You’ve probably read one of those leadership articles already today, before you got to this one, and I bet it left out the most important thing.
Those articles tell you to be a great communicator, be able to assess objectives and risks, trust and delegate, invest in innovation, push the envelope, believe in the win-win and use other tricked up, strangely worded adjectives to describe what on earth you’re mean to be doing in order to make you the best leader ever.
Sadly, it’s just not that easy.
Despite the avalanche of leadership reading matter that smothers the business media, one of the biggest complaints about work is that many people just aren’t good leaders. And they often can’t manage their way out of a wet paperbag either.
When you look at the bigger picture you can see that often it’s not the fault of the people but because of the structure of the workplace.
Seriously, let’s consider what this frothy media-hogging thing is in the first place.
What is leadership meant to be anyway?
The definition of leadership is scant itself ;
‘The action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this’
‘The state or position of being a leader.’
For some leaders this definition would mean either a place of greatness. But to others it describes the location, just off the cliff, that the lemmings call home.
Let’s remember the Peter Principle. That management gem where people are promoted to their level of incompetence? That pearl of wisdom.
In itself this means that people are judged on the ability to do their previous job when being considered for their next job.
All of a sudden you may find yourself in a job where you suddenly need to take on the role of being a leader where previously it was not in your job description. It often also requires you to take on the management of people, whether you’re good at it or not.
The biggest issue regarding leadership is how promotion and remuneration are structured. In a nutshell, the higher up you go the requirement to lead becomes a pre-requisite otherwise you aren’t in line for the big bucks.
For many, who previously were quite able in their jobs (delivering, contributing or doing just fine) this added skills set becomes a difficult and unwanted burden. But what do you do?
Here is the bit they don’t talk about enough; your continued advancement within your career or role will often depend on your ability to eventually be able to manage and thus lead. And let’s be clear, management and leadership are two different things. So you’re trying to get both right.
Through my simple view, I see management without leadership as a very cold and dysfunctional scenario leaving people to go home to their spouses and spend their evening meal dissecting the failings of their boss.
No one is winning here. But no-one is addressing this big component of why so many people seem to be struggling with leadership.
Some people are born leaders, others are reading the material and getting good at it, others are taking the ‘fake it till you make it’ route and others should just stay home and stop inflicting themselves on others.
Step back from this and look at the reality of how this affects the workplace? It’s a bottleneck for productivity, personal and professional development and overall workplace harmony.
What if we could reward people, financially and with appropriate professional opportunities, that align to their true talents? What if people could contribute without the burden of leadership and just do what they do best?
What if we put the responsibility to manage and lead with those who were great at this, or could be developed into this role; those who desired the responsibility?
But further, what if we could allow people to lead, yet not manage directly?
It’s not an easy proposition, yes I know. But something isn’t working for many people regardless of which side of the coin they’re on; the one struggling to bring a team with them, or those who are looking to be led but feel like they’re in a maze.
The link between leadership and career progression needs to change. Yes it’s hard but the overlay is potentially affecting our ability to gain the very best from people, as ‘themselves’.
The leadership articles are not going to go away anytime soon and many offer a great deal of insight. But we all can’t be good at leading and it shouldn’t be expected of each and every one of us.
The real leadership will be found in those companies who recognise people’s true skills and promote them and pay them accordingly whether they’re leading or not.