What Kind of Leader Do You Want to Be?
With her head cocked to the side and her eyes fixed on some mysterious spot on the floor, I couldn’t tell if she was annoyed or just indifferent, but it was clear that she was not a happy person at that moment. I will never forget how Julia appeared in my session that morning, waiting to begin. She did not want to be there and made it clear. The question was, why? I had done this enough to know that I shouldn’t impose my own meaning on what I was seeing, as when someone is in an uncomfortable situation, it brings out a side that’s hard to interpret if you don’t know them. All I knew was, to be in your mid-thirties and already a Senior Vice President of a fairly large organization, is quite a feat. I was curious to know more about her.
She didn’t participate much, the morning of the session. She listened. Intently. She didn’t make eye contact, but I could see her wheels spinning. Questioning. Debating. Scrutinizing the conversation in her head. What was she thinking? It was hard to know.
During lunch, as we were all sitting around the table, she looked conflicted. Something was up, and I couldn’t tell what it was.
“Julia?” I asked gently, “are you okay?”
For the first time that day, she looked me right in the eye and, like a release valve going off, said forcefully, “I don’t want to be a leader, if I have to be like the other leaders at my company!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this same thing or something similar. Countless. And it makes sense. For years and years organizations thrived at the hands of leaders who mastered the ability to command and control. That’s the leadership that’s been passed down through the ranks. You want to succeed? Be like this.
But “this” doesn’t work any more. It’s a new world and it requires a new kind of leadership. What worked back then, isn’t having the same result. Great talent is no longer willing to hang out with bullies in the boardroom in exchange for a paycheck. They know they have options or can create options – and they will – and they do.
The challenge is, with the traditional leadership-mold no longer working, what are leaders to do? What works? I would love to tell you that there is a magic pill, or 15-steps that you can memorize to make people want to follow you (and goodness knows there’s enough “experts” out there promising that their formulas-for-success will do just that), but it just doesn’t work that way. That’s not real. There is no cookie-cutter-approach. You see, there’s a big difference between “to want to follow” and “to have to follow”. “To want” indicates choice. They choose you. And to choose, comes from the heart. Whether we like it or not, whether it’s scalable or not – appealing to the hearts of those we lead requires that we recognize that all the “hearts” we lead, are not the same. It requires that we connect authentically to the humans in our workplace. It requires that we risk bringing our true self to work.
At the end of the day, a tearful, joyful Julia stood on the stage and shared what she stood for as a leader. Her own version of leadership. “I am a leader!” she declared triumphantly, “and this is why….”
Several weeks later, I received an email from Julia. She wrote to share a note she had received from a young manager on her team. A note thanking her for making a difference – for seeing something in him that he hadn’t seen. “The funny thing is, I didn’t see that in myself, until I met you, Kimberly,” Julia said. “I always thought I was a bad leader, for not being like all the rest. Now I can see that it’s my differences that are my strengths. The people on my team know I care and that’s why they let me lead them. That’s why they do such great work.”
Wherever you are on your leadership journey, I encourage you to explore what kind of leader you want to be. Because if you really want results, it’s going to take a new kind of leadership to make it happen.
Who are you as a leader?
©OnStage Leadership, 2014
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