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NOT Everyone is a Leader

organizational consulting Jan 11, 2017
Not Everyone Is A Leader

and Other Truths about Leadership that No One Will Admit

I have heard the refrain "everyone is a leader" ever since I got into the performance improvement/organizational development business 20 years ago. 

The heartfelt sentiment behind this lie is good: everyone is equally important to an organization's success, and everyone has the potential and capacity to be an influencer. But having the ability to be an influencer or possessing good self-management skills is not the same as having the gift of leadership, particularly executive leadership.

Over the years, I have seen the "everyone is a leader" myth blindly accepted as truth. This falsehood waters down the significance and uniqueness of the gift of leadership and keeps people who don't have that gift from finding out what they are great at doing. Challenging this rhetoric was crucial in the organizational development process that I offered through my consulting business. It's like telling an athletic team that all of its members are star players when that is far from the reality. If every team member believes they are the star and coaches manage them this way, there would be no teamwork, chaos would reign, and success would fly out the window.

What is the gift of leadership, and why doesn't everyone have it?

There is no particular reason why not everyone has the gift of leadership. It just happens that way. After all, not everyone can fly through the air like Michael Jordan or belt out a song like Barbra Streisand. It isn't that any of us is any "better" than everyone else; we have different gifts.

The key to success is worrying less about wanting a gift that you don't have and focusing on developing the gift you do have. It is equally important to own the gift you have without apology, even if others covet it. Like good looks and musical ability, leadership ability is often coveted by those who don't have that gift. Don't spend time worrying about what others think if coveted skills come naturally to you. Instead, work to develop that area for the good of your organization. To own the fact that you have the gift of leadership, you must use it, period.

For example, David was one of the best leaders I ever consulted. He was the head of an organization that grew and expanded in unprecedented ways in his industry. What impressed me about David was his clear grasp of his strengths and weaknesses. He told me that he was good at vision casting, communication, and leadership development. So, he organized his job around those three leadership skills. He delegated to others what he knew was essential to the organization and knew that he wasn't good at executing.

David is a perfect example of a leader who owned his gift, used it for the greater good of his organization, and didn't apologize for not having other strengths. In the process, he furthered the development and career of countless other leaders who reported to him, and his professional track record speaks for itself. Owning his strength spurred organizational development. David is now a sought-after consultant for leaders in his industry who want to understand his success better. And I can confidently say after coaching and consulting with him for years that a primary reason he is so successful is that he took ownership of his leadership gift.

Another truth: Leaders don't always make the best managers/bosses

Through my consulting business and years of organizational development, I saw another gift people constantly confuse with the gift of leadership. That is the gift of management, which is a unique ability to assume the welfare of a group of people and help them work together to execute tasks. Traits for those with the gift of management include the ability to: care for people as individuals, delegate tasks according to strengths, and help others to stay on task.

As a consultant, I find it frustrating when programs try to teach managers who are needed and gifted in management to become leaders, which they are not. Imagine if these "training" programs were successful, and every manager began acting like a leader. The Gallup Organization identified the number-one factor most dramatically affecting employee engagement as the quality of the group or team's manager. I want to report to an excellent manager under a great leader because I want someone to see and care for me as an individual! Perhaps my child is sick, and I need to work from home for a few days. I want someone to know me well enough to know what I am best at and give me tasks to help me grow and better serve the company in that area. Don't you feel the same?

The Walt and Roy Disney partnership is a perfect example of how leadership and management gifts can work together to maximize the success of an organization. Walt Disney, as we all well know, was a visionary. He saw full-length, animated movies before they existed. Walt saw a resort destination in the middle of Central Florida swampland and orange groves. In other words, he was a great leader. But he was a horrible manager. Enter his brother Roy, who was a perfect complement to Walt. Roy brought his knowledge of structure, finance, and people to the table. Roy's managerial gifts were equally responsible for Walt's vision becoming a reality and for the Disney brand being what it is today.

The Bottomline

Organizations need to clarify that all employees are influencers and must take personal responsibility for themselves and their jobs. However, something else that needs to be made clear is that not everyone is a leader, and managers are equally important as leaders to an organization. In other words, being called a "manager" isn't being labeled as a second-class leader. Management is a gift, and management's position needs to be elevated to its rightful place so that everyone understands that the gift of management is certainly no less significant than the gift of leadership.

On bosses' day, a great manager should receive the "world's greatest boss" coffee mug, which is wonderful. Every employee needs a great boss. And when a company does a dramatic turnaround or achieves substantial accomplishments that no one thought possible, a great leader needs to be acknowledged and appreciated.

The gift of leadership is a special ability to set goals for the future and explain these goals to others so that they voluntarily and harmoniously work together to accomplish them. Traits for those with a gift of leadership include clear vision, the ability to focus on the group's greater goal, and not obsessing over details. Leaders and managers are both critical to organizational development, but they are mutually exclusive roles. 

Next Step

Do you find yourself longing to make a more strategic impact on the executives and organizations you currently serve?

Are you frustrated with being pigeonholed into a tactical role, missing out on the opportunity to share your valuable insights in decision-making circles? That's why I'm thrilled to introduce you to the OD Consultant's Toolbox – a transformative program that will empower you to make a strategic impact and elevate your consulting game to new heights...at whatever price you can afford!

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