Leading the 'leaders'

If you don’t want to be a leader – read on, hopefully I’ll be able to share my opinion on why people like you (and me) are needed. If you do want to be a leader – read on, hopefully I’ll be able to share my opinion on why people like me (and those like me) are needed. 

Someone (who doesn’t really know me, and I have known professionally for about 6 months), said to me a few weeks ago – “yeah, you’re not a leader, you’re an antagonist – I’ve always been a leader.”

Now, being pretty much ego-less and generally chilled (I think), I let the complete preconception of me and my skills go – they didn’t know me in my previous roles over the years and some of the stuff I’d done (however badly…).

But it got me thinking – are they really a leader? Will they gain honest respect from those who work with them and around them? Is their belief that they are (or want to be) a leader in effect a huge overlooked weakness that they need some support on?

So, I started to write.

Speaking personally, I’ve made the ‘professional’ decision to move away from being in leadership position – in the past I always ended up stumbling into management positions through a complete lack of concentration on my part and then, once I realised what was going on, have fortunately been able to extricate myself from whatever position of responsibility I have sleepwalked into.

To be honest, I have found in many ways wanting to be in a leadership position and believing that you are a ‘leader’ weakens and reduces your positive impact on colleagues. I’ve seen it, spoken with those who are ‘being led’ and sighed deeply at the sheer lack of empathy, human connection and respect that those in leadership roles (both in agency and corporate businesses) truly have.

No, hold on they do have empathy, right? I mean look at the sheer number of brightly painted walls, beer fridges, pool tables and X-boxes around the country – although thinking about it - maybe they are hiding, in many cases, a barely held contempt for people and staff?

Anyway, such leaders, and an ‘internal self’ perception of leadership reminds me in many ways, of the Billy Connolly quote on politicians;

 “The very fact that you want to be and see yourself as a leader should immediately prevent you from ever fucking being allowed to become one”.

Now, in many ways not wanting to lead, is seen as a bit of a weakness. For example, one question I get asked a lot is ‘Why don’t you want to lead your own agency?’, with whatever answer I feel like giving on the day being eyed with various levels of suspicion and incredulity, followed by “Why on earth would you not want to be in charge - that’s a lack of ambition”.

There’s that word again – want. ‘Want’ to be in charge, ‘want’ to be a leader, ‘want’ to have respect, ‘want, want, want’… Added to this the fact that not wanting to be a leader is somehow seen as a lack of ambition – which frankly is, one of the most short-sighted views I come across regularly (online and offline).

However, sometimes you can want something so much that when you get it you are a startled rabbit in the headlights, a worry-filled, anxious mess – “am I doing the right thing? “do the team like me?, “do I like them?”, and inevitably (in my case anyway), “do I like me?”.

So, what do those in leadership positions do? They surround themselves (or are mentored by) with fellow leaders or those that have led organisations in the past. Nothing wrong with this at all – I mean who can’t see themselves as Richard Branson after reading one of his anodyne and frankly (in this case – think about the owner of an airline talking about looking after the planet - just for a second) absurd posts on LinkedIn?

But this provides only one view of leadership and there are other, more subtle ways of leading and developing the personal and professional skillset. Prime amongst them is asking for views and opinions from those that have led and not enjoyed it. Those that can identify the reasons why they hated it and know the hurdles to overcome from a very basic empathetic (that word again), responsible and individual perspective?

Such people are comfortable with generating ideas and creating momentum, they are ok with being ‘in the shadows’, but they are excited by being able to subtly influence people’s opinion, strategies, beliefs and ultimately confidence.

There are some of us out there, there are some of us who like being the water carriers, who get significant joy from supporting other’s success. Don’t see us as people with a lack of ambition or an 'everyman' – see us as those who will make a business grow and support respected, responsible and true leaders be developed.  

The internet and the (in)equality of knowledge.

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