Go to @twitter and search for #leadership and plan on spending the next four days with no sleep reading what’s there. Oh, and that won’t give you enough time to finish. We are a leadership-sensitive business community. Books, articles, chats, posts, etc. are aplenty regarding the need for, the stability desired in and the call for leadership. It’s needed in business, at home, in our houses of worship, for our town little league programs, for our school boards and beyond.
The marketplace is ravenous for leadership-directed material. I have been known to write about it. I have been known to coach leaders on leadership. I lead one of the premier HR consulting firms – Humareso. I like leadership.
Sadly, however, over the past decade, I hear many complaining that our need for leadership is thwarted by a lack of desire for people to step into leadership. Let me be clearer. We’ve all experienced leaders who had no business being in positions of leadership. They were cruel, cold, uninspiring, lacked vision or narcissistic. Many couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag let alone lead anyone anywhere (ok, so I have some strong feelings about bad leaders, I know).
Perhaps because of those bad leaders, we have many who could perform the role of leader who won’t do it. They’ve seen the bloody battle that erupts around leaders. They see the accolades, sure, but they see the bathroom wall writing, too. It’s a reputation-killer in our society to be a leader. Can we honestly blame people for not wanting to lead?
Or perhaps it’s Marvel’s fault. We hold up high the myth of the super hero who can come in and lead effectively with character and right action. Those movies are blockbusters, but do they set us up to think that all leadership should look like Captain America? It’s a fantasy. Could it be that our fascination with that genre impacts our willingness to jump into leadership? Could be.
So what do businesses do? They are so starved for leadership that money and willingness become tied together. Begging someone to lead and paying that person handsomely is our charge to motivate. I agree that our leadership should be compensated for the skill sets, aptitudes and knowledge they possess. However, if we bypass those qualities in favor of willingness to hold a position, we belittle the intention of leadership. Instead of influencers towards mission, we box bodies into short-term, high-paying figureheads. That doesn’t seem too appealing.
If someone has some of the qualities necessary to build upon for a leadership role, it’s our job to help coach them into the role, not scare them off. Promoting people because you can is not a successful succession plan. True leadership is of a different path. Leadership is about influence, yes, but deeper than that, a leader inspires others to push and reach for their excellence individually and corporately. A leader rallies people toward a challenge or lasting goal.
One of our passions is to ridicule and belittle our leadership. We leave them little room to grow from their mistakes. The title of leader does not and should not imply perfection. No one fully arrives once given a role like that. Regardless of your political persuasion, look at the way we’ve beaten up our last six presidents (and please, don’t send me any articles as to why Bush or Obama or Clinton are more awful than others). I wouldn’t want any of my kids to be president, and that’s a sad statement.
If I were president, I would receive a barrage of criticism just like they did. And while that’s on a grand scale, the smaller version is just as powerful in our workplaces. It’s why we struggle to find people willing to step up. And so our succession plans move from who is able to who is willing. There is a vast difference between the two.
Some of you reading this know I am talking to you. You know that you have the ability to lead, but won’t jump in. You’ve seen how other leaders have been devoured by their own. I know it’s not pretty. Leadership, however, is a privilege that costs. It’s not that you will become a leader and now be free from ridicule because you’ll have them read this blog. That’s not what will work.
What will work is your relentless pursuit of excellence, your drive to encourage those you lead towards the mission and your creative exuberance towards the vision. Some will not like to see this type of person leading them. It’s too active, too forward thinking, too expectant. I would say that’s too bad for them. You are made from deeper and richer stuff. Don’t fear leadership and what might come with taking it; rather, fear what a lack of leadership will do for a spirit such as yours.