At the end of the day (terrible business buzzword concept, and I’m sorry I opened this post that way), isn’t the goal of a leader to accomplish a specific goal, or specific set of goals? You have deliverables, and you need to hit them. Right? So maybe you edit a magazine, or maybe you deploy trucks to locations, or maybe you coordinate weddings, or maybe you run a sales and marketing lead generation program. You probably do something, and that something has a goal (even if you can’t see how your goal ties back to the broader goals — i.e. purpose — there’s probably still a goal that you have). While there’s a whole host of bullshit things that play into your eventual evaluation as an employee, ultimately it should be based on some goals that were laid out for you.
Hopefully we’ve now established that one concept of leadership is to accomplish goals, even if goal-setting in organizations can be tangibly murky.
So why is so much of leadership seemingly about a leader advocating for their way to the goal, often in spite of the goal itself?
I’ve seen this three billion and 19 times since I started working, at all manner of organizations, and my people at Harvard Business Review backed me up here:
The first step to getting helpful, constructive feedback is to admit that you as a leader don’t always have the answers. Your focus should be on accomplishing the goal, not advocating for your particular idea about how best to achieve it. Yet, for many leaders, relinquishing commitment to their own solutions and ideas is difficult, particularly for those who are insecure about their own abilities or view their followers as a potential threat to their position or status in the organization. In order to create an environment for constructive voice, however, it’s essential.
As you might be able to tell, the broader idea of the article is on feedback and employee voice. I think employee voice is a huge topic for organizations, but often it falls in two awkward buckets:
- Soft Skills: “Their job isn’t to give us ideas. It’s to do the work that’s there!”
- Fear Of Transparency: If you show your emotions or tell it like it is at work, your career could be in jeopardy. Many leaders preach transparency, but aren’t actually transparent.
If you want to understand the core reason why people advocate for their own ideas instead of focusing on accomplishing the actual goals at hand, read this. It all comes back to insecurity and concerns about incompetence. Everyone’s got their own shit, and everyone’s always defending it.
I think there are a couple of core tenets of the idea of “leadership,” personally:
- Focus on the goals, not necessarily the (your?) path to the goal.
- Consider yourself more of a coach than a manager.
- Try to understand what makes the people under you tick.
- Get out there and press the damn flesh; talk to your people and share credit for the big wins.
The whole idea of “deliverables” can often crush “leadership,” because people feel they don’t have the time to focus on the above due to all the pressing concerns they have to meet. (Like this whole ridiculous idea that “I’m too busy to respect my employees,” which is PUT A FUCKING MALLET ON MY SKULL AND THEN HAMMER IT.)
Leadership is challenging, for sure — if it wasn’t, everyone would be out there doing it great — but it’s really, at base, just a series of core tenets like the ones above. I mean, am I totally misguided?