I have often pondered over this question, in both a political and an organisational context? But the question could have two meanings.
- Do we end up with poor leaders because we made bad choices, or
- Do we deserve better leaders than those we have?
I have a very simple definition of a leader. A leader is a person who others choose to follow. If you go along with this then clearly when we choose leaders, say in politics, and we end up with bad leaders then we only have ourselves to blame. Where that puts us given the current political leadership stage, I will leave you to decide. This blog is not really about politics.
I am really interested in the second question. Do we deserve better leaders than those we have?
I have seen in so many organisations good employees wanting to do a good job, trying hard to succeed and seeking direction from those who are meant to be leading them. The problem is that in so many cases the “leaders” are nothing of the sort. They may be managers. They may be quite effective at organising, planning, sorting, meeting deadlines, delivering results and KPIs. But that is quite different from being a leader.
Leadership requires an affinity with followers, an ability to connect, to create a vision, to inspire, to give direction. Leadership also requires an ethic – to set an example, to care, to show appreciation and to share in success. At least if leaders are to continue to enjoy the support and loyalty of their followers.
The problem is that in organisations managers are appointed by more senior managers. Leaders, however, are recognised by the followers who confer the title of leader on them. So to get it right senior managers have to look to appoint those with leadership qualities. Unfortunately in many instances they are not seeking first line managers who can be leaders. They want people who can organise and deliver results.
The net effect is that in many cases first line managers are not providing leadership. Employees are not getting the leadership they deserve. They are not inspired. Work is a managed process, for many even monotonous or dull.
What happens to the first line manager? Good ones who deliver results get promoted. If they continue to deliver results they get promoted further. We end up with senior management teams populated by good managers and few leaders. So at senior level employees still don’t get the leadership they deserve.
Does it matter?
I think it does. I think people want to follow other people with vision, people who can inspire them to be better, to succeed and to do amazing things.
The Success Cycle (I published this in 2006 so look out for more on this) requires both leadership and management. Leadership to create and promote vision and goals, management to plan, organise, monitor and correct.
What does it take to be a leader? Larry Reynolds gave us four steps:
- Challenge the status quo
- Articulate a new vision
- Win commitment to that vision
- Do the right thing.
So leaders have to take risks, break the mould and be brave. They have to win over their followers and they have to act ethically in accord with their vision. Leadership is tough, in many ways it is tougher than management.
You can succeed as a manager or you can succeed as a leader. Perhaps you can succeed as both. There are not enough leaders in many of our organisations and I am in no doubt, we do need both leaders and managers if we and our organisations are to succeed.