Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Leadership vs. Leading

In most of the projects that I've been involved with, I've found that there are often severe gulfs between what I would call "being a leader" and "leadership as such." We've all been on both sides of this divide: we either are leaders or we are led by them. Here are a few of the distinctions that I've seen when I've had to fill a leadership role:

1. Leadership as such - In this case, we'll say that I've undertaken a large project. I am leading a team of folks (usually students like myself). During our meetings, I provide lots of good ideas and excitement. I can bring experience and networking. I delegate and decide and draw up plans for the team. At the end of our meetings, we go through our to-do lists and run out the door shouting our enthusiasm.

And no one does anything. The to-do lists do not get fulfilled. Meetings don't get scheduled. Forms aren't filed. I fail - I fail the team.

Now let's see the other side:

2. Being a leader - My group and I have undertaken a large project. Although I am leading the group, my real job is simply to steer our collective energy. We bounce around ideas to all groups members. We make lists and figure out where our individual strengths reside. We draw on all of our talents to construct a big-picture that we can move on as a unit. At the end of the meeting, we know what we have to do.

And it all gets done, and done well. Things come together because the team as a team has congealed. Who the leader is doesn't matter. What the team has done matters. If things don't turn out well, it's the team as a whole that needs to change something. We can learn.

It has taken me a long list of small failures to realize these things, but it's important to remember that true leaders don't so much point and command as empower and support.

Flickr photo courtesy of Dunechaser.

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