In these challenging times, many people are asking “where is the leadership we need?” Well to answer that question we have first to agree on what we are looking for, then see if we can find it.
Unfortunately, the traditional model of “leadership” characterizes those in charge, often older, often male, and whether they make us happy or not. It places an inordinate amount of focus and importance on the person in a role. In truth, it is a formula that leaves us wanting.
In truth, leadership is not a person or a position. It is an activity. That’s the good news. Being an activity means a couple of important things are also true;
- It can be learned (I always was suspicious because those who opined “leaders are born not made” happened to believe they were among the gifted)
- Everyone, regardless of rank or position, has the same opportunity to exercise it.
Those are awesome possibilities but they still focus on “a person.” In leading change we often say – “the people with the problem are the problem – and the solution.” If you believe this, then it suggests a different role than “generator of all good ideas” or flag bearer for the person in charge. Instead, it suggests there is a need to organize, alert, challenge, awaken the “people with the problem.” Heifetz and Linsky labeled this “mobilizing.” A useful term but in need of yet more clarification. Mobilize to do what? To go where? How did we distinguish this activity from rabble-rousing and trouble-making?
It’s hard for most of us to think about “Leadership” without our own best ideas at the heart of the matter. In fact, Leadership is about “mobilizing people to narrow the gap between their current reality and their aspiration.” That’s their reality and their aspiration. It is not your reality and your aspiration. If it is yours, the likely response is compliance at best – and more limiting – requires your continuous power, control or presence to maintain. Its limitations are self-evident but rarely heeded.
As I talk to people in authority positions it is rare to find someone who is able to embrace and maintain this frame of the present situation. The pressure in the system on the people in charge to resolve problems and restore a sense of order is immense.Often times the stronger they assert themselves the more like “a leader” they feel. It’s a very seductive trap – but a trap nevertheless.
We invite you to ask yourself:
- If you are “exercising leadership” what are the conditions of “their (the people who aspire to lead) current reality” and “their aspirations?”
- What are doing or not doing to build activity, curiosity, and progress?
- If you step back from the activity in your organization – where are the most useful and progressive ideas coming from?
- Who are the “people with the problem” in your situation?
We don’t see enough Leadership in the world. Perhaps you are up for helping change that for the better?
We wish you well.