Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Leading, Laziness and both at once.

I've come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of leaders; those who lead because they understand this is the best way to help get things done, and those who lead because they don't want to work. Which one are you?

For some, leadership is a gift. It's a strange gift in a way. Most gifts make us happy. They are things we like. Leaders, though gifted, are compelled to lead and are terminally unhappy in any setting where they perceive poor leadership and where they are unable to lead. I'm using they, but could just as easily use I. (That's for Dee Clark, who is a leader and a friend, but who insists that in any meaningful conversation the most powerful pronoun is the first person. She's right about this. Try it. A subject for another day).

Leaders who are compelled to lead are born leaders, and leaders are always born. They are made up of a curious mix of personality traits that add together to create a leader. There is no way to teach someone or to force someone to lead. (It is important to point out that leadership and management are different. People can be trained to manage). Trying to force someone to lead is like trying to force someone to sing. Eventually they'll do it, but you will be sorry you forced them.

Gifted leaders are not always good leaders, or good managers. The underlying gifts do not in and of themselves create a good leader. Good leaders are constant learners. People who understand their gifting is both a blessing and a curse. A good leader is sensitive to the fact that without the right understanding it is relatively easy to lead people in the wrong direction. Good leadership takes work. Listening, understanding, teaching, a high degree of perception, an inside and outside focused view - all of these things are elements of good leadership.

For some reason our culture seems to be very good at creating leaders who lead simply because they don't want to do. These people may have some of the gifts of leadership, and they use these gifts to gain leadership positions within organizations of all kinds, but when it comes down to the process of actually leading they fall down. They fail to realize that effective leadership is not about the position. They fail to realize that true leaders lead from the bottom and not from the top. Leading from the bottom takes work. By and large, these people seem to have looked at the various possibilities for making a living and decided that the least amount of work seemed to have been done by people in the highest places. Our culture reinforces this view. In the same way that every sitcom in the last 20 years has showcased imbecilic parents, they have also shown poor managers. People who get paid more to do nothing. I want that job too.

Leaders in this category are the worst kind of people in my book. They are gifted and they choose not to use their gifts in the best way. Whether in the workplace, in charitable organizations or churches their impact is endemic. They leave demoralized, disenchanted, angry people behind and the impact of this can last a lifetime. Want to know if a leader is good or bad? Take a little time and talk to the people who are trying to lead with him or her. Are they motivated? Is their path clear? Do they feel empowered? Are the things they're doing consistent with the organizational mission? If so, chances are you've found a winner. But if they're frustrated, or unclear about their path; if they are lethargic, or if they are doing things that are antithetical to the mission of the organization, you've likely found a loser.

I've probably been a winner and a loser at different times in my life. At the moment, with little to lead, I'm probably nothing - and that makes me worse in many respects. Which one are you? In the process of leading are you taking the time to cultivate and empower those who have chosen to work with you? Are you a voracious learner? Do you read everything you can get your hands on with a critical eye to see what can be learned? About how to lead? About how to do the things your team is doing? Do you listen? Are you open to criticism? Do you encourage criticism?

This one thing is true ... What's next is up to you.

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