“Leadership is your choice, not your title.” –Stephen R. Covey
Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m just not a leader”?
“Fair enough,” you might think. Some people are just not into that leadership thing. Perhaps they have other talents or interests. Or they are reluctant to take responsibility, or afraid of not leading well.
Not so fast.
Everyone leads something at some time (whether poorly or well). They may lead at home, or with friends, at school, on a project, or at work. And our world desperately needs better leadership—in companies, communities, families, governments, nonprofits, education institutions, and more.
Leadership is massively misunderstood. Don’t confuse leadership with power, or authority, or someone’s title. Leadership isn’t really about one person at the top of an organizational pyramid making all the decisions with everyone else always following. Leadership is better thought of as a group dynamic that ebbs and flows among various people in a group at different times. This is hard for people to grasp, because the traditional notion of leadership is so deeply engrained. Focus on the act of leadership, not “the leader” who holds a certain position (who may or may not be leading).
Effective leadership encompasses other skill sets, including managing and following. This can be confusing for people, so here’s a brief summary:
- Leadership is concerned with vision, strategy, change, inspiration, and more. (And what we call “triple crown leadership” focuses on building excellent, ethical, and enduring organizations.)
- Management is concerned with budgets, administration, organizing, directing, controlling, and more.
- Followership, good followership, is loyal, committed, uses initiative, delivers results, and is accountable.
Here’s the key point:
Great leadership is a dynamic blend of leading, following, and managing.
Sometimes the leader leads; sometimes she manages; sometimes she follows, letting others lead. All three are needed. Yes, leaders lead, and they manage, and they follow at times.
Not everyone will choose to lead always, or often. Once we disentangle the act of leadership from the related but not identical factors like power, authority, and title, it frees us up to see that many people step up at times to lead, to express a point of view that challenges the group, or to state, even as a “voice of one,” that they are not comfortable with a proposed or ongoing course of action.
When a parent says to her child that she can’t do something, regardless of the tantrums of the child, that’s leadership.
When an intern challenges a decision by managers on ethical grounds, that’s leadership.
Rosa Parks was a leader without title or authority. So was Helen Keller, Mother Teresa, and Alice Paul. Gandhi and Nelson Mendela were leaders before they had any political position.
Core Concept: Everyone leads at times (with our without formal authority, and sometimes reluctantly). The world needs better leadership from all of us.
Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek, father and son, are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards.