Charles F. Kiefer

If leadership is not primarily a set of skills and behaviors, what is it? How about this: leadership is a conversation about truly important things between people who come to care about those things. As my colleague Eliot Daley says: Leaders give people permission to “care out loud.” We study what great leaders said, because what they said is important and the fact that they said something is important. But what their followers said in return is equally important. And so is what those followers said to each other in response to the leader’s statements. Perhaps the most important conversation is the one that is subsequently stimulated among followers when the leader is not there at all (although the subsequent discussion may still have been framed by him or her). Said another way, the challenge and work of leadership is to engage people in conversations that they want to have about what matters to them, thus enabling them to evoke, affirm, and align their caring.

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