In an age inundated by forces of political correctness, we have gotten away from the perspectives of what leadership means. Many great books have been written about leaders, and my personal favorite is Good To Great but there are thousands of others that speak of leadership. Better than anyone, John Maxwell and Warren Bennis have defined leadership for decades.
These books and experience itself validate that certain characteristics and behaviors that are essential in leaders who really make a difference. They almost always arrive at the same conclusions. The proven descriptors of best leaders usually include initiative, decisiveness, vision, calculated risk taking, problem solving, catalysts of change, people and communication skills and very importantly, accountability.
No one has ever said that these characteristis are more important than others or that people who lack these do not contribute important things to success and results, but only that the most influential and successful leaders have them. Somehow, over time and a human resources paradigm that came to a conclusion that EVERYONE has these traits, or could have them with the “right” training, the concept and appreciation for leadership has been diminished. In my article, “Your Expectations are Too High,” we discuss the pressures on leaders to “lower” their expectations for themselves and for others. This is a direct result of the emphasis of the training industry to “Leaderize” everyone, regardless of the expense, redundancy, and lack of results.
Look at all of the positions in corporate America that now have “leader” in the title even if the special leadership traits are not really required. When we look at measurements of stress and loss of satisfaction and morale in “managers” who are “forced” to lead, when they would rather rely on good leadership and implement the visionary’s ideas, the negative losses are stunning. Forcing leadership responsbility without leadership capability results in a lot of bad outcomes, as many good intentions do. Not only are the managers suffering with more illness, accidents, sleep loss and emotional breakdowns, but their direct reports amplify their problems many times over.
Leadership carries a two edge result and it is true that some people resent those for whom leadership seems to come naturally, but that resentment should not become a club to “confine” and “restrict” leaders from performing at their best level. This truly is the case in many leader roles today at all levels.
People know without anyone telling them who in their environment really can lead. When there is a crisis, people are more willing to let them lead, and when times are really good, they are less likely to do that. Well, times are no so good right now.
Corporations would be amazed at the turnaround speed and the surge in energy and morale if they would unleash the leaders and give those who are exceptional at other skills permission to do their jobs with clear and meaningful direction and adequate resources. A sign of the times now is actual measurements that show an appalling decline in satisfaction, energy and enthusiasm, and an increase in stress and frustration in leaders that are far greater than that experienced by their direct reports. This is not because they do not know what to do to fix things, but because more and more they are not allowed to act before gaining consensus, reassuring, convincing and building the “self-esteem” of everyone around them.
Non-leaders tend to be the ones who tell leaders their expectations are too high. Hopefully for all of us, Leaders will not believe them.