“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” – John C. Maxwell
You might have heard that “leadership matters.” Maybe you read about it in a business book. Maybe you have preached about it yourself.
But have you ever thought about what that phrase truly means?
Many use it as a measure to define why an initiative or project was a failure or success. It’s usually said to imply that if only good leadership (perhaps someone with the right title) had been in place, the initiative would have been successful. A longer version would be something like, “Our high school graduation rates have improved, thanks to the leadership of our [fill in the title].” Or another could be, “If only our [fill in the title] had been an effective leader, that initiative would have been successful.”
Regardless of the project—whether it’s a curriculum redesign, after school programming, choosing which non-academic indicator to measure, designing a student laptop implementation plan, or sustaining a professional development program—many think that a person with a title needs to be the initiator and leader.
It’s almost as if the use of titles force people to establish boundaries that limit taking initiative to only those with a title. Why is that?
What is true leadership?
It’s defined as “a capacity to lead.” But the definition doesn’t list certain people or titles. It’s not limited to specific positions of authority.
Consider this: anyone has a capacity to lead!
Leadership does matter, but it doesn’t simply rest on the person at the top of the organization. Truly effective teams understand that “leadership matters” means, at its core, the notion that everyone is a leader, not just a single person or group.
In order to promote any successful initiative that involves leadership from everyone, we should consider the following strategies.
Lead in community, not isolation
A key to success is ensuring that planning occurs and decisions are made by community. The last thing anyone wants is to be expected to be an active participant in a program or initiative that either they knew nothing about or wasn’t thoughtfully planned from all perspectives.
Minimally, a team should comprise people who represent all the various groups affected by the initiative. Better yet, those on that team should be sure to communicate fully with their respective teams and get their input so they can best represent their voice.
Don’t wait for the leader—be the leader
The idea of “two-step decision making”, as endorsed by Chuck Blakeman, proposes that only two groups of people are involved: those who have to carry out the decision, and those who are directly affected by it. These people should self-select the participants in the group (“the leaders”), then convene and ask guiding questions to come up with the best solutions.
If someone notices a specific problem or issue, they should:
- Check first with another person to verify a legitimate need.
- Advertise widely that a group is forming to address and solve the issue.
- Establish parameters that only those affected by the issue or those who have to carry out the decision will be part of the solution team.
- Don’t go crazy! The team should be no more than 10 people. If too many from one group are represented, ask them to nominate a trusted representative.
In this model, who is the leader? The person who called the group together is the leader (and they might not even have one of those “titles”). But those that are part of the formed group are also leaders. Leadership is shared and it doesn’t require a title. Shared leadership culture is about sharing at its core, which means brainstorming together, checking with others for understanding/agreement, trusting others to be good leaders to represent the team, and so forth.
Trust the leaders
When a solution is created through shared leadership, it’s important to trust and support the decision. Team members need to give input to their team representative on the group to create a solution. If it’s a large team, they likely voted to have the right person there. (Even if someone didn’t vote and remained silent, in effect they have voted to have their voice represented by the person nominated.)
Regardless, the process of having someone represent the team means that whatever the group comes up with, the team needs to support and trust that it has considered all perspectives. If something is off, rather than blame the group (“the leaders”), trust the continuous improvement process moving forward to address any needed changes.
Have a Culture of Continuous Improvement
When there is a shared leadership culture, efficiencies increase and outcomes are realized. To ensure continued success, there must be a culture of continuous improvement. This implies that initiatives will be implemented and they won’t be perfect out of the gate (or ever).
That’s okay. Better to trust a group to demonstrate leadership and come up with a good solution that will be improved upon (at appropriate times) than to point out flaws with a negative attitude. When it’s time to revisit an initiative, repeat the cycle and get the right group together to lead and make a positive difference.
How will you do your part to make sure your leadership matters?
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