He looked like a leader. He acted like a leader. He was promoted to be the leader. The company failed.
Leadership cannot be assigned. Wanna-be leaders are often thrust into leadership roles because they took charge of projects or teams in the past and got results. Or they were recognized as a potential successor and taught how to “act” like a leader in Leadership Development 101. In the case of family-owned businesses, they may have been just next in line. All hopes for a successful transfer of authority and power rest on the leadership gene being in the blood while bystanders hope some of Gramps or Dad’s charisma and skills rubs off.
Managers leave development and coaching programs armed with a few new key skills and tactics. At the very least, they are now equipped with the intellectual capacity of how to act as a leader. But role-playing a leader without sharing in and believing the values of an organization and without understanding what got them there may not be enough to keep them in the lead. The actions that got them promoted into a leader’s role in the first place now might be now perceived quite differently by employees, suppliers, vendors and even the community at large.
For example, the determined, assertive and courageous successor might now be seen as the heavy-handed bully or manipulator. The charismatic, caring, collaborative new leader on the other hand might be seen as shallow, soft and indecisive. The decisive are now considered impulsive, the compassionate as softies, the independent as out of touch with others, and the visionary as the unrealistic dreamer. In any case, the promising leader is not able to deliver the organization to the promised land of market position and profitability. These organizations then begin operating under a leader who is leading without leadership.
A great manager gets people to do what he wants them to do. But “a leader” as described by Rosalynn Carter, “takes people where they want to go.” “A great leader”, she continued, “takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to go.”
And Warren Bennis, one of my favorite experts, defined leadership as “getting people to want to do what you want them to do.” Effective leadership is then not just getting people to do what you alone want them to do but understanding how to use different leadership styles and when to use them in the right context.
Successful leaders therefore seek to understand themselves first and then inspire others to do the same. Just as important, the highly effective leader understands how team members approach each situation and how he needs to approach them individually to get the best possible outcome.