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The Best Leaders Don't Do It Alone

To effect real change, you must make decisions with help from a trusted group of advisers, and aspire to benefit a community of people.
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Leaders, you should know that you'd be nowhere without your community.

The "Great Man theory," popularized by writer Thomas Carlyle in the 1840s, is based on the thought that influential individuals, or heroes, are solely responsible for the great things they accomplish for society due to their vast intellect, skill, and abilities.

But as John Coleman, co-author of the book Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders, writes in the Harvard Business Review, leadership is not a "solitary task."

"Most real change--even the change driven by [André Trocmé, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa]--is community-driven and community-focused," Coleman writes. "Some of the greatest accomplishments in business, politics, and culture have come not from individual initiative alone but from those working in, with, and for community."

Read below to find out why leaders don't lead alone.

Great odds require great counsel.

"When facing great odds or forced to deal with unusual or trying circumstances, few of us are fortified enough to act alone, without counsel or support," Coleman writes. He describes the importance of "True North Groups," a concept espoused by Harvard Business School professor Bill George. These groups are composed of peers and mentors who can be honest with each other, advise each other in the face of adversity, hold the team accountable to a set of shared values, and work together to get things done. Think of former President Abraham Lincoln's team of rivals, cabinet members who often held opposing views, who the president used to to great effect during times of tremendous poltiical turmoil.

Change requires a critical mass of supporters.

Once you've received counsel from trusted allies, it's time to act. But, as Coleman writes, "great leaders often realize they must act not in isolation but with community." Great men can lead organizations, countries, and companies, but not without support. "Few great changes happen until and unless a critical mass of community members collectively decides to own and execute the solution," he writes. "One of the easiest ways for a leader to fail is to forget that her power is limited in isolation and nearly endless if amplified throughout the collective intelligence and resources of the community."

Community must drive your mission.

The most successful leaders, activists, and companies have missions to help a community of people, from Martin Luther King rallying the civil right movement to Mahatma Gandhi unifying India--or even TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie's "One for One" program that provides shoes to children in need. "People don't like to follow leaders who are dedicated only to their own personal glory, but they will sacrifice everything for leaders and communities who give them a higher calling, a greater purpose," Coleman writes. "And whether in politics or business, leadership for community is almost always the most powerful."

IMAGE: cindy47452/Flickr
Last updated: Feb 6, 2014

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported in the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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