Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Leadership is action, not position

Leadership is action, not position (a wise man once said, Donald McGannon, I think). Leaders must lead ALL including those who would not follow willingly. The good leader, or maybe just better leaders, do this fairly gracefully. These folks learn how to demand respect by behaving in a way that even the most unwilling cannot fault their leaders. Other leaders, perhaps those that perceive any leadership role as power and not responsibility, wield their leadership in such a way that engenders animosity, distrust and a sense of cog-ness. That is to say, that all workers are cogs to be replaced unceremoniously at the whim of their leaders or supervisors.

I have had the opportunity in my professional career to be an informal supervisor as well as a formal supervisor. It is often the case that one person is a sort of a natural leader of colleagues that emerges to steward a project, realignment or just in general keep the team moving forward. It is from these informal experiences that I learned most about leadership. I learned what it takes to rally the troops, organize team work and bring along the unwilling. I try to instill the sense of mutual self-interest whenever possible. Trying to convince all team members of the importance of the goal without a connection to the personal pay off is often a futile exercise. As this kind of leader, I discovered the importance of feeling integral as opposed to trying to get my colleagues to feel like replaceable cogs. I also gained experience building consensus around the idea of mutual self-interest. When everyone feels he/she has a stake in the end result, everyone is more willing to give it his/her all.

I have tried as a supervisor in the more formal setting to keep all of these lessons in mind. Mostly, I believe I have succeeded, however, I am not always proud of my leadership style. Like all people, I have bad days. I am short or impatient or just want to ask for what I want and get it. I can say, however, that I never felt the need to force anyone to quit because I didn't feel I could manage him/her. I took my job as the manager to mean that I was responsible for making my colleagues feel successful in their jobs. Watching others try to force out anyone who may not look favorably on a new manager has been very frustrating and disheartening to me. Why have I tried so hard to learn to be a good supervisor? If all one has to do is get rid of anyone who might not like you, why didn't I learn that lesson? Why do we allow inadequate, ineffective and incompetent people to have power?

Those are rhetorical questions that I hope will illustrate my frustration, but I am willing to listen to your thoughts on why this may be true.