What makes a leader.
Years ago I was asked to be president of my local SHRM chapter. After ten prior years of volunteering in all sorts of committees, roles, etc., I felt I was ready.
To be sure I was humbled: any potential leader who isn't is a bit of a worry to me. Pride goeth before a fall.
And I did my best, and we had some successes.
But is that enough?
The truth is I was flattered to be asked to lead. As one who relishes public speaking and the possesor of a modicum of intelligence I took the role as confirmation of my innate leadership skills. My natural ability to lead others.
In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, what a maroon.
You see, it takes more – much more – than the occassional glib speech and a passing intelligence to lead. As we know now it takes an extraordinary range of emotional intelligence plus the intestinal fortitude to expose one's weaknesses regularly to the gallery writ large.
Leadership isn't about passion and the ability to stir emotions: that's excitement. True leadership is the art of building alignment and alliances and bringing people together in ways they might not otherwise realize.
Its not always pretty and seldom easy and sure as hell does not come naturally.
Before You Accept
Many leaders would relish the chance to go back and do it again, to make things right as it were knowing what we know now. Its one reason so many second marriages work as emotionally mature partners recognize where their personal flatspots are and put in coping plans to deal with them.
But we can know much of this ahead of time.
Had I thoroughly reviewed my own capacity to lead – to be empathethic, to listen, to build coalitions, to coach, to create a compelling vision – prior to accepting the role I would have done one of two things.
- Turned the role down completely recognizing I was not ready, or,
- Built in a stronger mechanism for people to provide me on-going feedback
Rather than take the nomination as a proof that I was ready to step up, I would have done a thorough self audit and discovered the single most important lesson any leader will ever realize:
- its not about you
I did a competent job not an extraordinary one. My successor – who did wonderful work – was actually asked to fill the role before I was. But she had the capacity to do the self-analysis and recognize she wasn't ready. She also had the strength to put her ego aside and decline the nomination. I was the backup plan.
The character strength she had then I learned from since.
Ego is a siren song and will call all night long. Its only when we realize the song is a false melody that the truth can emerge and we can assess our real readiness to lead.
Is anyone ever ready to lead when thrust into the limelight? I don't know. Yet putting ego aside will make answering that question much more valuable.