Have You Got That Leadership Thing Nailed?
The books, the articles, the interviews, the seemingly endless stream of #leadership posts… and they are seemingly endless…. “Have a vision!” “Shape a culture!” “Empower your people!” The leadership paradigm is frequently cast as leader vs. manager - leaders are awesome and 'managers' are pathetic, incompetent, or both, pathetically incompetent.
The Leadership Test
The problem with framing the question as leader vs. manager is that it misses the fundamental paradox of leadership itself. One can practice leadership. One can strive to be a leader. But one can’t be or become the leader you wish to be without people willing to follow you. Why? Because, if the people following you are only doing so because they have no choice, then they aren’t followers at all – they are hostages (or worse, slaves) doing what hostages do - following orders so as to protect themselves while they seek the first opportunity to escape.
The Follower Makes The Leader
Do your people believe that you’re a visionary or a moron? Do they think you have a plan or that you're just blindly stumbling? Do they feel that you respect and believe in them???Leadership can’t be learned from a list. Or validated in a mirror. Being in charge is easy - just tell people what to do. But if you want to become the leader you want to be, or simply an effective manager (which really isn't as bad as all that), you must learn from those inclined to follow you. What are they thinking? Where are their heads at? What would motivate, inspire and drive them to want to follow you? Trust me when I say that those who work for you have answers for all of these questions. If you don't know what their answers would be, you run the risk that your view of your leadership quality may be asynchronous with theirs.
A Simple Leadership Exercise
So here’s a fun exercise you can do the next time you see one of those leader vs. manager posts circulating on LinkedIn – and I assure you, you will see one. Show it to those beholden and/or dependent upon you. But, rather than asking them whether they think you meet the criteria shown, hostages will say anything to appease their captors, instead ask them what they think your vision is, or how they feel you empower them, or if they're considering jumping ship at the first opportunity... Do this for every question on that leadership list that you find so inspiring. Their answers may be hard to hear, and you may vehemently disagree with the positions and views stated. But if you are willing to listen, you might just discover where you fall on the Leader vs. Manger spectrum. Heck, you may even find you're closer to your aspiration than you know!
The Secret to Leadership
The real secret to leadership is no secret at all. You can call yourself whatever you want, but only those who work for you can call you a leader. And that won't happen - being a leader - unless you have a robust and open feedback loop enabling you to know whether you’re leading a team of followers eager to support you in your cause, or commanding a group of hostages waiting for their chance to escape.