Today, on my walk with my dog Enzo, I was wondering about the meaning of BEING a leader. How does one become a leader anyway? And, what is its significance for other people? How does it affect their lives?
These musings were prompted by the daily avalanche of descriptors of leadership—what it IS—provided by nearly every leadership adviser, coach, or trainer active on LinkedIn. None are the same, everyone has their own slant on it, and I’ll spare you my opinion on this trend.
As a change management practitioner, I’m much more interested to know what leaders DO. It occurred to me that in order to BE a leader, you’ll have to have followers, which raises another question, why would anyone want to follow you?
I very much doubt that the embodiment of any or all traits these leadership experts ascribe to a person in a leadership role will suffice for creating a following―you’re no deity or saint.
Also, I noticed that leadership experts differentiate between people in a leadership role and leaders. Some leadership experts consented to me that someone in a leadership position who performs poorly IS a leader alright, but not a GOOD leader. So, to be a leader, let alone a good leader, must be something ephemeral, something other worldly; a desirable epithet.
THIS I KNOW
People will follow a person who is on a mission to realize a clear and succinct purpose; the pursuit and accomplishment of something bigger and other than him or herself. Recently I learned about such people when reading Bo Burlingham’s book Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big. What these entrepreneurs have in common is drive, passion, compassion, purpose, love or as this is generally understood by all of them; Mojo! These entrepreneurs display many of the aforementioned leadership traits. Yet, they exhibit these traits to serve and advance their mojo, and not to check off some boxes in order to qualify as a “leader” in the eyes of, uhhh, of who again?
It’s the difference between playing golf on a golf course and hitting golf balls on the beach. On the golf course it’s about holing out on the green. It’s the difference between investing in your employees’ well-being because you feel responsible for them, and buying back your own stock because you believe there to be no better investment. It’s the difference between becoming your target audience’s obvious choice supplier, and making money for shareholders. Aren’t you making money when you enjoy a loyal following from your buyers who see no reason to buy from anyone else?
Why would any leadership expert believe one could create a following when all you say and do is ultimately aimed at increasing the business’ stock valuation, thereby increasing your own stock option plan? Right, because they believe the purpose of a business is to make money for shareholders (a.k.a. a fiduciary responsibility). Yet, money is the applause for a job well done. So, what IS the purpose of a business; what gives its purpose Mojo?
Then, how do leaders expect to create a following among employees who can be laid off by you at will at a moment’s notice, when their compensation and benefits are not commensurate with the demands of their job and yours their boss, and when pension plans can be ransacked to pay for your leadership failures? I’m just asking.
I understand, these people are not perceived as “good” leaders. Hence my question, what do good leaders actually DO? What is their conviction regarding the development of a business system that expresses Mojo? How does that show up in a business system’s design, structure or organization, implementation or operation, maintenance, and management? What do your trade-off decisions look like? Do you only care about collecting the golden eggs or are you willing to nurture the goose that lays those golden eggs? What do you as a leader stand for? What are your values and will you stand your ground and defend them when they come under attack by shareholders? Read up on it in Small Giants!
If you’d honestly appreciate the system—i.e. if you value every aspect of it, including the people that run the machine—it would show in your decisions. You wouldn’t do anything that undermines the system’s capability of realizing the purpose for which it was created—form follows function. That would demonstrate you have Mojo!
I believe THAT’s what leadership does and it cannot be captured in a simple silver-bullet, one-size-fits-all prescription or best practice. It takes appreciation for the magic that makes a business function as a singular, unique, integrated, and open system. I can describe it and explain it to you but I cannot understand it for you. A real leaders should understand that!
I’m here to help.
To read more, get a copy of my book The Root Cause: Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems.