On Leadership

Originally published on August 10, 2019, but relevant enough that I wanted to bring it back up now. I wrote it for two Protégé groups I was in at the time (and I’m not anymore, of course) but I feel like it’s relevant still.

So I don’t really want to talk about failed leaders; people who are in positions of authority or rank, who aren’t good leaders. Instead, what I want to talk about is the very last thing that Sinek says in this clip here:

“But the rank itself is not what makes you a leader, it just gives you a leadership position.”

Nothing he’s saying here should be a surprise to anyone — we all know of people who have been promoted beyond their level of competence; at work, in our hobbies, the military, the grocery store, heck, look at the very top of the US government and you can barely swing a congressional subpoena without hitting someone who is in a position of immense authority who can’t lead a group of devoted followers out of a paper bag. Stephen King books are FULL of these types, and they’re almost always the ones who end up dead, hurt, or imprisoned because of it.

In short: the world is full of petty tyrants in all walks of life, and while SOME of them are this way because they’re actually not great people, a large number are like this because they don’t actually know how to lead. They haven’t been taught.

Which is what makes those people who -can- inspire and lead, no matter what their actual rank or position, so special. I’m privileged to know several of them. But… I’m not going to name them, because invariably posts where we start talking about the people we appreciates most (is THAT what you appreciates most about me, Squirrely Dan?) they end up being mutual admiration circle jerks, and that’s not what I’m trying to discuss here.

Instead, consider these four questions:

1) What are the qualities of leadership that you admire the most?

2) How do these qualities of leadership manifest in the people around you? This includes your co-workers, your boss, even the people who you supervise, as well as your various circles of friends and larger social groups.

3) What qualities of leadership do you see in the people you don’t like, who inexplicably (you may think) are able to inspire and lead their friends, or co-workers, or direct reports? Note: this can be something negative – in your opinion – but still seems to inspire others. Take that step back. Look at things unemotionally. Like I said, it’s not a circle jerk of mutual appreciation.

4) MOST IMPORTANTLY: How can you incorporate these qualities of leadership that you value into your everyday life? How can -you- become a better leader?

A big part of why this clip resonates with me SO MUCH is the acknowledgment of the person in the trenches, with the rest of us, who looks to the left, and looks to the right, and says “I’m going to be there for these people.”

That’s what I try to do, every day.