Prof. Leigh Hafrey, professor of leadership at MIT in Boston, gives us his valuable advice on the following topic
We use the word ‘outsider’ to indicate someone who unexpectedly excels or triumphs in certain situations despite having little initial hope of success. These may be the people who advance quietly and calmly and then suddenly overtake others, to reach the finish line ahead of their rivals, or those who emerge from anonymity to make their voices heard and whip up support among crowds of people. Outsiders have recently appeared as a very popular type of leader, but we have always liked such people and know them well. Yet we are wary of imitations, because we are sure that certain results cannot be achieved by chance: it is not enough to have no background and to be unknown to become a real champion! Below we provide some practical advice to identify the people who can come out of nowhere and really make a difference.
The maverick leader
If we take the time to analyze the past of some of the most famous leaders of history, we find that many of them started at a disadvantage, remaining in the shadows until the moment when the world became aware of them. We would not want to be blasphemous by juxtaposing figures like Jesus, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Freddy Mercury, Ghandi, George Washington and Thomas Edison, in the same sentence, but each of these people shared this trait.
We would, therefore, say that the true leader is an out-sider, because the word itself contains a seed of rebellion, of diversity that comes from being unconventional and beyond the established rules. Being a leader means in fact guiding others beyond the condition in which they find themselves, towards something that did not exist beforehand. To do so, as a true outsider, such a person is bound to adopt a different vision, which derives from the personal experience of being, firstly, outside the system.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
The characteristics of a true leader
However, having the background of an outsider is not enough to guarantee that you will be a true leader. We have met many people whose charisma and success have enabled them to positively influence those around them; we thus have a clear idea of the characteristics that distinguish a leader worthy of respect. The first and foremost is to have a spirit of service. Serving others means dedicating yourself to a cause that goes beyond your personal interests or the interests of your close circle of acolytes. Serving also means giving before you receive, which leads us to consider the second quality necessary: to be generously authentic.
Humanity’s great figures have always given more than they have received, avoiding easy consensus but set on taking their message to those who were most reluctant to listen to it. They fought and paid for their choices, remaining faithful to the mission on which they were set.
Culture as a legacy of the leader
There is one last important aspect worth reflecting on, and it is the ability of a true leader to generate culture.
The culture of a group is the set of values and beliefs that influence their vision of the world, inspiring actions and behaviour.
The relationship between culture and leadership is very strong and each should work to improve the other. The true legacy of a leader consists in having contributed to evolve the culture and habits of those whom he or she served. This is the only way in which such a person will continue to influence others to follow in their tracks when they are no longer among us, and as other leaders appear. We suggest that you look out for this characteristic when you want to identify a real leader, asking yourself a simple question: what culture is this person helping to generate, and to what degree? One way to simplify the search for the answer is to pay close attention to the gestures and words that the person adopts.
Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash
– – –
Language is one of the pillars on which the culture of a society or a people is founded, and you will never find negative speech or hate, closure or division, in the mouth and in the actions of a true champion of humanity.
– – –
Only history can truly decree the value of the contribution we have given to the world. Time extinguishes the fatal fires of those who propose themselves as leaders, perhaps only taking advantage of the external trappings of the outsider; on the other hand, history will highlight those who silently and modestly change our lives forever, while avoiding self-aggrandizement.
P.S. Speaking of great leaders who have left our lives, while imparting an important legacy, we want to remember Prof. Mike Hoffman, founder in 1976 of the first known department of Business Ethics. Thanks, Mike for what you have left us and for the path that you indicated to others. Rest in peace.
| partem claram semper aspice |