Management Magazine
Hands on Management

What leadership is not

A good leader knows what not to do and their success comes from constantly wanting to improve and grow, to learn and get better. 


For decades, topics on qualities and behaviours of smart leaders have dominated the leadership and management domain. From politics to sports to keynote speakers, so much has been said and written. Leadership training schools have thrived, leadership tools continue to evolve, and executive coaching seems to be at an all-time high. The ‘how-to’ has been the core focus, with the belief that smart leaders are disciplined, thick-skinned and surround themselves with strong team members. One would want to imagine that by now, we are well equipped on the concept of leadership but that is not the case. So today, lets shift the focus on ‘how-not-to’.

Leadership is NOT about a position

There is a famous quote that says ‘leadership is not about a position it is about action’. Our actions build credibility of who we are as leaders. It is in the way we treat others, how we make decisions, how we communicate and if we take responsibility for our actions. Take Donald Trump for example; many political pundits have said that the way he runs the executive branch of the United States is characteristically un-presidential.  He has an ‘it-is-all-about-me’ approach to issues, with his twitter-trigger reactive responses being a demonstration of his unfiltered communication style that carries no compassion or concern for others. Instead of using his position to influence personal interactions built on trust, he uses it to intimidate; a characteristic we see in some political leaders and people holding influential positions. Strong leadership requires a long track record of healthy relationships built by trust, integrity and nobility. We must embrace transparency, compassion, consistency and clear communication that is not intended to deceive.

Leadership is NOT about power

Robert Joss, a Stanford Dean says “When you are at the top, you have to depend on other people to succeed, and that is more powerful than the power or authority you have with your job at the top.” Leadership is about responsibility, not power. Think about the police force in Kenya. Kenya’s citizens always decry that the police carry so much power with them that they have long forgotten their duty and responsibility towards the public – of being helpful and protective. Instead of leaving us with a sense of security and safety, they leave us shaken and utterly terrified. The same goes to the corporate leaders who hire and fire staff on a whim. Or a sports teacher who dismisses you from the sports team or a security guard who turns you away for not having your identification.  Even though sometimes justified, it is the manner in which the power is effected that matters. It is not strategic to lead from an egocentric point of view as it makes one’s decisions irrational, compromising and un-relatable. Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister was once quoted saying “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to say it, then you aren’t.”

Leadership is NOT about Pride

Humility of wisdom dictates that you put the people ahead of you. It is about them, not you. I was personally flung into a leadership position at a young age and sadly, my pompous attitude – hubris as the Greeks call it, got the best of me. I was a master at taking credit for work that was done well and equally distanced myself from any blame. If a team member made a mistake, I was quick to tell them off through e-mail and so whichever way they turned they knew they never had my support (did I say I was young?). Naturally I grew into the role and learnt the hard way – that not valuing, supporting, trusting and focusing on my team meant that they wouldn’t support me as well. This realization completely opened up a new world for me. It allowed me to value my team members’ contribution as the biggest asset and the biggest success contributors to my role. Ultimately, this transformed my relationship with them, which made work more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Leadership is NOT You

If you want to know a good leader, look behind them.  It is about your followers. Devoting your energy to inspiring and empowering others allows your people to grow. At the same time, it allows you as a leader to continue learning, growing and evolving. This requires a level of wisdom and emotional intelligence. I recently had the benefit of interacting with a senior government official and granted, I had prior prejudices. It is the way he related with his team that made him get the best out of them. He listened to their ideas, feedback, opinions and varied perspectives, and this left everyone feeling acknowledged and listened to.

A good leader knows what not to do and their success comes from constantly wanting to improve and grow, to learn and get better.

Pauline Macharia is a Director at Red Door Vision, a technology marketing firm. Email:

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