I love helping others see what is real and what is possible. In my business of helping, I find myself chiming in on business problems that range from setting up systems to project management to breaking down complex problems into simple consumable information to effective messaging to marketing targeting to execution channels and management consultation.
There is so much variety in the problems I’m presented and so many ways in which my unique experience can help others. I’m never short of an exciting problem to set my mind to and, thank God, that I can usually shed light upon a feasible solution. Recently I was talking with one of my clients about the problem of leadership. Our discussion surrounded the idea of promoting a current employee to a leadership position and risking that this employee may or may not have the skills to lead.
Of course I recommended testing and training for this individual. I offered evaluation based on the inputs presented. My client and I mulled over a number of other possibilities that would afford the opportunity to reward this employee with a well-deserved promotion. Our first discussion was deep and rich with nuance and complexity. Our second meeting on this subject was a discussion of the implementation of some of the recommendations put forth in the previous discussion. In that second discussion, I sensed anxiety with the process. The process set forth might take months, especially at this time of continually changing business circumstances.
After the meeting was over, I began to think more about the problem presented and the idea of leadership. If only there was a quick test to find out if a person can take on the role of leader. Maybe a DNA test to know if someone can jump from manager to leader. Of course, if that existed, it probably would have already been developed and mass produced.
My contemplative nature did come across a thought that might be helpful. I took a rudimentary approach to the problem and found an answer that may deserve some consideration. I like to break down the words we use to help define what it is we are really talking about. Take for instance the word leadership. It is made up of two words. Now I’m not referring to the Latin, Greek, or any other language conversion. I’ll stick with the surface words to make it easier to understand and to stay on topic.
The two words are “leader” and “ship.” Now the leader of the ship, often called a captain, was the first most obvious word meaning that came to my mind. That did not help because that person is already a leader. My attention turned to the actual ship in the lead position of a fleet of other ships. I imagined a magnificent vessel on the open sea with a multitude of ships following along. In the front position, the lead ship is forging through the waters. Sometimes the waters are calm and at other times the ocean is a chaotic clash of violence and treachery.
The lead ship may have a general idea of where to go and may even have stories from other lead ships from past journeys. If the weather is bad and the waves are high, the risk is first on the lead ship. If the waves break it apart, the ships following may have a chance to escape. If the lead ship survives, the ships behind can take similar actions, you know, follow the lead, and also survive. Still, it is the ship in the lead that takes the risk. And while there may be a whole fleet following the lead ship, it remains alone in that lead position. The safety in numbers is nowhere to be found.
An essential quality of a leader is the ability to understand that leadership will often be a lonely position. It will be you and only you that will face the decisions of go/no go, hire/fire, spend/save, and in some cases live/die. Understanding that it will ultimately be you and you alone that will make the decisions will put you in a position of making a choice. The choice to lead.
The choice to lead is most definitely situational much like the ability to lead people can be situational. The truth is everyone of us has some kind of leadership decision inside of us. If you take care of a pet you have made the decision to lead in the area of taking care of your pet. The bigger the leader the bigger the platform. If you run a company that employs people, it is your decision to lead and make important decisions for that company.
When a person makes the decision to lead they will open themselves up to the realization that they are mostly, if not always, alone. Sure, they will have followers but followers are not soul mates. As simple of a concept it is, Facebook got it right. Followers will unfollow you with the click of a virtual button. If a person cannot make the choice to know that their decisions will be their decisions alone and the consequences of those decisions will lay on them.
Who’s the leader? If you’re contemplating the idea if a person can lead in your organization, increase the situations in which they have to make a choice to lead. Give that person the chance to explore uncharted territory. Give them the opportunity to take some people with them on the journey. Give them the latitude to perform with no obvious protection. See if they take the plunge by hopping the lead ship, telling the crew to push up the sail, catch the first wind and make the decision to explore new territory. You can do this in a controlled environment, an incubator if you will, to find out if the person has the first essential attribute for leadership in the situation you propose. If the person continually takes the lead position, the rest can likely be nurtured.
The number of books written about leadership seems infinite. Everyone has a theory or a 10-step process or a list of attributes or some simple box in which to put this most complex position. Personally, I’m an all-in participant in the Servant-Leader model given to us by Jesus Christ and adopted for secular consumption and made popular by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay called “Essentials.”
Yes, I believe in Servant Leadership with a side of Situational Leadership developed by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hershey. I also believe you can find examples of this type of leadership in Jesus. But there is one characteristic of leadership that is always present but often goes unmentioned. It is an absolute necessity for the idea of leadership to begin. The personal choice to lead.