by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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Early experts in the field of leadership theorized that leadership was something that only a few, special, unique individuals had. Their theories focused more on leaders rather than the act of leadership. It followed the mythological ideals of hero worship. The assumption was that these ‘great men’ were simply born to be leaders and would be leaders no matter what. The early theories did not address or accept that the situation could impact the effectiveness of a ‘leader.’ What these early theorists failed to understand was that it is not about leaders, but rather the action of leadership.
Simply put, leadership is not a full time job. Individuals are not leaders twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and even on holidays. Individuals who show incredible leadership in a particular field or situation will not necessarily be leaders in other areas of their lives. An individual might be a leader in their work organization, but are probably not the leader of their church, social group, or family. So much about leadership depends entirely on the situation and the particular forms of leadership that are needed in those situations. Take any great leader in history – Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln – and think about whether they were a leader in every aspect of their life. Would Steve Jobs be a great leader on a NFL football team? Would Martin Luther King, Jr. be a great leader in the Armed Forces? Would Abraham Lincoln be a great leader at Qualcomm? The answer to all three is probably not.
Yet, in our organizations, we often expect individuals to be leaders in every aspect of the organization. Part of this flawed reasoning stems from the notion that we assume that people in management who have authority in the organization are the leaders. We assume that authority naturally comes with leadership, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Leadership arises from all levels of an organization, not just from those in management. It is one of the reasons why organizations are built with multiple levels of employees who can be sought out by the management to fulfill leadership roles in particular situations.
When we expect an individual to lead every aspect of the organization, then we are setting them up for failure. Their skills do not align with the leadership that is needed in every area of the organization, and thus soon this leader will be replaced with a new leader who everyone hopes will be able to lead on a full-time basis. This cycle will continue on until our organizations adjust our perspectives and expectations for leadership. Great organizations understand the role of the situation and know that one person cannot be relied on to be the leader all day, every day. There are particular people who are best at talking to the public, heading up a development project, leading staff development days, tackling a product problem, or working with clients.
The key is to adjust our perspective on leadership, by taking the pressure off of individual leaders and not expect them to be a full time leader. When leadership is distributed based off the situations where the leadership is needed, the organization is at its peak effectiveness. This is something to ponder in our organizations, and most importantly for us to ask ourselves, what are our expectations for leaders?