How you define leadership sets the boundaries for how effective a leader you can be.
Many of us work hard to assume senior roles in our organizations. Earning greater responsibilities is a mark of competency and an acknowledgment of past success. It is also a testament to the faith other leaders have in our ability to lead the organization into the future. The problem is many of us complain when we are asked to lead.
Steve Jobs represents a powerful image of what people think leadership is (especially in Silicon Valley). He rolled out cool new products and spoke with passion about the future he wanted to create for the market and for Apple. A superficial understanding of leadership leads us to conclude that is the extent of what leaders should do, and the rest of the company needs to get on board with that vision.
This picture of leadership leaves us frustrated when people ‘just don’t get it’—when shifts in peoples’ behavior don’t happen, even though you’ve shared your vision for the company many, many times. The essence of leadership takes many forms but consider this definition: causing new futures to happen that were not going to happen on their own. This applies not only to causing organizations to fulfill upon new futures but with individuals as well.
If we relate to leadership only as a title that serves as a mark for competency, or as speaking passionately about an exciting future, then we will fail to bring real leadership to our work. We’ll be frustrated by barriers to progress or those moments in which peoples’ expectations, formulas for success, and unspoken points of view thwart our ability to guide their behavior. Our organizations will also not be able to fulfill on new futures we see possible. If we relate to leadership as a stand one takes to intervene where necessary to fulfill upon a new future, then we will be present to vast opportunities to lead.
Some of those opportunities will include large groups of people that need whole new strategies and processes. Most of them, however, will draw your attention to the people you work with every day; the ones who don’t quite see the possibilities you see. You’ll see assumptions that need clarifying, expectations that need communicating, and new mandates to lay in front of your team. It’s the breakdowns in which ‘people don’t get it’ that leaders truly make their mark.