It’s hard to imagine that there is such a thing as a ‘bad’ leader, so, is that actually the case that we have ‘bad’ leaders running our organisations around the world. Before you think that today’s blog is a ‘let’s name and shame them’ exercise I want you to understand that we are all humans trying to do the very best we can.
Leaders are not born they are made and that takes many things, let’s explore this today. Welcome on in.
My coaching work takes me to many places and I say to many people who I come in contact with that I have the best job in the world, it is an absolute privilege to sit alongside many different leaders of all shapes and sizes, background and beliefs etc. Each and every one of them have their own definition of ‘Leader(ship)’ and wonderful stories on how exactly they ended up in a leadership position.
For those of you who are frequent readers to my career and leadership blogs you will have heard me say this many times before, ‘one-size does not fit all’ and that is very true when we talk about Leader(ship). Let’s face it there is no good or bad way to lead, there is no right or wrong way of becoming a leader.
If we look at where leadership comes from there are many different theories, a prehistoric West and North Germanic ‘laithjan’, which derived from ‘laitho’, meaning way or journey, from which comes the English word ‘load’. Then, ‘lead’ means ‘cause to go along one’s way’. In medieval times the word lead began to take more directions, the idea of being ‘in first place’. In fact, lead meaning ‘the front or leading place is from the 1560s. A modern version may come best from the Greek and Latin version such as ‘follow’ (i.e. follow with the eyes). From this, leading is about seeing and following one’s vision as much as it’s about consciously setting course or example for others.
I said in the opening paragraph that leaders are made, not born (what do you think?)
Leadership is a skill or in many cases a set of many different skills, all of which can be learnt through focus, dedication and good old fashion hard work. Look at a great actor (a performer). Great leaders must become and play their roles just like actors do (know when to be good cop and when to be bad cop, when to take the spotlight and when to hang back in the shadows). Look at a great golfer who can place the ball with military precision anywhere around the golf course, leaders must be able to look up from the here and now and sense the short term and long term future knowing how to traverse and how to cause correct.
Leadership is ultimately about self-discovery and getting comfortable in that. You cant keep doing what you did yesterday and think you are going to improve!
The process (if you can call it that) is about evolving and growing, allowing yourself as a leader to add new skills, thus over time you naturally evolve; remembering all the while that wisdom takes time.
Some leaders who I coach say to me that they sometimes wish they could go (back) to just being an employee rather than being the leader. When we go a bit deeper on that statement the common theme is they just want to be themselves rather than what others assume they should be.
Let’s imagine for a moment your typically organisation with its Board, CEO, Senior Leadership Group, different divisions etc. Who are the ones who rise up through the ranks into leadership positions? What in your humble view have they done to reach such lofty positions? Could it be
· Right place – Right time?
· Played the corporate game?
· Been in the organisation long enough to deserve the role?
Or have they simply just been extremely good at what they have been doing and therefore come to the attention of others?
As mentioned, some great people who are extremely competent in their positions, who have excelled and been seen by others as ‘the natural next leader’ are suddenly thrusted head first into the position of authority only to be sitting there with very little direction or support. That once great person, who is now seen as a leader is not excelling, and is now seen as not doing a good job and is therefore seen as a ‘bad leader’ but the question I ask is what has changed, what fundamentally has really changed? He or she has still the same name, they still have the same coffee/tea/food etc, they still have the same routine so why are they now seen as the ‘bad leader’!
I liken this to sports stars, they put in the hard work practicing daily their craft, they are over time spotted by the coach as ‘one to watch out for’ they start to get others wanting to play on the same team as them, they start to bring their thoughts and voice to team meetings, they are then given the captaincy of the team (but) then the wheels start to come off, the team starts to lose games, there is disconnect in the dressing rooms, everyone turns on the captain and blames him/her for the failings and here lies the very important question, did that person want to be the captain or did he/she just want to play the game?
Don’t get me wrong some wonderful sports stars go on to be exceptional captains but just like in business not all great people (want) to be leaders. As an organisation, as a board don’t forget to really get under the hood and ask that person (who you see) as the next leader, ask them if they deeply want to be a leader, it’s a hard place to excel, it’s a lonely place to work, yep you still are still very much part of the team but the buck really does stop with you and if you go into it with no support, no direction and no help things may well start to derail. Leadership is a wonderful job, empowering others onto greater things, shaping the future, just look around us all to see first hand how leaders are changing the world. If it is your life dream to be a leader and you are approached to take on such responsibilities I urge you to jump in with both feet and do the very best you can do.
When we stop and think about it, before we strive for someone else’s definition of how to be a good leader, it seems only right that we learn how to clearly see who and where we ourselves are first. Then we can truly be the great leader we want to be. I recently had the pleasure of welcoming Rob Campbell (previous Chairman of the Year and NZ Order of Merit) onto one of our Educational Leadership Video Series and we spoke for about 45mins on ‘Authentic Leadership and how leadership needs to be across all parts of a modern day business (you can check out our video here)
As we conclude our blog today, I want to stress that there are no bad leaders, people don’t wake up every day to make things worse for themselves or the organisations they lead, they don’t want to fail, they want to do a good job and leave the seat better than when they took on the role. Given the support, time and tools to shine is what they need and this along with your encouragement will help them be a truly great leader.
Leadership doesn’t need to be hard, you don’t need to hold loudest megaphone or demand the brightest spotlight on you to be a truly great leader!
If you are a leader looking to improve your leadership I have specific programs for CEOs, Senior Executives and High Potential Leaders that help you, you can view these here. If you are an organisation looking at succession planning and want to discuss how to help your future leaders’ transition into their next leadership position then do get in touch with me for a confidential conversation.
Look after yourself and each other,
Roud Career Coaching
+64 21 375630