Leadership is, on the surface, highly desirable. Companies across the world understand the benefits and value great leadership can bring to their business. Leadership development books and training courses are all the rage too, with the narrative being leadership is the key to business success.
But this is a lie…
Think about it… how many great leaders have you worked with in your career?
If you are really lucky you might be able to count one or two. Now think about all of the people you have worked with, who are not great leaders… Have you run out of fingers yet?
If the desire for leadership is in such high demand, why is leadership not more abundant in the places we work?
Popular opinion would point to the way companies are set up – They need results very quickly and only focus on the short term, whereas leadership is a long-term proposition.
Other people believe that true leadership is reserved for the uniquely gifted. Those special few, who have magically been born great leaders.
I suggest that neither is true…
I suggest that leadership is so rare because it is counterintuitive.
A counterintuitive proposition is something that does not seem likely to be true when assessed using intuition, common sense, or gut feelings.
An example I like to use when explaining a counterintuitive proposition, is with driving and your vehicle starts to skid. In this situation you will usually feel the rear end of the vehicle shifting unexpectedly to one side. You will then need to identify which way the rear is moving, and then steer into the skid. So if the rear is shifting towards the right, you should steer to the right. If the rear is shifting to the left, steer left. This of course feels counter-intuitive as the instinctive reaction is to steer away from the skid.
Leadership is the same…
No matter which leadership model resonates with you, the simple truth is that when you are a leader you will need to trust your followers and your followers will need to feel trusted.
Think of yourself as a follower. Would you be more engaged if you were trusted or if you were micro-managed?
We all know the ability for a leader to trust is critical… Yet in reality this will feel counterintuitive. The concept of giving up control is frightening. The facts are, that as a leader you are accountable for the results achieved, so giving up control to your followers will appear very risky.
Apply this into the skidding metaphor. As a leader you have ensured your team are capable, trained well and understand the team vision. In this moment, things are going well and you will be free to trust your followers to work autonomously. This is, in our metaphor, when you are driving along in a controlled manner.
Then, the multiple pressures of delivering a plethora of results, behaviours or actions exhorts the leader into a sense of urgency. This is the moment the vehicle starts to skid.
The instinctive reaction for the leader is to try to take control of the situation. The sense of urgency will feel real and who better to know how to navigate this than the leader themselves? Therefore they will remove the autonomy from within their team and take a more direct and controlling approach. This is just like the instinctive reaction when in the skid, we will automatically want to steer away.
The right thing to do is continue to trust and to believe in your followers. But just like steering into the skid, this is counterintuitive. As long as you have ensured they are capable and that they understand the destination, then how your followers deliver has to be autonomous. After all, your followers have more collective knowledge and skill than you do. So if you really want the best results give your team the best working environment.
People, who work in an environment where they are trusted, trained and valued… will always work better and harder than those that aren’t trusted.
You know this to be true; because that is the way you work best.
Yes it feels much more comfortable to take control, but that isn’t to the benefit of your team. And a great leader knows their entire job is to be of benefit to the team.
The next time you feel the urge to control, remember you are in a skid… and you will know how to ensure leadership doesn’t fail.