Leadership Requires The Courage To Fight For Real Changes

April 24, 2011

In a brilliant but largely unnoticed book, “Leadership for the Twenty-First Century,” Joseph Rost offers one of my favorite ways to think about leadership:

Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their shared purpose (p. 102).

When I include this concept in talks to groups or my MBA classes, I usually focus on relationship and shared purpose and spend little time highlighting real changes. In his book, Rost says the following about real changes (p. 103):

1. Intend means that leaders and followers purposefully desire certain changes
2. Real means that the changes the leaders and followers purposefully intend must be substantive and transforming
3. Leaders and followers do not have to produce changes in order for leadership to occur. They intend changes in the present; the changes take place in the future if they take place at all
4. Leaders and followers intend several changes at once

Our words and actions over time show our true intentions. Real leaders – those focused on real change – never veil their true intentions because they understand that right relationships are built on reciprocal trust, and we simply don’t trust people with opaque, corrupt, or selfish intentions.

Reveal your intentions and the purpose behind them and you will create division, not unity. Leadership drives a wedge between those that hunger for excellence and those that grow fat from the comfortable mediocrity of the status quo. Disguised as leaders, laggards will fight hard to maintain their fiefdoms.

Leadership requires the courage to fight every battle and the wisdom to realize you don’t have to win every battle to win the war for real changes. Leadership fights hard to move the standard up the mountain and prepares others for both the glory of planting the flag at the summit, and for the hard work of coming down from the pinnacle and identifying the next mountain to climb.

Relationships and purpose expose leadership lies and separate real changes and honest intentions from pretense and venality. If you love the nature of leadership, consider carefully these words from Rost:

Change is the most distinguishing element of leadership, and if the integrity of that word is not preserved, people cannot possibly distinguish leadership from other social processes. Preserving the integrity of the word change is accomplished in this definition by modifying it with the word real. Intending pseudo changes will not qualify. Make-believe, sham, fakery, pretense, posturing, masquerading, hypocrisy, simulation, and other dishonest behaviors that suggest the leaders and followers are not serious about intending real changes are unacceptable in applying this definition. Only when leaders and followers actually intend real changes is a leadership relationship possible. (p. 115).

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Comments (6)

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  1. Jim Taggart says:

    Bret, you hit on two key words when it comes to leadership: “SHARED PURPOSE.” Too often overlooked by those in so-called leadership positions who think it’s their way or the highway.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I’m big on shared purpose, Jim. Most leaders think that getting to “shared” mean they think of the purpose and then tell others what it is. But shared purpose can only arise from right relationship. Leaders let the purpose become clear, then they are the main people to give voice to that purpose. Thanks! Bret

  2. Jay Stearley says:

    You both are absolutely correct about “Shared Purpose.” Leadership teams must get this right.

    Similarly, talking change and actually bringing it about are two different stories. Addressing the reality of “intended” and “real” change is paramount. Powerful quote by Rost.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Jay! Change is messy, and never easy. There is no formula, no prescription. Intentions shape relationships, and it’s from the relationship that leadership get’s its transformational power. Thanks! Bret

  3. Roger Scime says:

    I’ve never thought about leaders/followers in such b-school terms (no disrespect intended, Bret), but the gist is something I recognize from battles in arenas than boardrooms: mostly among political activists regarding agendas.

    I have a question, however: I’m not certain that I understand this: “Reveal your intentions and the purpose behind them and you will create division, not unity.”

    Unless you were being ironic, doesn’t it contradict the rest of the post? Especially when compared with the the sentence that follows?

    This is nice: “Disguised as leaders, laggards will fight hard to maintain their fiefdoms.” The alliteration is particularly appropriate.

    My apologies for the parsing; I realize these comment areas are intended to encourage discussions about ideas—not to critique content. I started typing with the purpose of comparing business leadership to political leadership; then, the ADHD got hold of me.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Why would I write something with the intention of contradicting myself, Roger? I think the folks in my audience looking for leadership content understand what I mean. I know from experience, as do many others, exactly what I mean about the fierce opposition that results from being clear about an intentional and purposeful desire for real change. Thanks, Bret