would show the new managements’ style. As is always the case with turnover, new people in creates change in terms of culture. Our first few meetings set the tone for the following academic year in which we would lead the club. We had some bumps during the first few meetings, but that was expected as we were mostly inexperienced leading a student organization.
Night and Day
The difference in culture was apparent from day one. You would have thought we somehow exchanged our hospitality majors for accounting majors! The new academic year brought new faces to the organization. Out were the upperclassmen who served as leaders to the youngsters of the group. It was like somebody had flipped a switch and turned our lively, energetic meetings into a sleepy, tired afternoon nap. We could have held our meetings in the library and not had anyone “shush” us. As the year progressed the meetings improved slightly but the new culture was too difficult to change because it had become the status quo.
I believe the reason for the huge culture shift was due to a few factors. First, the new faces in the club were not aware of the club’s prior culture, so they thought what they were experiencing during their first few meetings was how the club actually was. They did not know the graduated seniors and fifth-year seniors that were apart of the club the previous year. They weren’t part of the fun, loose atmosphere of the previous year.
Second, the previous e-board consisted of excellent leadership. The previous e-board brought the energy, enthusiasm, and fun to each and every meeting. The President was fun and it was reflected by the members. She was excellent at making everyone feel comfortable and putting everyone in a good mood with her jokes and laughter. It really was contagious. As a new e-board, we did not portray the same feelings and it was reflected back to us with quieter, more serious meetings. Looking back, it’s a shame and a disappointment that we were unable to do the same the next year.
Finally, we as an e-board did not have the experience necessary to lead the organization. Perhaps the members saw it. I’m sure those members that were part of the club for both years noticed the change. It was our responsibility to change the culture if we didn’t like it or didn’t think it was holding the club back, after all it was supposed to be fun.
An organization’s culture needs to be aligned with the organizations goals and overall mission. The culture of an organization really does start at the top. Leaders must portray and become what they want to see from their organization. If the leader is serious and stern, others will reflect that attitude back. If the leader is energetic and has an outgoing personality, it can be seen throughout the organization in the way people behave. It’s a top-down effect. What attitudes are reflected in your organizations culture? Does it reflect leadership’s vision, goals, or values? If the culture doesn’t seem to fit, learn from my mistake: change it!
"Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day." - Frances Hesselbein
If you’ve noticed the name of this website, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself “What does leadee mean?” I will often reference the term “leadee” in my writing. You probably asked yourself, “Did he misspell leader?” No, I didn’t misspell leader, I meant to spell it that way! A leadee is the person in the leader-leadee relationship that is learning from the leader. Ever heard of the lessor-leasee relationship? The landlord-tenant kind? It’s the same deal here, except it’s a leader-leadee relationship. I’ll often take a look at this relationship to explain a leadership lesson or a point I want to make.
I don’t believe in calling people followers. You won’t see me use that term very often. People don’t like to be called followers. The term follower can have a negative connotation because it implies the follower is not a leader. That is not always true. You see, a leadee in one relationship may be a leader in another. The leader in one relationship may be a leadee in another. A leadee is being led. You can be both a leader and a leadee at the same time. A leadee is a potential leader. A leadee may already be a leader. Confused yet?
What does it take to be an effective leadee?
Now, there are certain requirements for someone to be considered a leadee, and an effective one at that.
1. The individual must want to become a leader, either consciously or subconsciously. Both consciously and subconsciously pursuing leadership improvement are effective and essential, but that’s another article. That desire and drive is what pushes you toward developing yourself into a leader and continuing to improve every day. If you don’t want to become a leader yourself, you can never be a leadee. At that point, you are, in fact, only a follower. If the drive is present, however, the foundation is set for personal growth to occur. The stage is set for you to develop. Your potential is determined by how much you want to become a leader, and how you approach it, along with your natural talents of course.
2. You need to have the right attitude, and that is one of selflessness. A leadee, if being led properly, must want to do whatever it takes to reach the leader’s vision. The right attitude also means wanting to learn and continually trying to improve. Theoretically, the leader in the situation is just that because they know the situation, their people, and the task at hand. Leaders use this information to orchestrate the situation toward the vision, mission, or goals. The leader’s vision cannot be reached by the leader alone. It’s the supporting cast, the leadee’s that push the team forward toward the vision, mission, or goals.
3. As a leadee you must buy-in to the leader’s vision. Buy-in is essential to working towards the vision and accomplishing it. Without buy-in from leadees, the leader’s vision is just a pipe dream. It is a responsibility of the leader to gain the trust and respect of their people. Only then can the leadees buy-in. First, leadees buy-in to a leader. Then, they buy-in to a vision. If a leader is leading a team that has not bought-in to the vision, then that leader is not living up to his role.
4. Leadee’s must carry out the leader's vision. As leadership expert John C. Maxwell says, “Vision begins with one person, but it is only accomplished by many people.” Once a leadee buys-in to the vision, they should be motivated, energized, and excited to fulfill that vision.
Which comes first? The leader or the leadee?
In the leader-leadee relationship, both parties are equally important to achieving success. The leader has countless responsibilities. The leadee has infinite responsibilities as well, but a leadee’s most important responsibilities are to support the leader, lift up the leader, and put the achievement of the vision above all else. The funny thing is, by doing these things, the leadee is leading! This is where growth and progress occur. If a leadee has the desire to be a leader, has the right attitude, buys-in to the leader and the vision, and works to bring the vision to fruition, the leadee is doing their part – and becoming a leader along the way.
"The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people." - Theodore Roosevelt