What is leadership to me? This is a question I am asked frequently based on my workplace experience, my education and learning's, and my business.
I started leading from a very young age. Perhaps a bit informally to begin; although my Grade 1 teacher was pretty clear on the expectations, she had of me when she left the room and put me in charge. Just make sure everyone keeps their head down on their desk and behaves.
In charge. Interesting concept in leadership.
Suddenly, authority is given, and the individual becomes the leader. They have the title, so they are in charge of everything. Telling people what to do. What not to do. How to do it. When to do it. Where to do it.
Or so we believe; that what makes a leader is the title. The title that is coming, too often, because of promotion into leadership after succeeding in the role. Current business practices include rewarding top performers with promotions into leadership.
“Hey!!! You’re awesome at this job so you should be the leader. Teach everyone what you know so they can also be top performers and we can crush our goals.”
And in no time at all, the once top performing team member becomes a leader who is crumbling under stress, who is struggling to keep members of their team, who is avoiding difficult conversations, and who is behaving with abrupt-ness, abrasive-ness, avoidant-ness, and all around inappropriate-ness.
Leadership to me is beyond title. It doesn’t require promotion. It’s natural for many and can be learned by many. Those who possess both natural talents that are nurtured, become our greatest leaders!
Leadership isn’t about education either. Very rarely do we train individuals to be leaders BEFORE giving them the leadership role. In fact, many leaders don’t receive any training in actual leadership. They receive training in time management and delegation, setting expectations and performance management processes, hiring practices and how to interview. Sure, these are responsibilities in leadership. Tasks to be exact.
Just not L-E-A-D-E-R-S-H-I-P.
In my experience, leadership is a combination of elements rooted in emotional intelligence. This combination produces an individual that cares about others to coach them to greater levels of success than they even knew they had. Cares about others to show up authentically in all their strengths and weaknesses. Cares about others to carefully communicate with passion and clarity so that all are compelled toward a unified purpose and goal. Cares about others to effectively create the space where failure and learning and risk and reward are the cornerstone for performance by easily admitting their mistakes, taking risks with intention to fail so that learning can happen.
At 7 years old, in Grade 1, I didn’t have this combination of skills. Yet. I had some of them naturally. Others I needed to polish, in the common goal that all true leaders have – to build a deep toolkit of skills needed to best serve every individual I had the privilege to lead.
I have deep gratitude for ALL of the individuals who chose to follow. From them I learned the greatest of lessons in leadership and in life. I carry those lessons with me.