I am immersed in and surrounded by goofy, ridiculous ideas every day and for the most part it doesn’t bother me. Nearly every working day I go to a meeting where someone says “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it!,” one of the granddaddies of business lies.
Most of the important things in business can’t be measured, but luckily as human beings who grew up on this planet we are well-equipped to reinforce and cultivate the important things we can’t measure, like trust in our environment and momentum toward our goals.
I hear “Numbers are the language of business,” another howler, all the time, and “In God we trust — all others bring data!” the slogan for fear-based leadership.
I keep my mouth shut. If I stopped to notice and tangle with every barking dog on my path, I’d never get anywhere.
One of the worst business lies is “You can’t teach leadership skills, because leaders are born and not made.” It’s such a lie that it makes me wonder “Has this lie merely been repeated generation after generation, without anybody being curious enough to conduct an experiment?”
Then it hit me — people believe that you can’t teach leadership skills and that great leaders are born, not made because whenever somebody emerges as a great leader, it’s easy to say “They were obviously born to lead!”
Leadership is a personal journey, but too many leadership programs still teach people to lead as though their right to lead a team were god-given and didn’t need to be earned — or even discussed. Too much leadership development starts with the question “How should I manage my team?” instead of the question “Why should anybody on my team listen to me?”
We don’t think we have to answer that question, because a leader’s power flows down from the top of the organization. Everyone will listen to you because they have to — what other reason do they need?
If we want to teach leadership skills, we have to begin by letting leaders know that there is no good reason for them to be the leader. If they want there to be a good reason, they have to create that reason for themselves.
Leaders are astounded to hear this — especially new leaders who don’t yet feel secure in their roles.
“What do you mean, there’s no good reason for me to be the leader? I was promoted after three interviews and three years on the job!”
If you think that the best reason for you to be somebody’s manager is that somebody else conferred that title on you, then you are not ready to lead with your own voice. If you try to lead on the basis that somebody promoted you, you will lead with your boss’s voice — the person who conferred the management title on you.
You have to find a better reason than that for you to sit in the manager’s chair!
“The reason I’m the manager is that I’ve had more experience than my employees have!”
If you believe that your claim to the management seat and mantle is that you have more experience at your work than your teammates do, you will believe that the seat of your management power is in your subject-matter expertise. It’s not.
Now is a great time for you to give up the lifelong and hopeless quest to remain forever current with your subject-matter expertise. You are on a different path now. You are learning to lead. Let other people pick up the subject-matter expertise flag. Let them grow their flames!
“There’s a very good reason for me to be the manager. I’m the manager because I earned it!”
What did you earn? If you feel that you earned everyone’s respect and the right to boss people around and tell them what to do, you will lead from fear. You have the wrong idea about leadership in that case. Everyone on your team worked hard. Everyone did their best, so you can’t very well say “I’m the manager because I earned it!”
You earned something important, and that is the right to take Step One on a leader’s journey and learn about yourself and other people. You earned the right to earn your teammates’ respect. That is a process, not an event!
To move forward on your leadership path you must look inward and explore what makes you a leader, not because somebody gave you that title but because you are ready to grow your own leadership muscles, inside. You will tap into what makes you a leader even without the title and without any power.
The closer you get to that learning, the more open you will be to letting your teammates find their inner leaders, too, the way every strong leader does. You won’t want to keep all the flame for yourself!
Anyone can learn to lead, but not in the manner of the archaic carrot-and-stick “I make the rules!” brand of leadership. Leadership in the new millennium is soft, not hard. It’s quiet, not loud. It’s human. It’s based on trust.
We can put the hammer down and remember that we hired brilliant human beings because we trusted these folks to bring their best. If we don’t trust ourselves enough to hire people we can trust, what kind of leaders are we?
Leadership is the strength you gain when you know that you can’t do any of the things you need to do at work or hit your goals without relying on the people you work with. That takes courage. We can learn how to trust ourselves and take steps out of our comfort zone, but we don’t learn that in a classroom!
Liz Ryan is the CEO and founder of Human Workplace
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