Dynamic leaders are a hot commodity in today’s competitive market. According to TrainingIndustry.com, leadership development is a $366 billion industry. But I would argue we are making it harder than we need to. Simply put, we are doing it wrong.
In a typical organization, the management and development team grow increasingly frustrated with the lack of what they deem as quality leadership candidates in order to build the bench and prepare their company for the much-needed growth and sustainability in the future. In order to remedy this, they develop programs to recruit quality proven leaders. They throw money at the problem, developing training programs and mentorships. And while much of this is important, if they have not first found the right people for the appropriate roles, then that money and time have been wasted.
Our team members do not speak up because they simply do not see themselves as leaders.
As much as the leadership team is frustrated, the employees are even more so. But for different reasons. Team members come to work seeing opportunities created for what they can feel are the wrong reasons and most often they feel are created for the wrong people. The team members in our organizations have the best feel for the problems and typically the most creative and sustainable solutions for the issues we face. Yet when they see money spent on programs developed in a think-tank, they simply cannot get behind them, and their frustrations continue to grow. Our team members do not speak up because they simply do not see themselves as leaders. And frankly, if they are in an organization that does not value their roles as what I call Everyday Leaders, then this lack of seeing themselves as leaders has been reinforced. Unfortunately, this is why employees walk past issues they know can be solved, leaving it to who they have been told are the real leaders.
Questions we ask ourselves
Let’s for a moment imagine the great scale of leadership. Picture, if you will, a growth chart with the top of the scale being the person you most respect as a leader. People may come to your mind such as a powerful world leader, dead or alive, or a business tycoon. Whoever they are, place them at the top of your scale. No think of the person you are least likely to follow. The person that you would not elect to office, promote to run your company, or follow into battle. This is your current leadership spectrum. Now for a moment look at your leadership spectrum, with your ideal leader at one end, and your not-so-ideal leader at the other. Where would you place yourself? Are you leading millions to a better life? Or can you not get anyone to follow you out of a burning building? Wherever you are on that scale, picture yourself there and sit with that thought for a moment.
Typically this is how we have viewed the leaders in our lives, as well as our own ability to be a leader. We ask ourselves questions such as:
- Am I a leader?
- Will I ever be a leader?
- Who are the leaders around me?
- Who will appoint me a leader?
- When will I be a leader?
Yet these are the wrong questions. Next, I am going to challenge you to through your leadership scale out the window and start completely over with new data.
A New Leadership Scale
The best leaders in our world are leaders because they know what they are doing and how to solve the problems before them. This is why we trust them. This is how they earn our respect. And this is why we follow them. I cannot imagine anyone that would argue with that point. Agreeing with that point is not the problem. The problem is that we do not apply what we already know and believe in our own lives, and in doing so, we pass over the everyday leaders all around us. Let me tell you about a few of the everyday leaders who I encounter daily:
I cannot start my day without coffee. As my very dear but late friend Karen used to say, “It is the only civilized way to start your day.” So my day starts in the line at my local coffee shop. As I approach the front of the line and it becomes my turn to order, I encounter the first leader of my day, the barista. To them, I say, “I need you to help me get through the next five minutes. I need coffee. Lead me to good coffee.” And just like that, I have handed over the role of leader to the barista until this problem is solved.
Next, as I drive down the road to my first appointment, I give up the leadership reigns to the driver ahead of me. I will follow them and expect that they will swerve if there is a hazard, or hit the brakes if we need to stop. They are now leading me through the next ten minutes of my day.
These are the first of many Everyday Leaders I will encounter throughout my day. It is in the moments that they are needed that they jump to the top of my own leadership scale.