The Need to Lead
No. Nope. No way! Not every outstanding manager, high potential individual contributor, or other corporate, business or non-profit, over-achiever is cut out to be a “leader.” In fact, it would be fantastic if we stopped throwing that word around everywhere, slapping it on folks who are in a position of influence but yet, can’t get reigns on their own interpersonal skills, let alone a long-term vision.
Leadership, while not wholly elusive and un-trainable, is, to a good degree, a calling. I am a firm believer that leadership is taken, not given. People who lead, have the need to lead. They can’t NOT lead! (Sorry about the double negative.) It’s almost painful for them to stand by, wait or watch when they’ve got skin in the game.
I’ve watched the dynamic of self-selection happen. When executives or professionals in an organization are given a clear understanding of what leaders do in an organization (versus what superior – read: a level of expert execution – managers do) there comes a moment of clarity where a person will take an honest look at their own interest, drive and ability as well as their willingness to take risks and drive toward, or understanding of a vision (be it for themselves for their organization, department, etc.) and realize one of two things (sometimes both):
- I’m a darn good manager but really have no drive or interest to be the leader.
- Oh, so this is what my boss should be doing.
And look at what we are asking leaders to do…the job description is daunting! I’m with Gary Hamel (Syndication of Leadership) on this. The skill set is almost untenable – especially for so many people who for all intents and purposes are really just great managers at best (perhaps with a healthy dose of self-importance to boot.) Let us not confuse leadership with driving accountability and delivering the goods.
True leaders have the need to lead. They seek the know-how, have lost the fear and can see a way forward – and they excel at this no matter where on the org chart they’re located.
Yes, you can teach managers all day long about the tools of the leadership trade – I’m not saying to give up the ghost – they will certainly be better for it. You can provide all the skills and behaviors we’ve dissected from our notions of leadership:
- authenticity (Forbes)
- sense making and invention (Forbes)
- questioning (Forbes)
- conversation – ability to dialog (Harvard Business Review)
- ability to anticipate (Harvard Business Review)
But what you cannot instill is the need.
It’s just like the need for speed. Some folks just can’t take their foot off the gas – because they just know where to go and how to get there.