Finding The Leader Within

I twiddle my thumbs a lot about leadership and, admittedly, whether I’m any good at it. Holacracy plays a starring role in a recurring dream in which I absolve myself of the need to express opinions or direction of any kind in most situations. To be sure, I’ve missed plenty of opportunities to galvanize our team, and pull them toward an ideal – or even to a decent place for tacos which is arguably the time my team needed me most. But over the years of building our companies I’ve largely succeeded as a leader, and I’ve certainly spent my fair share of time discovering what leadership is, and how it works at We Are Mammoth, Kin, and DoneDone.

In my experience, most people who yearn to lead do so for the wrong reasons – they believe the rest of the world is full of morons, that it’s a quicker route to financial gain, or that their complete inability to work with others is, somehow, a COMMAND FROM ABOVE TO LEAD THE PEOPLE. So, intent on leading for the wrong reasons, leaders-in-the-making learn the wrong stuff, climb the ladders at some unsuspecting companies, and ultimately do a crappy job leading. Whoops.

On the flip side, there are the natural born leaders – heroes destined to inherit the favor of the masses, and deliver them to happiness and liberty, or to a more sinister outcome like servitude. These are the once-in-a-blue-moon leaders and they’re real. Their talent is recognized early and developed into a high-powered laser beam of organizational drive. Their charge to success produces a swath of literature, best practices, and insights which the would-be leaders consume via audible books in order to continue doing a poor job leading.

Lest we forget: Leadership is a service provided to others.

Then there are the leaders like the rest of us. For us, leadership may have been there all along but perhaps it wasn’t an indisputable talent to employ, nor do we see leadership as an end in itself. Instead, it’s an ability we discover and nurture over time, and it eventually becomes a well-honed service we provide to others. Yes, leadership is a service provided to others.

My kind of leadership.

My definition of leadership is simple: It’s is the ability to guide other people through a dark period of something – in business, life, or lunch. Nothing more, nothing less.

Leadership: the ability to guide other people through a dark period of something – in business, life, or lunch.

When leaders lead, they often don’t have any more information about a situation than anyone else. Rather, they’re just curious and audacious enough to know they can see through an imminent problem that others don’t believe they themselves can. Successful leaders aren’t just comfortable working in the these murky realms, they’re actually productive there – their labors leading others to carve out their own purpose and success.

Easy to behold, difficult to embrace.

Yet, simple as it is to define, the misperceptions of what leadership is and what it takes to provide it make it a difficult skill to learn, teach, and even recognize (thus the vast market of leadership and management books). So, how do you know if you and your organization are doing a good job leading? Turn the problem upside down. Look for evidence of a lack of leadership – artifacts like an unclear business vision, lack of clearly defined jobs/roles, and a void of operational integrity across an entire team.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, a group that has iron clad work ethic, takes pride in team work, leads by example, and has fantastic communication are the trademarks of good leadership. The rewards of the latter are clear enough, and the signals of the former are a wake up call.

There’s a saying: “leadership is the ability to hide your fear from others.” Dig a little deeper, and I think you’ll find that fear isn’t generally a part of it – a good leader sees the opportunity, brings clarity where there was once only fog, and delivers to his/her team’s doorstep, a roadmap to accomplish great things. They see it all along and it was nothing to fear.