There is a strong and general instinct, as we noted Friday, to ascribe positive values to what we have determined to be examples of leadership. In a world that so often confuses forcefulness with leadership, this can be – and frequently is, in fact, revealed to be – an exceedingly dangerous habit.
It’s a real problem. But it works the other way, also.
There is a particularly frustrating – and increasing – tendency to characterize any practice or trait deemed “good” as “leadership.” When an executive exhibits behavior that is highly valued – or even expresses a perfectly ordinary one especially well – he or she is declared to be a “leader,” or to have demonstrated “leadership.”
In this way, a manager who has enjoyed success with a project becomes celebrated for the so-called leadership skills of inspiration and team-building. If the manager conceived and recommended the project in order to address competitive pressures, develop new growth opportunities, or resolve operational inefficiencies, then he or she is identified as visionary, creative, or innovative.
What’s more, abilities like these come to be, in general, simply lifted from the domain of management and defined as components of leadership. So, if all you had wanted to do was good work, you may be surprised to find yourself suddenly under great pressure to do something else altogether: to be above the work, a phenomenon in your own right, a transformational personage – a leader.
After all, a manager who shows any positive or constructive characteristic – that is, who tries to manage well – is not really a manager at all, but rather, it turns out, is a leader. Once that happens, it’s all over. The expectations of you expand in unexpected and bewildering ways. And you had best stay on the crest of that wave, or it will engulf you.
It is made to seem a grand thing. But you may want to bear in mind that these sorts of leaders have followers, not colleagues.
How good, really, does that sound to you?
Today’s tips: Speaking of inspirational communication, please see this NYT column by Maureen Dowd expressing some strongly worded frustration with the sort of leadership, in that regard, that we’ve been getting, lately.
You may also want to review this WSJ piece, by Jessica E. Vascellaro, about the new management style reportedly being established at Yahoo by it’s new CEO, Carol Bartz. This is not what we typically think of as characteristic for a cutting-edge internet business. Perhaps we are getting back-to-basics reminders from all quarters, recently.
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