Everybody Wants Power, But Nobody Wants To Lead
The name “Leadership Team” is often a misnomer for the Power Team. If pushed, I suppose I could go along with their being called the “Control Team.” All too often these teams and their members do not struggle to demonstrate Power or Control, but the attributes that come with Leadership.
As you are about to see, I am not lacking for examples.
Example A: I spoke with a colleague recently about her rapidly expanding mid-sized company. During a turbulent period for this company the senior leaders struggled to communicate what was happening with the staff even though they were aware of rampant rumors of layoffs. Instead, they proceeded to ghost most of the staff and ignore what they knew was the topic of fear and anxiety for their employees.
Example B: I spoke with colleagues at a different institution with an entrenched leadership team consisting of people who have all been in their roles for at least a decade. This has manifested itself in giving one another 100% backing in all situations. What is the impact? Some senior staff stand in the way of better solutions or systems because they do not want to stray from what is comfortable for them. The organization is having trouble retaining talent because they do not see a pathway to leadership in the future. Meanwhile, a focus exists for junior staff to realize goals, without giving them the tools that they need.
Examples C: I speak with colleagues all the time who are tired and burnt out from the challenges of this moment in the world. What do I mean? A combination of covid and monkeypox, non-stop Zoom meetings and conversations, how hard flying has become, the overwhelming news cycle, weather extremes and prices spiking. At the same time, as we are experiencing this mess, we have an ever-increasing splintering of human connection at all levels. Often, leadership responds a bit like an ostrich with their head in the sand. They want to tell you, “When I was where you are, I had to pay a price that I expect you to pay too.”
People like the trappings of Leadership. The titles. The attention. The salary. The decision-making authority. The directing of others. “Bossy with the best stuff” captures it. However, very little of those are about the ideals of being a good leader.
Being a leader in any meaningful way is not about your place on the organizational chart, the number of press clippings, your direct reports or even your impressive degrees and fellowships.
Leadership is much more nuanced and for me, it starts with thinking about the wellbeing of others. I have been scanning a selection of pieces the characteristics of good leaders and my best synthesis of attributes follow:
- Creating a vision that engages and challenges a team of people
- Take that vision and offer an understandable strategy of how to realize it.
- Locate individuals that form a team that you develop collectively and individually while also equipping to implement your strategy. (Reward their successes along the way too)
- Ensure that members understand team and individual goals; make them measurable.
- Create mechanisms and systems that allow for innovation and learning to happen that can sustain the team (or institution) and allows for new leaders to emerge.
- Recognize your own fallibility and make an effort to know yourself, improve yourself and strive to be a role model of behavior.
I have modified their list a bit, but it retains much of the spirit.
So how do you begin to locate places that offer more than Leadership Lip Service? Most of the principles above can be asked about. A few things that you might add to gauge their response.
Ask in an interview or of current/former staff
- What do you think are the strengths and areas of growth for the current leadership team?
- Are people routinely developed to become leaders within the organization or do they hire from outside?
- What are some recent policy changes or ideas that were the result of the work of more junior staff?
Keep your eyes open and ask your questions because most of the people I know who have succeeded have had good leadership at some point in their work experience. You deserve it too and knowing the signs of those who want power and control versus to “be leaders” is extremely important.
—Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.