Perhaps I should back up.
When a leader, or a person in a position of perceived leadership, simply stonewalls, railroads, opposes without engagement, or impedes and creates division, that’s not leadership.
If a leader only considers the views, needs and opinions of those who agree with them and disregards everyone else on their team, that’s not leadership.
If a leader thinks all they need is their power and their position, that the details of what they do doesn’t matter – That’s Not Leadership.
Now, many of you are likely thinking at this moment – duh! No s*&t. Except that’s what many people in leadership positions do. In the face of opposition, rather then doing the real work of leadership and engaging with team members who feel and think differently, to convert that opposition into power, and to build a coalition of collaboration, the weak leader finds ways to weed out the opposition, or to stonewall until the opponent quits, or simply ignores them and does whatever they want to do anyway — to hell with everyone else. Dare I say…you only have to look as far as Congress to see this behavior in action.
Real Leadership has the courage to do the work, to find the connection between their goals and what is right for those they lead. Leadership realizes that if you ask someone to do something that pushes against their values, those people will resist in the form of poor performance, low engagement, quitting, or worse. Do you know what’s hard about engaging people or changing people’s behavior – even when they want to change? The human psyche seems to have this overwhelming need to extremify (is that a word?) everything. We start to look at solutions or opportunities and we rapidly jump to the extremes, to worst case scenarios or to the scenarios that prove it won’t work.
Yeah, well, in the immortal words of Bob Newhart: “Stop that!”
We have to remember as leaders that leadership is all too often a series of little wins strung together to achieve something bigger, rather than a singular or wholesale change. It’s not about what we can make people do, it’s about what we can invite people to be a part of. And when we take leadership out of the tumultuous, cut-throat, and vicious world of politics, we begin to realize that how we lead in the real world is far more engaging and human. Business leaders, for instance, have a certain luxury of leading a friendly team, so to speak. Generally everyone who works there wants to be there, and wants the best for the team. Remember that the Wright Brothers didn’t lead their team to manned flight because they had all the answers from the start; they got there because they had buy-in from the start, and together they were willing to live through, work through, and suffer through the failures, challenges and problems.
As leaders, more often then not, what we are leading isn’t a solution at all, but the construct and culture within which we will operate. That way, when the going gets tough – and it always does – we know how to safely, civilly and effectively continue to work together to keep communication open and problem solving vibrant.
Our job as leaders isn’t to have all the answers; it’s to inspire the positive desire to solve the problems that together you will face.