What if we re-examined “leadership”? More importantly, the way it gets taught and treated.
The various “leadership” courses I have been in have always pushed and been framed with the idea of “everyone can be a leader”! Which is not inherently wrong, but, maybe that has become too literal. The general framework, as I have perceived it, has been that every single individual can be a leader at the same time and it is based on making sure everyone has a chance to participate and talk in some sort of a group task/discussion.
This idea of everyone being a leader training waters down true leadership (much like the use of the word “hero” has watered down what a hero actually is) and has led to people feeling less empowered to actually lead. This is because leadership training focuses on “management” instead of actual leadership and focuses too much on teams and making sure everyone feels involved. Those too things are reasonably important skills yes, but they are not leadership and do not teach individuals how to be a leader, it teaches them how to play office politics.
So, obviously, my definition of a leader is different than that which the training is teaching towards. My idea of a leader is someone who has a specific goal and can take steps to accomplish that goal. The better the leader, the bigger the goal and better able to plan and implement the steps to that goal. But wait, that is just what a manager does, split a goal into tasks and get people to accomplish those tasks to achieve said end-goal. No.
A manager receives an end goal from some other entity along with some of the general tasks that have to be done to achieve those goals and then reports on progress. A manager, at any level, is simply the reporting arm of an entity between the on-the-ground work and higher levels. That does not inherently mean that CEO’s are leaders though either, they are just among the highest level managers. Sometimes there are leaders among all of these levels, including the on-the-ground people but often enough, they are managers and nothing more and simply get trained in how to manage other groups somewhat more effectively. Managers help hold team together, leaders attract teams of people. I think that is one of the fundamental differences. Leaders are those much more charismatic people who have end goals that they are working towards an then end up with teams of people all helping achieve the same end goals.
The problem with this idea though is, you cannot then “teach” leadership. There is no such thing as “leadership” skills. It also means that not everyone can be a leader (at the exact same time), hierarchy is essentially required for this type of leadership, not exactly a palatable idea to our current society because it is much easier to say that everyone can be a leader and leave it at that than actually deal with leadership and roles. But, that is because of big assumptions made.
“Everyone cannot be a leader,” does not inherently mean there is a gender, racial, class, education, whatever bias. It is simply a statement that not every single individual can possibly be “the leader” at all times, the buck has to stop somewhere and that would be the actual leader (who, probably, is the original initiator of the project). There can be a group of leaders working towards a similar or even same goal but, someone had to bring them together and truly focus them, that person is the leader of the other leaders.
That shows the sort of skills that leaders actually need: how to find people and how to START something. Leadership training focuses on “problem-solving,” “synergy,” “discussion,” “empowerment” etc. (at least the training’s I’ve been in). Actual leadership is someone who has a goal and actually knows how to winnow through individuals to talk to the people in the correct mind-set and context(s) to implement parts of the goal or see the value in said goal and will line up with the initiator (leader).
Then, and I think this is the biggest difference between actual leaders and others, the leader starts towards their goal. That starting, the initiation, is also one of the least “taught” aspects of leadership it seems. This can be seen in how goals are dealt with.
Nearly everyone has probably heard about S.M.A.R.T. goals. You know, specific, measurable, attainable, relevant/realistic, timely or your favorite incarnation. Notice one thing about that list? You never start anything! I have had plenty of goals and ideas for goals that could fall into this type of goal but, I never start towards said goal(s), perhaps some of my S.M.A.R.T.est goals have never come to fruition because I did not initiate, I did not take the steps to START towards them. I think that leadership training has to turn towards that, teaching (somehow) how to initiate something, how to take that first step. Then we will actually be educating and empowering people to be leaders. Until that point, we will simply be teaching managers to keep the world spinning as it is.
What do you think? Is what I am saying even making sense?