Successfully leading large, complex organizations in a globalized age is not for the faint of heart. There is no shortage of research examining different leadership models and styles (e.g., transactional leadership, transformational leadership and so on) but little scientific consensus around what makes for a great leader. In fact, in wading through the often dense and esoteric academic literature on the topic, one main takeaway seems to be clear: There is no silver-bullet, no one-size-fits-all approach that will guide you to individual and organizational success.
So what is an organizational leader to do?
Years ago, I was sitting in a graduate leadership class contemplating this very question. We were discussing common models of leadership and the various scenarios in which the different approaches might be most applicable. As fascinating as the discussion was, I must admit that my mind began to wander, as none of the models quenched my intellectual curiosity or practical thirst. They were all lacking.
As I sat there in class that day, I jotted down my own model of leadership, which I’ll describe below.
The Intersection Of Leadership And Service
At the foundation of any effective, self-sustaining leadership approach is a commitment to serving those you lead. While there are a variety of leadership models, styles and methods that can produce compliance-based results, to create a self-renewing culture of commitment and engagement that drives results, leaders must have a genuine interest in and desire to develop and strengthen the capacity of those they lead.
It Starts With Self-Knowledge And Understanding
First, we must be introspective and critically self-reflexive (sometimes brutally so), and seek to better understand our own thinking, capabilities, styles and talents, as well as how we relate to our particular organizational context and those around us.
Understanding Those You Lead And Serve
Our employees are not a monolith; there is no one-size-fits-all answer to motivating and leveraging their unique talents and capacities. As such, we can’t effectively lead and motivate others if we don’t first seek to understand them and their needs, ambitions, desires, preferred styles and more.
A Reciprocal Process Of Learning And Understanding
As we come to truly know ourselves in deeper ways, we have an increased capacity for empathy and relating to those around us. As we develop authentic and meaningful workplace relationships with our co-workers, we then have the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, and this becomes a reciprocal, self-sustaining cycle of the discovery of self and those around us.
Developing Leadership Skills And Abilities
Of course, effective leadership can’t only be about the warm and fuzzies. There are practical leadership skills, competencies and abilities that we also need to develop, such as effective communication skills, analytical and strategic thinking capacities, team facilitation, people management capabilities, and so on. We should push ourselves to build on our strengths and shore up our weaker areas through continual learning and development.
Applying Leadership Skills And Abilities
Just learning about something in the abstract is not the same as truly developing a new skill. Experiences are what bring a deeper, richer learning that bridges the divide between intellectual, knowledge-based learning and applied, real-world competency development. Effective leaders find opportunities to put their learning into practice by serving those they lead.
Positive Feedback Loops
As we develop and apply new skills and abilities, we have the opportunity to continue our own self-discovery and to better understand those we lead. These positive feedback loops are essential to maximizing our own leadership capacity over time, and we should seek both formal mechanisms and more informal opportunities to learn from both our leadership successes and failures.
An Iterative, Self-Sustaining Model
As we sincerely seek to learn about ourselves and those around us, continually strive to develop and apply new leadership skills and abilities, and stay open to the feedback our experiences bring, we have the opportunity to create an iterative, self-sustaining process of continual leadership growth and capacity development.
While there is no quick fix or easy answer to becoming a successful leader, it is also not so complicated. We need to foster an attitude of intellectual and social humility, check our ego at the door, be continually critically self-reflexive regarding our thinking and behavior toward others, and seek to truly discover the needs of those we lead and serve. Of course, we also need to develop and apply particular leadership skills, abilities and competencies as they relate to the particular organizational context in which we find ourselves, but these skills and competencies alone will not help us to lead effectively. It is only when we have an unwavering commitment to continually learning and developing others around us that we will be able to lead truly remarkable organizations, made up of truly remarkable people, all contributing at their peak human capital capacity.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.