True Leaders Lead Everyone

Most often we tend to think of the term leading as someone “higher up” in an organization leading people at a lower level of the organization. 


Too often we would be right.


True leadership is multi-directional. True leaders lead down, across, and sometimes up. True leaders even lead themselves at times. Because they know that a title or position doesn’t make them a leader they know that they can lead in every direction.


Leadership, at it’s core is influence. If you have the ability to influence others then you have the ability to lead. It doesn’t mean you will be a good leader, it doesn’t mean you will lead with noble intentions, and it doesn’t mean you’ll be successful as a leader. It’s simply means your influence will at least partially shape someone else’s thoughts or actions. 


If you’re only leading down it is quite possible that you are counting on your title or position to influence others. Titles and positions may buy you some time to demonstrate your level of influence but sooner or later, most often sooner, you will have to realize that’s it you, your experience, your integrity, your “brand” which will allow you to influence others long-term.


If you’re only leading down in your organization, it’s quite possible you’re not really leading at all. If you only have “influence” downwards in your organization then it may not be real influence. It may be fear or intimidation that causes your people to follow your wishes and you should be aware that following your wishes or “orders” and actually following you as a leader are two very different things. 


On the other hand, when leading across your organization, that is to lead others at your same level, you likely have very little other than your influence to shape their thoughts or actions. To lead up in your organization, that is to lead those at higher levels than your own, you have nothing but your influence to impact their thoughts and actions. 


But true leaders most definitely lead in every direction. They don’t count on titles or positions. They demonstrate solid, consistent leadership characteristics that earn them a high degree of influence. 


If you find yourself consistently impacting the behavior of those below you in your organization but never above you then that may be an indication that your leadership is limited to one direction. 


To lead in every direction, to lead everyone, forget about levels. Forget about titles and ignore positions. Do what is right, say what you mean, exert honest and professional influence with integrity to everyone around you. Some of those may be lower than you in the organization, some may be above you. 

None of that really matters because you’ll be making a difference in the right direction, no matter which direction it is. 

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.