The Illusion of Leadership

No position or title can make you a leader. Yes, there are positions that provide the illusion of leadership but it doesn’t take long for most people to see past that. Yes, there are some positions that offer, temporarily anyway, the influence required to help you lead but even that does not make you a leader.

Leadership is far more about disposition than it is about position. Leadership is about making a decision to seize the opportunity that comes from a position to actually make a difference in the lives of people.

Here’s a sad fact in way too many organizations today, it may well be a sad fact in many governments as well: lots of people in leadership positions squander the opportunity to actually lead by settling for the illusion of leadership.

The illusion of leadership causes people to manage rather than lead. It places blame rather than accepting responsibility. It makes the person in the leadership position cautious, frequently too cautious. It limits the growth of organizations and people if, and this is a big if, if it doesn’t outright kill it.

Worst of all, the illusion of leadership becomes its own kind of Ponzi scheme where every decision is designed to protect and keep alive the illusion that real leadership exists. The leadership position remains but the potential of the person in it to actually lead dies. Oftentimes the last person to realize the leadership is merely an illusion is the person in the leadership position. The illusion becomes a trick they play upon themselves, over and over again.

Every person coming into a leadership position, regardless of how they got there, has a grace period where the position or title will give them the opportunity to earn the right to lead. Yes, in case you weren’t aware, the right to actually lead must be earned. The length of the grace period varies by situation but it’s never as long as a leader thinks it is.

New leaders must demonstrate actual leadership quickly or the influence that came with the position begins to wane. Once it is gone it’s really tough to get it back.

Many new leaders get so caught up in the urgency of managing “stuff,” the business, budgets, policies and the like, that the importance of leading their people moves to the back burner. Real leadership is replaced by the illusion.

You must intentionally carve out time in your schedule to show leadership everyday. Real leadership. The kind that lets people know they matter. The kind that leaves no doubt that they are important to the overall success of the organization. The kind that shows you care more about them as people than you care about the brick and mortar building they work in and more about them than policies and procedures.

Above all don’t buy into the illusion of leadership. Don’t believe that any amount of managing can replace true leadership. Never forget, if you’re doing it for the business it’s managing, if you’re doing it for your people it’s leading.

By the way, the picture that accompanies this post…. it is two faces or is it one vase? The illusion of leadership can confuse even the best leaders, don’t let it confuse you.

9 thoughts on “The Illusion of Leadership

  1. “Intention” is the word that popped off the screen for me. Being intentional about leadership. Showing up consistently every day doing what you said you were going to do. Modeling the way, Challenging the process. Inspiring a shared vision. Enabling others to act. Encouraging the heart. These are the five practices of exemplary leadership penned by Kouzes and Posner in “The Leadership Challenge.”

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