Don’t Overthink Leadership
Lots of people lead without ever giving it a thought. Some of these are naturally gifted leaders, people who seem to have been born knowing how to lead the way others know how to play a piano or paint. Others may be terrible leaders but they don’t worry about it. In a scene from Raising Arizona, unpainted furniture magnate Nathan Arizona Sr. is talking with police after one of his young children has been kidnapped. Asked about the possibility of a disgruntled employee, he replies, “Hell, they’re all disgruntled. I ain’t running no damn daisy farm.”
But most of us who engage in leadership devote effort and energy to leading successfully. We think, we reflect, we read, we discuss, we consider, we weigh. Even if we’re action-oriented, we usually balance that action with analysis.
That tendency to analyze and think has spawned a thriving industry in leadership. Books, training packages, academic programs, consultants, magazines, websites, and blogs all address our need to think about leadership, to understand what we’re doing. But how much of it speaks to what leaders really need to know?
I happen to know a thing or two about the complexification of leadership. My graduate thesis addressed – take a deep breath – the efficacy of the initiation of psychological structure through the use of directive leadership styles as a negative correlate of role ambiguity and positive correlate of employee satisfaction in workplaces that have undergone a recent reduction in force. In the years since, I’ve made my living as a leadership writer, trainer, consultant, and coach.
Having come through all that education and experience, here’s what I’ve concluded: We leadership experts have made it harder for people to be leaders. Leadership doesn’t require SAT vocabulary words, fancy quadrant models, and research citations from obscure journals. Those things may speak to some people, but they leave a lot of potentially great leaders behind.
Maybe it’s time to get back to the basic idea of what leaders really are: Creators of opportunity for others, people who open doors. The most basic responsibility of a leader is to leave people better off than you found them. You do that by continually opening doors for the people you lead.
If we can hold ourselves successfully up to that simple, all-encompassing standard, we can feel good about our leadership role. If we can’t, no amount of analysis will help us.
Bill Treasurer is the Chief Encouragement Officer of Giant Leap Consulting. His latest book is Leaders Open Doors (www.leadersopendoors.com). Bill is also the author of the bestselling book Courage Goes to Work along with the training kit Courageous Leadership: A Program for Using Courage to Transform the Workplace. Bill has led courage-building workshops for such organizations as NASA, Accenture, CNN, PNC Bank, SPANX, Hugo Boss, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @btreasurer (#leadsimple).