How our expectations of leadership will determine its future
Sometimes people get into leadership for the wrong reasons: they wanted a title, a pay bump, a higher rank — sometimes they end up in leadership roles by accident, because no one else wanted the job, or they were the ‘most senior’ or ‘most qualified’ person available. Many of us have worked with these types of leaders and probably sworn that if we ever find ourselves in a similar position we will definitely not be like them. But what were they like, and why was that so disappointing to us and/or destructive to our teams?
If we can answer this question, we stand a much better chance of getting, or becoming, the leaders we want to work with in the future — because just creating more leaders will not help us achieve our goals, but creating more great leaders will.
What follow are four things we expect leaders to be, but often just aren’t.
Experts (at leading)
Many leaders find themselves with a leadership title (Head of Department, Senior Leadership, Manager etc) after many years spent becoming experts in their chosen field. While knowledge and expertise is valuable, it doesn’t automatically endow one with the ability to lead others. In fact, often the opposite is true: People who have single-mindedly strived to advance their careers through obtaining a leadership title, often expect members of their team to be similarly motivated, and this just isn’t the case. You may be an expert at what you do, but this won’t automatically make you an expert on leading others.
A friend of mine used to work for a law firm. She once described an address her boss made to the whole staff where he explained his ideal vision of the workplace was to have everyone “working away at your desks like little squirrels, just churning out the work”. This office-come-nut-factory image may have got her boss out of bed in the morning, as he went to oversee the production of enough food to keep him fed and fat throughout the winter (you can see how quickly my own mind ran away with his poorly-chosen simile), but it certainly didn’t have the same effect on his employees. Did he really expect the prospect of him making more money to inspire everyone else to work harder?
Daniel Pink elaborates on the outdated extrinsic motivators of “the carrot and stick” and the new, intrinsic motivators of “autonomy, mastery, and purpose” in his TED Talk, The Puzzle of Motivation — well worth a watch for those who aspire to lead in the 21st century.
Although we dislike the idea of being squirrels in a nut factory, nobody wants work devoid of effort either. In his TED Talk What makes us feel good about our work, Dan Ariely uses the analogies of mountain-climbing, Ikea furniture, and cake-mix to explain that if you take the challenge out of the task, you remove meaning for the person performing it.
A good leader does not need to promise his or her team that each day will be a joyful experience, where everything goes to plan and everyone has a good time, but they must promise that each day will matter — because if the people in your team don’t believe that what they are doing will make a difference, it probably won’t.
Those in leadership roles generally have more responsibility ‘on paper’, but how many leaders actually take responsibility for their teams? I think Simon Sinek says it best in his book, Leaders Eat Last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t, when he says:
“If our leaders are to enjoy the trappings of their position in the hierarchy, then we expect them to offer us protection. The problem is, for many of the overpaid leaders, we know that they took the money and perks and didn’t offer protection to their people. In some cases, they even sacrificed their people to protect or boost their own interests. This is what so viscerally offends us…they have violated the very definition of what it means to be a leader.”
We should be proactive about determining the types of leaders we have, will have, or will become. We know that great leaders are not those looking for recognition and reward, those motivated by their own ambitions, or those unwilling to take responsibility — because it’s not about ego, it’s about others. It’s about living the whakatāuki: He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! (What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people! It is the people! It is the people!)
What can you do to help shape the future of leadership?
Ask yourself how you can develop and encourage those around you who have proven ability to relate to others. Can you give them a little more time, inspiration, or resource to become one of the great leaders of tomorrow?
Consider becoming a leader yourself. Here are a few options for getting the development and support you need to start your own journey into leadership:
- The Emerging Leaders Summit
- Ignition Uncoference for innovation in education
- Eduignite Evening
- Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Leadership)
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