Managers are a dime a dozen, but real leaders seem to be in very short supply. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations about what it takes to be a leader…I think about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr and how they inspired loyalty in many, respect in others, and fear from those who understood that they were capable of changing the world. Maybe the majority of us, those of us working in regular jobs, leading average lives do not really need to strive to be or seek out epic leaders. Or maybe the typical corporate structure and its hierarchy values managers over leaders. Yes, those who are visionary, energetic, or good people persons have the ability to become incredibly successful (obviously). Even though I see really smart, charismatic people achieve success I am constantly under the impression that the reasons are more personally derived (i.e. the ability to network, hard work, innovative) than it is due to being a true leader.
To put it bluntly, I have had many bosses, but I have only worked with one person who I perceive as a true leader, an individual who inspired real loyalty in me. I know that it is because this individual cared about developing me and mentoring me to success. Several years later, I still feel an intense loyalty to this individual and would work with them again in a heartbeat.
Even having had a wonderful mentor I struggle with what it would take to be a good leader. Considering that when I did a search for “Leadership Books” on Amazon I came back with 70,926 hits, I know that I am not the only one. I do envy those who appear to have natural leadership abilities (by the way, when I make this statement I am talking about Bill Clinton/Steve Jobs-caliber people). Unfortunately, I am NOT one of those people. The good news is that I am optimistic that it is possible for your Average Joe (or, really, your Average Amy) to practice and develop leadership skills. Am I the next Madeline Albright? Probably not, but it certainly gives me something to strive for!
I have always been afraid to dip my toe into the leadership pool, but this past year I have become increasingly convinced that I am ready. I have started small, by becoming the Vice President of Education (VPE) for my Toastmaster’s club. This experience has taught me that I have been right all along in what I perceive to be the downside of leadership…well, really the downside of management. Even in a volunteer organization where people join because they understand they will derive some benefit, it can be challenging to convince people to make time in their busy lives to participate and maintain the health of the club. For the most part, I end up doing a good deal of communicating and follow up (to be more honest, micromanaging). Where did I go wrong? I do not want to be a micro-manager! I want to be a leader! I know the importance of learning everyone’s goals (check), communicating my goals (check), communicating objectives and expressing my trust in their abilities when people embark on special projects (check), and giving recognition when accomplishments are achieved (check). Everyone in the club is more than willing to follow my direction (I cannot tell you if it is because of formal authority, or if they feel I have earned authority)…yet, I still have a niggling feeling in the back of my head that I am filling more of a management than a leadership role.
I am still seeking for my inner leader, I know she is in there somewhere.