Leading is a sacrifice, Following is a choice

We spend over three hundred and fifty billion dollars a year on leadership development of one form or another, so we obviously take it seriously.

Yet being appointed to a position that requires us to lead does not make us a leader. Neither does a leadership course. Having a leader appointed to our team does not mean we will follow. Following is a choice, never an instruction.

I was once told by somebody who was most definitely a leader, and one I chose to follow that leading was easy, as long as you knew what you were prepared to die for. A bit dramatic, but she had a point. That level of clarity and commitment would make someone easy to follow, if you chose to share that commitment. The metaphor applies most accurately to those who have a vocation, not just the military. We have seen all types of people, from leaders of movements to quiet followers who match it.

It does make it a bit of a problem when it comes to shareholder based corporations. I can think of very few (not none) who have been prepared to sacrifice their career to a cause that is the company they lead, and of course walking away with a very large golden parachute is not a sacrifice.

The real leadership challenge is really one of ego. As a leader you exist for one reason only; ensuring those you lead are in the best possible position to deliver on the commitments you have accepted as leader, with or without you. The goal is not your responsibility, it is theirs. A leader’s role is to resource them. Equally, following is a choice based largely on trust and shared commitment.

The best leaders I know have been on very few leadership courses, they just lead. They are mostly in small founder led businesses, or in vocations like teaching, or medicine, or science. They often wouldn’t call themselves leaders, but there is no doubt that people follow them, which is as good a qualification as I can think of.

In a business culture where we like to be able to define and quantify everything, and preferably turn it into a process, leadership is an exception. Perhaps, as a prerequisite for attendance on any leadership course candidates should be required to say what why they want to take on such a challenging task. Just what is important enough to them that they are willing to make the sacrifices that leadership requires?

Learning to be a leader on the job is a high risk activity for all concerned, like brain surgery. We want those who are prepared to make the choice to have pra cticed how to lead, in real life, long before we let them loose on a live project that requires it.

We lead people, but manage money. If your goal is based around money, learn to manage. Management is essential, and does not require the same level of sacrifice.

We need leaders and followers who choose their role consciously, and leave ego where it belongs,

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