What Leaders Get All Wrong About Leadership
I did leadership all wrong for years. I held leadership positions without understanding effective leadership practices. My early education was in theology. Tragically, I had no training in leadership.
My leadership journey includes powerful, sometimes painful, shifts in attitudes and practice.
The first shift:
Leaders hold spotlights rather than stand in them.
I thought leaders were stars. But, leaders aren’t actors on center stage. They play supporting roles and work backstage. Most importantly, leaders are the audience.
Too many leaders need the spot light, too few give it.
Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage.” Think of an organization as a stage. Team members and employees are actors. Leaders are the audience.
Everyone needs an audience.
Actors crave audience approval. Audiences praise effort, achievement, and excellence. Cheers and whistles make work worthwhile.
Actors fear audience disapproval. Boos and jeers sting.
The power of respect is the power to build up others.
The more respect you earn the more your approval matters.
An audience helps people see themselves. A few summers ago my wife and I had a rare exchange of words. We were yelling over something that we’ve long forgotten. In the process it dawned on us that our windows were opened and the neighbors could hear. Oooops!
In a flash we saw ourselves through the eyes of others. We still laugh at how foolish we must have sounded to our “audience” and how quickly we quieted our volume.
Respected leaders help others see themselves.
Actors whisper, “Did you see so-n-so is here tonight?” when dignitaries sit in the audience.
Actors feel important when someone important is watching.
In my youth, I thought leaders stood on center stage. Now I know leaders are the audience.
Read the growing list of leadership shifts on the Leadership Freak Facebook Page.
How can respected leaders fully embrace and express the power of being an audience?
What are the limits of the audience metaphor?
Very important points made in this post! As the audience role, we can observe and become better leaders!
Thanks you etherapynexus.
Great post today and interesting thought about sitting in the seats and enjoying the actors performance….thanks Dan!
Best wishes indie!
Love the stage example. Got me thinking of long ago when I began working. To use your metaphor, I was a team member (on stage) and later became a leader, part of the audience. While a team member I worked hard and enjoyed the praise I received from my Supervisor. Funny, when most of us transition into leadership roles, either we don’t have the necessary preparation to shift gears from being “on stage” to “in the audience” or we forget what really made us satisfied when we received praise from our Leader. In Healthcare we were notorious for taking our best technically performing staff and “promoting ” them to a leader without any support and wonder why they were not successful. Not only are diffiernt skill sets necessary, so is a diffierent mind set. Thanks for the reminder!!! Don
I see this in interviews all the time, when someone with potential hasn’t thought himself off the stage and into the audience yet. The closer you are to making the transition when taking a shot at a leadership role, the greater your chance of getting the leadership job.
Thank you Don.
Powerful comment. Reminds me of Goldsmiths famous saying, “What got you here won’t get you there.”
Perhaps part of the problem is we think leadership comes naturally. I’m finding it counter-intuitive in many ways. For the most part, my first approach to leadership was the wrong approach. Thankfully, it can be learned.
One of the greatest business decisions the Beatles ever made was “sharing the spotlight”!
When one becomes a leader this applies, but what if you are not a leader and want to become one?
From my perspective you are a leader when YOU tell yourself you are.
Plus who been leading you up to the second you got to reading this, right now?
You right? You been a Leader all along.
Lead on Grasshopper!!!!
Thank you Carlos.
There is something to be said for proving your value by delivering great results. From an organizational point of view those who deliver results earn opportunities to lead.
I’d also suggest you not be over anxious to lead. Don’t keep asking for opportunities to lead. Aggressively seek opportunities to add value to others.
Try to jump on high value projects. Offer do the hard stuff.
Take on jobs that others hate or don’t want.
Best wishes on your journey,
Leadership is a changing, evolving journey. Those were lead change, our environments change.. We change!
Our principles stay pointed to truth and integrity.
Thank you Ken.
Even in change there are stabilizing principles.
BTW on the Theology sidebar – in Christian theology, the way up is down, right? ..the Last shall be First, “..if you want to be great, be a servant” .. “don’t crowd out the kids, they count, as do the least of society, so when you serve them you serve Me.” ..that sort of thing
I should have known but definitely didn’t.
Great post my two cents worth is put “effective ” before leader everytime you mention leaders. Shifts the perspective just a little at least for me. Maybe “respected” even better like you did at the end.
Second Great to see the Shakespeare quote that is in the AA Book in the post!!!! Love that!!!! Good Onya Mate!!!
Feel in your theology experience the golden rule was mentioned. In my perspective there is no greater leadership concept, idea, technique whatever you want to call implementing it. Maybe you just did not have a teacher that explained its importance to you. If not maybe you will cut to the chase with the folks you teach. Isn’t it all really summed up in that rule anyway?
Lastly, from my peanut gallery, that golden rule and working on getting my own house in order and relentlessly seeing the lighter side of the human condition…yeah that strategy is working pretty pretty pretty good for me and feel it will for you!!!!
Great post Dan thanks…..
The golden rule works great in the immediate with relationships in mind. I’m not sure it helps us adopt attitudes like challenge the status quo or moving the agenda forward.
I didn’t just slam the golden rule did I???
BTW… I think there was an attitude in my theological training that the Bible was like magic fairy dust, if you sprinkle it on something it solves every problem. That’s just silly. I didn’t even know enough about leadership to examine the life of Jesus for leadership principles. Pathetic.
LOL you are such a great guy with such a great perspective Dan! You made me laugh outloud and thank you.
I think if you ponder it a little more you might find the golden rule stands up the test of time and space…….THAT IS WHAT MAKES IT TRUE.
Truth you ask……same for all people in all circumstances. Anything does not pass that test is just propaganda. Just my definetion if you hate it use your own but mine is pretty pretty pretty good!
Also noticed not sure why but you said, “relationships in the mind” Where are the other relationships? Dollywood? hehe
Remember Earl Nightingale….The Strangest Secret in the World? We become what we think about all day long.
Our relations with others start and end with what we choose to think about said others, right? Can’t figure out how to get out of this mind thingy and Lord knows I have tried! hehe
Just saying if you do a look over and ponder again over and over that Golden Rule it is a hum dinger! Been pondering it for years and years and I cannot see the downside or where its use is not effective. Again it is the TRUTH of it that gives it usefulness, you know like oxygen and gravity.
ok ok for the bright, I know oxygen and gravity work regardless of the awareness level of the person they are effecting, but they both do effect all the same, gives us life and keeps us on the ground. So thinking about Truth doesn’t really seem to matter where oxygen and gravity are concerned!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For the Golden Rule to work one does have to consciously apply it. So maybe saying it is TRUTH when applied works best.
Now can you see what a gift to the world it is I am not adding chemicals anymore to this mess? LOL
Anyways, just saying I think the Golden Rule works everytime it is used in all and every circumstance! Big Fan, Big Fan!
Take care Dan, back to chasing those windmills maybe today I will catch one or maybe a Unicorn!!!! In either case an adventure! WWWHHHUUUPPPEEEE!!!!!!
I think my screw up was learning how to apply principles that I saw as great one one one setting to groups.
The challenge I had was integrating the touch side of leadership… I’m a slow learner
Dan, very insightful. I also learned many of these lessons in my first managerial post for entry level employees 20-some years ago. We knew many of these people would leave us when they felt they had mastered routines, but when I realized that was a good thing, great things started to happen. I told them to come to me when they felt they were ready for a change, rather than secretly seeking other employment outside our company which was the norm for our predecessors. Although I only led the department for a couple of years before I was promoted to a regional office, the open dialogue we had led to increased loyalty, improved performance and employees that created great opportunities for themselves. It was only a small department with less than 10 full tme employees at a given time but I still keep in touch with 7 or 8 of them and although they have gone in many separate directions, all of them have very successful careers and are today in very senior positions. I like to think that sharing the spotlight with them, and helping them grow rather than trying to keep them on my team has helped them to where they are today! Stay safe, Paul
Thank you Paul.
I feel the satisfaction in your contribution. Congrats!
What I hear is, if I have to hide my desire for advancement then I’m going to advance right out of the company. Better to help people advance in the organization.
Zappos works that way. People design their own jobs within organizational vision/mission. Powerful.
I did it all wrong for a while, too. Then, I realized that I had to have relationship to lead. I had to listen, not just talk. I had to KNOW my people, not expect them to know me. That wasn’t leadership. That was bossing.
Thank you colby.
I can see you learned the hard way, too. Your comment has tons of insight in it. Best wishes.
Here is something I’ve been trying to share with a leader: “The power of respect is the power to build up others. The more respect you earn the more your approval matters.”
He loves being an audience for his direct reports; not so much for his hierarchial superiors. Convincing him that his “approval” will have a greater impact if he shows more respect is my challenge.
The respect and approval can’t happen unless it’s wrapped up in trust – there’s a word that hasn’t appeared anywhere above. Trust has to be there for respect to take hold and approval to have an impact.
Thinking out loud, here. Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Dan.
Thank you Lynn.
KaPow… adding trust to the mix is like adding cherries to an ice cream sundae! I’m so glad you too time to contribute your insights… respect – approval – trust = 3 powerful leadership terms.
Love that analogy. 🙂
Thanks man…sounds like you are in my audience, cheering.
Most days – yes! 🙂
I am curious why you did not use the analogy that leaders are the stage managers or the directors? I appreciate your insight and response.
Thanks for the question Greggory.
Leader as director or stage manager has a place too. It’s easier to get that right.
My experience indicates leaders seldom think of themselves as members of the audience. So, I thought I’d poke at what I see as a deficiency rather than affirm and adequacy.
Thanks again for asking.
I appreciate your thoughts, that is definitely a different lens in which to see this aspect of leadership.
Leaders HOLD the spotlight. Love that! Too many people have that unhealthy view of leadership. Leaders are the stage managers, directors, lighting techs, makeup artists…every metaphor works– except “Lead Role”.
Thanks Justin…always a pleasure reading your contributions. All the metaphors you offer remind me that leadership is a wonderful challenge. 🙂
Alas, I have experienced far too often, myself included, that just because you are following God doesn’t mean that you are leading men and women. There are things to be humbly sought and learned. Great post.
Thank you Jim and thanks for all the twitter support.
Funny how we have to learn stuff… 😉
I like to think that was the plan, continuous journey, continuous learning. Once you get the hang of it, it’s kind of fun, especially the ‘putting-into-practice’ part and seeing the multiplying begin. Support gladly done.
Leadership is serving others. So often we thinking leadership is about us whein reality, it is about raising up people to be leaders in what you are currently doing, so you can move on to developing new frontiers, and areas which need improving. It’s not about you! Work yourself out of a job. There is a plethora of opportunities right where you are to be self absorbed. If you look for others that can do what you are doing as good as you or better, raise them up to lead by serving them, so you can move on to greater things. This is what Jesus did. If you want to be great, SERVE OTHERS!
Here’s the challenge. It takes humility and courage to step off center stage.
BTW, “plethora” = one of my favorite words.
For me the challenge of getting off center stage becomes natural when you help others succed, because I find a need or something to focus my efforts on. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it well!
Great points Dan! It is unfortunate that most leaders (myself included) only discover these after doing it “wrong” for a period of time. It’s almost like doing it “wrong” is a horrible initiation that our colleagues are subjected to.
Thank you Chris.
Well at least we can say we’re beginning to learn. Problem is learning through “experience” also includes making others suffer. Ugh!
I love the word-picture of the leader holding the spotlight to show the way!
Wisdom taught me to say – ‘I’m here to serve’.
Thank You Mr Rockwell!
Thank you Ted.
Some might say a synonym of leader is servant.
Indeed One did! 😉
Don’t you think that at least very early in our careers it’s not so unusual to want or need the spotlight? But, then, we mature (hopefully); and realize that life isn’t a solo act. Even actors can’t make a living doing a one-person show. They have to be willing to share the spotlight; and they mentor their understudies.
Thanks Scott. Yes, I think we have a bigger need to leave our mark and, at least for me, it took awhile to realize that leaving my mark wasn’t about me.
Perfect. I love this. The hardest thing is being conscious every day about building others up. It almost seems unnatural at first. But, like any else, with a little practice………… Great points.
Thanks Robert. We can start thinking, “what about me?” When it seems like all we do is build up others. These days I’m learning that I’m responsible to build a mutually-supportive team.
Fantastic post Dan. Covers the essence of a servant brand of leadership. Thanks and take care.
Thanks for dropping in Mike and thanks for all you do for the leadership community.
Good one! My takeaways
1. Work enough to deserve recognition
2. Recognise others in public for their good work