So here you are at work. Stop for a moment and take a look at every person within a 50m radius from you…..peek over the cubicle dividers….swivel your chair round so you can get a good look at everyone. Or maybe you are one of those unfortunates who works all alone in their own box with a door on it, so think of the last 10 people you interacted with on any kind of work-related matter.
NOW, two questions: 1) Which of those people, if they came marching through the office, singing “Stout-Hearted Men” in full Howard Keel voice (Gen Y’s, ask your parents), would you feel a sudden urge to get up and follow? AND: 2) How many of these people would get up and march with you if YOU broke into a rousing chorus?
There are some folks in our workplaces who have some sort of leadership title, such as Marketing Manager, Team Leader, CEO or Chief Cook and Bottle-washer who you wouldn’t naturally be inclined to follow to the photocopier, but whose bidding you carry out because of their title. Then there are those others without title who just seem to have ‘it’. Those are probably the ones who were your answer to question 1. You’ve hung on their every word when they speak at team brainstorms. They’re the ones when there is a social function at work who manage to have conversations with almost everyone. Few people have a truly bad word to say about them. They probably get all sorts of people asking their advice on work matters. Keep an eye on these folks because they’re going places! And if your organisation doesn’t see the value in these people, some other outfit will snap them up because they’ll know that harnessing their potential will add to the bottom line.
So where’s this going? Stick with me, we’re getting to the point shortly. In any grouping of people there are two forms of leadership: one form is the recognised, the named, the formal. This type of leadership derives its authority from the structure which can be shown on organisational charts. So you have your CEO, your CFO and all the other titles in our workplaces. The other form is the unspoken, the often un-named, the informal. This type of leadership relies more on human relationships, communication and connections. This is not to say that people in formal leadership positions cannot also inspire, communicate well and make us want to sing the organisational mission statement.
I know some great Managing Directors, HR Managers and Sales Managers who have title, as well as ‘it’. You know who you are! We all know folks in managerial roles who just don’t seem to have ‘it’, but this is not the point of this newsletter. So what IS the point? Leadership is conferred. That’s it. That seems kind of obvious. “Of course it’s conferred, I didn’t promote myself!” I hear you exclaim. However, informal leadership is also conferred.
A central phenomenon of sociometry is ‘choosing’, that is, we choose all the time. We even choose our leaders at work. Think back to your answer of question 1. There are people you just prefer to ask for advice on professional matters, there are people you prefer whose feedback you value more, there are people whose professional opinion you give greater weight, there are people you prefer to bounce a new idea off, the list goes on.
What about question 2? If your answer to question 2 was more than ‘zero’, you need to pay attention. There are people in your workplace who have conferred some kind of leadership on you, irrespective of your title or lack thereof.
The next question for you is not “Do I want to be a leader?” rather it is “What kind of leader do I want to be?” You may be exercising leadership by being a creative innovator of some of your office systems and processes. You may be exercising leadership by connecting with a dissatisfied customer and preventing them from going to a competitor. You may be exercising leadership by collaborating with peers on solving a problem. “Leadership is not about having answers, but about being connected to our own potency.” Wise words indeed. So spake a person we met on one of our leadership development programmes.
So what next for me? If we think about the specific contexts in which we work, we can begin to make progress by asking the next question which is “What do I need to develop in myself in order to become the leader I want to be?” It is vital to craft a development plan which includes continual learning, a variety of teaching and learning techniques, a diverse suite of learning activities and a nuturing peer group, as well as holding a long-term, big picture view of learning. It’s also worth repeating that the old days of ‘you got it or you ain’t’ are long gone. Once again, research in the area of emotional intelligence indicates that leadership capabilities are both recognisable and learnable. However, genuine interest and hard work are required. As a participant in our Guts of Leadership programme once reflected, “It’s all about change in me, as how I am is the only way to provide leadership. Inner strength and understanding is key.” This is not for the faint-hearted.