What is “leadership,” really?

Image for post
Image for post

I’ve been banging the “flawed leadership in organizations” drum for close to 4 years now, so I’m going to let someone else do the lifting here in the form of two quotes, then I’ll add some pithy commentary like only I can. Sound good?

Quote 1 on leadership

Both these quotes are going to come from this interview about “re-casting leadership for the open source era.” As with most interviews, the guy is promoting a book.

Here’s the quote:

When it comes to leadership in the 21st century in the open-source era, just showing up to work and telling people what to do is not enough. Just creating shareholder return is not enough.

Yep. First off, “telling people what to do” isn’t and has never been leadership. That’s management at best, and dictatorship at worst. We get that shit twisted a lot too — management isn’t remotely the same thing as leadership. Management is being organizationally vetted to have a higher salary and direct reports. Leadership is having people actually want to follow you.

Here’s Quote II

Same article:

The problem with leadership training is we’ve been confusing followership with leadership for a long time. As parents, we love kids who listen to us and obey, and we sort of whack them into submission if they don’t. Then we reward them. In school and college, teachers’ pets are the people who do exactly what they’re told and they’re rewarded.

In big companies, my bonus partly depends on whether I get a good score on my employee engagement survey, which makes me a pleaser, not a leader. And in the boardroom when I present a great strategy, the first question they ask is, “Where is the McKinsey Report that says 10 best-practice companies have already done it?” Right from childhood all the way to the boardroom, we reward followership with leadership. That’s one problem.

Yep. Leadership training has been broken for decades. It’s mostly transactional crap that wouldn’t make someone a leader. It should be called “management training,” but then the sad thing is … most management training isn’t that good either. In general, “training” isn’t really that good at most companies — which is sad, because employees are clamoring for it and it’s one of the major things that differentiates “great” companies from “good ones.”

Take ’em together now

Here’s where I would land if I did that:

We need a completely new definition of, and context for, leadership.

The main reason is connectivity. Information is supposedly power, right? Well, information is everywhere. When information was much more proprietary (pre-digital), being an exec and hoarding that info could be considered a form of “leadership.” You had the info, so you had the power.

Not so simple anymore.

Simple idea is “The Glassdoor Effect.” Now if you’re a shitty place to work, people will know it — they can see reviews of your company, just as they can a restaurant they want to check out. It’s that simple. Your employer branding is no longer in your control. GASP!!!!

There are a million more examples.

So how do we get to a new context for leadership?

Start here: 23 ways to approach leadership.

That might help.

E-mail me if you want.

I write about this stuff/research it all the time.

People spend 12 hours per day at these places, right? Er, jobs?

And they get leaders who think “SHUT UP AND DO YOUR WORK” is true “leadership?”

It’s not.

So let’s make this better.

Hit “leadership” on the top of my site and see how much I’ve put into this.

I’m 36 or so, and this is probably my life’s quest at this point.

Let’s go get it.

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store