Speak With Confidence

What is Leadership?

In CC Manual, Speech #6: Vocal Variety, Speeches on April 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm

by Linda Li

Linda Li gave an interesting speech about leadership and its potential misconceptions. She used her earliest concept of leadership (learned from her family) and showed, using specific examples from her own life, the process by which she shifted her perception to the leadership model she values today.

She didn’t write out her speech and recite it – rather, she used the following as notes to refer to when needed. (But, as with most heartfelt speeches, she barely referred to her notes at all.)

  1. What is leadership?

I’d like to ask you to close your eyes and ask the following questions in your mind:

    • Who is the leader in your family?
    • Who is the leader at your work?
    • Who is the greatest politician leader that you really admire?

What’s the first impression that they bring to your mind? Is it power, respect, or taking control?

  1. Leadership = power, respect? NO

As a teenager, I read biographies of great leaders. I interpreted great leaders to be above all other people, powerful, and controlling everything.

But recently, through observation of things surrounding me; I realized I was so wrong! Leadership is more about motivating other people to grow and achieve the common goal.

The leaders from Toastmasters are excellent examples. We have very great leaders here, not because they have power to collect the dues, but because they help other members conquer their fears and improve their speaking skills. At my workplace, I’ve been seeing that a great manager helps employee achieve their own goals while contributing to the company.

Leadership = helping a group of people to achieve common goal

  1. What are the barriers blocking you from becoming a great leader?

Barrier 1: Overemphasizing Personal Goals

True leadership is about making other people better as a result of your presence—and making sure your impact endures in your absence. That doesn’t mean leaders are selfless. They have personal goals—to build status, a professional identity, and a retirement plan, among other things. But the narrow pursuit of those goals can lead to self-protection and self-promotion, neither of which fosters other people’s success.

I once heard a friend say, “I don’t want to work with that manager anymore. Everything he does is to secure his position.” At first I thought, Yeah, that’s what a leader is supposed to do. But my friend continued, “So because this guy is so self-serving, a lot of my co-workers are applying for jobs somewhere else.” Something clicked for me in that – I started to think that maybe to be a good leader, overemphasizing personal goals could do more harm than good.

Barrier 2: Protecting Your Public Image

Another common impediment to leadership is being overly distracted by your image—that ideal self you’ve created in your mind. Sticking to the script that goes along with that image takes a lot of energy, leaving little left over for the real work of leadership.

For example: as a leader, you may want to build a friendly manner. But a friendly image may restrict you from asking tough questions sometimes. Or maybe you want to build a no-nonsense, tough leadership image. But that will make you unapproachable, blocking people from communicating with you.

A good leader needs to draw their image from within, and be flexible with it – being tough when a situation calls for it, and approachable when an employee has an idea or an issue they’d like to discuss. Being a slave to a rigid public image is not leading – it’s more like following a script, and doesn’t foster anyone’s growth.

Barrier 3: Going It Alone

Another barrier is going it alone. In my family, my dad plays the big role of leader. The whole family listens to him, because he supports not only our small family, but his sibling’s families as well. He is highly respected, but I think if he would only listen to other family members’ suggestions, he would be a happier, stronger leader.

 Linda concluded with an appeal to the audience to rethink how we see leaders – if we share any of her misconceptions, she suggests we take a close look at the style of leadership that helps us grow, and try to model our own leadership on that, not on some fixed image of what we think leadership is supposed to look like.


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