James Strock, Founder of Serve to Lead Group and bestselling author of four books on leadership, came to the MAPC speaker series to talk about the history of leadership and what all great leaders have in common.
To begin, Strock addressed the disruptive nature of technology and used the Charles Dickens quote “best of times and worst of times” to describe leadership and communication as it relates to technology. He made the point that technology has given individuals more power than ever before. Because of this, institutions have shifted from being centralized (relying on one individual to make decisions) to decentralized (relying on a team environment). This decentralization is empowering but also more demanding.
Next Stock said, “So what is leadership? I would argue, fundamentally, it is influencing people. It’s not telling people what to do. That’s not leadership. It’s about influencing people and influencing them through communication.”
Following this, Strock gave a number of historical examples of leaders he finds inspiring and ones who have had an immense world impact. To name a few:
- David Lloyd George. “The greatest war leader of World War 1 and a spatacular public communicator.”
- Charles de Gaulle. Self-created communicator that had an immense world impact.
- Margaret Thatcher. Not a born communicator; also self-created. She had actor Laurence Olivier teach her to speak.
- Woodrow Wilson. He was trained for leadership. His father was a minister.
- John F Kennedy. Modeled himself after Winston Churchill. He adapted his speaking and clothing style to be similar to Churchill.
- Barack Obama. Master of the “set speech.” He also used social media to influence people.
As a final point, Strock summarized what all great leaders have in common to be the following three things:
- Vision. A vision is something people can relate to; it takes people out of themselves and unifies communities. Great leaders use vision to communicate and bring people together.
- Personification. A great leader personifies their vision. Their personal nature and human characteristics represent their vision and their personal life is in alignment with their public life.
- Authenticity. The word authentic comes from being the “author of yourself.” It also means being reliable and consistent. Great leaders are consistent with their vision and communicate authentically.
After this summary, Strock opened up the conversation to the room and engaged the group in lively conversation around leadership and communication. MAPC students talked about leaders they admire and spoke about personal experiences with communication, leadership, and the digital age. In the end, everyone agreed that it will be interesting to see how the new generation of decentralized organizational structure will play out in roles of leadership.