There are many people who have been put into leadership positions. This does not make them a leader. They might be the boss or a “team lead” or any of a great number of other titles. They might even appear at the top of an organizational chart. None of this makes them a leader.
This raises two interesting points. First, what exactly makes a leader? And, second, when you find yourself on a team that has no true leader, what are you to do? First things first.
There is, presently, a great deal of confusion about leaders – what they are, what they do, how they act, what they achieve, how they are developed, how they are selected, and many other unanswered questions. Which seems strange. After all, there is a great, great deal of literature about leaders. There are books upon books about leaders, leadership, and biographies of those who have served in leadership positions. There are college degrees, courses of studies, think tanks, and countless leadership trainer. It is so interesting when you ask a room full of people what comes to their minds when you say “Leadership.” Tons of words; few definitions. It is impossible, as any academician will tell you, to discuss a concept without a clear definition of the lexicon related to the concept. For example, if you were to say to a group of people that a leader must be “sincere” you are not likely to meet with any objection. If you then say, “What does it mean to be sincere?” you will find your audience quite silent. “Well, you know,” they might respond. “Sincere!” As if that is some great revelation.
In a detailed study of leadership, 229 separate traits, characteristics, and other elements of leadership were identified. No two people are naturally endowed with the same set of these elements and there is no set minimum of traits one must have to claim the title of leadership. Nonetheless, those who focus on these elements and work diligently toward enhancing their personal abilities and characteristics in accordance with this catalog become leaders of quality who achieve great things and avoid the many pitfalls and derailments so many of those in leadership positions experience. They are not “Leaders for a Season” but have developed the ability to sustain their leadership without disqualification from the position due to missteps, foibles, or, worse, illegal or unethical actions. We have given these leaders the title of Sustained Leaders – they not only can assume a leadership role, they can sustain that position by selecting good teams, crafting a powerful vision, and producing measurable results. They are the people you choose to follow. They are the people you respect. They are the people you choose as mentors. And these leaders rightfully return value by serving as mentors and leaders.
But not everyone is fortunate enough to be led by a sustained leader. Too often the person designated as leader does not have the leadership qualities that would cause others to follow them. They are leaders solely because they have been placed in a specific position. They have gotten their name placed at a key point in the organizational chart. The only power they hold over you is positional power – the very weakest form of power. They are not leaders, let alone sustained leader. And you are a designated follower. Not a fun position. As much research has shown – employees do not leave organizations – they leave managers. Barely qualified managers who are not leaders cost organizations talent every day.
If you are currently serving under a non-leader, think about these suggestions:
- All organizations need leaders at all levels. Regardless of your level in the organization, you lead something even if it is only your own assigned tasks. Show your leadership.
- What have you done to develop yourself as a leader? What could you do?
- What books have you read or podcasts have you listened to that relate to the major areas of Character, Competence, Compassion, Communication, and Commitment?
- What have you done to both obtain a mentor (or two or three) or to mentor another?
- How receptive might your non-leader boss be to working on the entire team’s leadership abilities – a book club, or a Sustained Leadership development program?
- Have you discussed your desire to develop your leadership abilities with your HR representative?
Mark Twain said that no one is a complete waste – they can always serve as a bad example. Whatever situation you are in, you should be assessing your situation and being very observant. You will see both good and bad examples of effective leadership. After all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Make notes, keep a journal, and never, ever stop reading. When appropriate, volunteer to take over the leadership role of a team or committee. Develop your influence which is most commonly demonstrated by exhibiting traits of character, competence, compassion, communication, and commitment.
Some supervisors may react negatively. They will feel threatened. Be prepared for that, but do not abandon your dreams of sustained leadership. Continue to improve yourself. And if all else fails, make sure your new resume highlights all you have done to demonstrate leadership in your present position or outside volunteer organizations. While a change like this may seem scary, are you satisfied to stay stuck in a bad situation because you are forcing yourself to follow a non-leader? A sustained leader would not do that.