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I Am A Bit Tired With The Misuse Of “Leadership”

I love the idea of leadership, that people step up and go for more, and that they create and/or develop a path for others to tread. Leadership evokes a dynamic team effort, emergent practice and shots of awe.

But what is it in practice inside our organizations? Is it the zing of possibility, or instead a self-aggrandizing naming convention of hierarchy? Quite generally, I would say the latter.

I had a conversation with some fellow travelers recently on this topic, and here are a couple of things I heard:

At work, we use the word “leadership” so often that its meaning has become diluted, often synonymous with “management” (as in the email you get announcing “the new leadership team”).

This is an exacting conversation to have. How many of your leadership team are (really, truly) leaders? When you describe your C-suite, and words like ‘competent’ and ‘smart’ and ‘analytical’ and ‘diplomatic’ and ‘detail-oriented’ get thrown around, are these the descriptors of “leadership”?

If, instead, the leadership monikor has just been jammed on to front of the hierarchical/management team, but without the rewarding outcome of delivering inspiration and engagement for their teams, then let’s call it for what it is: <insert your annoyance here>.

Mine is “Nonsense!”

A friend agrees.

“Don’t get me started on “leadership.” I refuse to call my management “the leadership team,” even though that seems to be what they call each other. First, they’re not a team, just a collection of managers.

Second, Leadership and Management are intersecting circles in a Venn diagram. There are some people who are both, some who are one or the other, and some who are neither.”

Ouch, that hurts. Harsh, but fair…How should we determine a leader then?

Yep, managers are chosen from above; leaders are chosen from below (or across).

Exactly, leadership is not a title – it is an attitude, it is a commitment. It has to be earned (afresh every day).

How else are these leaders and managers so called? Why, they are the people who are NOT “individual contributors”! What an awful term, that implicitly precludes a commitment to, and contribution towards, the team dynamic. My friends concur:

“individual contributor” to describe anyone who isn’t a manager makes my skin crawl. As if the concept of “team” is something that only managers can handle.

So, we have a conundrum. The increased sense and need for leadership on one organizational hand – there are 80,000 “leadership” books on the shelves.

On the other, a disagreement with, and anger about, its flippant use titling those who do not deserve it.

We need to get a handle on this, otherwise the word leadership will always be spoken about with ironic “air quotes” around it (as my kids are already expertly doing for me, as shown in the above photo).

Leadership will become something to laugh about and show disdain towards. Or is it already too late for that?

←This Much We Know.→

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