One of the key problems with the notion of exceptional individual leadership is that it is inwardly focused. It is all about the individual, and the electric impression he or she is supposed to make on “followers” at all levels.
Only then, if at all, does the subject turn to what the “leader” is supposed to do with that. Even when it does, it is either dominated by techniques for maintaining and deepening the leadership persona, or formless generalities that are hardly actionable, but that are more than sufficient to fuel the equally shapeless dreams of those who themselves are less interested in messy, concrete action than in superficially self-referential status.
Let’s presume for the purposes of our current discussion that those of us engaged in it have resolved our midlife or other crises, and are maturely focused on contributing to the work we do now, for the benefit of the organizations we find ourselves in today. If that’s the case, then when we regard those around us in these enterprises, we are thinking about how we all might approach the work, not about how to get them to respond to us as leaders.
Neither are we thinking about how to empower or transform them. While that might not appear, at least at first glance, to be about us, a powerful problem with it is that it is also not inherently about the work. And, in fact, it ultimately is calculated to create a general atmosphere in which we play an enthrallingly prominent part.
That’s another problem with it: while looking after and developing your staff is both a genuine virtue and a practical necessity, the sad fact is that the great majority of us lack the discipline and composure to do it without confounding ourselves with the real organizational purpose for pursuing it. As a result, it – often with our never realizing it – becomes a patronizingly manipulative dance in which the beneficiaries of our self-congratulatory munificence play increasingly disenchanted and cynical roles.
After enough such of this, we find ourselves condescendingly turning to programs for overcoming resistance to change from these inescapably benighted masses, or the like.
It cannot be about us. Our relationships with others at work cannot center around us – their view of us, how they respond to us, where we fall on the leader/follower chasm with respect to them. It quite simply has to be about the work.
That is what enables us to develop our personal abilities to do the work as managers without destabilizing our sense of ourselves to the point that organizational dynamics begin to distort in our presence. And we will look at that tomorrow. Please join in.
This post is a part of a series. You can learn about and link to the other articles here: Managing life, work, and life at work
Today’s tip: One corporate governance/management structure purported to either span or to widen the management/leadership chasm is the family business. But it doesn’t seem to be bridging the current financial crisis very well, according to this piece from The Economist.
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