What a leader is not

OppositesWhat is the opposite of a leader? What word comes to your mind in response to that question? Pondering what something is not can help one better understand what it is.

Would the opposite of ‘leader’ be ‘subordinate’? ‘Direct report’? No. Leadership is not found on an org chart.

Is it ‘follower’? I say no. Many of the qualities of a good leader are also qualities of a good follower. And both are moving together towards a vision.

Is it ‘victim’? Not in terms of someone who gets knocked down, but if they stay down and take a victim mentality then they are the opposite of a leader. A leader steps forward to make a difference in life. A person who plays the victim sees life as something that happens to them.

Is it ‘bystander’? If not the opposite of a leader it at least describes one who is the opposite of a leader. A bystander isn’t even following, they’re drifting through life. They’re on the sidelines at the end of the bench with their earbuds in. Leadership is not passive. A leader is in the game.

What it comes down to is that I can’t think of a single word that fits perfectly as the opposite of ‘leader’.  But then I’m not seeking a word as much as an understanding. That’s why I would love to hear what you think. Can you think of a word that’s the opposite of ‘leader’?

“Leadership exists when people are no longer victims of circumstances
but participate in creating new circumstances.”
Joseph Jaworski

Image: scottchan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Future leaders? Today’s leaders!

In the summer between his Junior and Senior years of high school our youngest son kept talking about how excited he was to be captain of the school’s Ultimate Frisbee team in his Senior year.  I finally said to him one day, “You know, you haven’t officially been named captain yet.  What happens if you aren’t named captain?”  Without any hesitation or concern he replied, “That’s ok.  I can still be a leader.”

He said it knowing full well what that meant.  Leadership is about passion, not position.

That next school year he was named co-captain along with two others and they were all great captains and great leaders on the team.  It was awesome to see the team finish fifth in state that year.  It was even more awesome to see everyone on the team grow and develop as players and as people.

Whenever young people step forward to make a difference in their world it is a beautiful thing.  It’s reassuring and inspires hope.  But to hear them referred to as “future leaders” or “leaders of tomorrow” causes me to bristle a bit.  Yes, I expect they will be leaders in the future.  But they are also leaders today, here and now.  Whether or not they will be managers some day is irrelevant.  To refer to them simply as future leaders discounts their present leadership.  They may still have a lot to learn about leadership.  Don’t we all?  So instead of calling them future leaders, let’s just call them leaders.

Photo courtesy of my youngest son
at AESThetic Photography

Burnt out? Check your pilot light.

Exhausted? Unable to concentrate? Struggling to get motivated? These are classic signs of burnout. The vision is that of an engine that has been running too fast too long and finally goes up in smoke, leaving the car to sputter to the side of the road. But a better image may be of a pilot light that has flickered out. If you’re feeling burnt out the problem may not be that you’re having to put too much into what you do, but rather that you’re not getting enough out of it.

For several years I was on a committee at work that was very active and productive. It was not part of my regular job, so it had a volunteer nature to it. It required extra time and energy on my part. After the committee ended I noticed something unexpected. I felt burnt out. Why, I wondered, would I feel burnt out now when I have more time available and not back when I was in the thick of it with that committee?

It was because I was getting more out of being on that committee than I was putting into it. It allowed me to act upon values that are important to me. It challenged my ways of thinking. I learned about myself, and about how people relate in a corporate environment. It was hard work but I grew from it.

If you’re feeling burnt out, take a break, at least for a moment. Don’t just take a break to rest and let the ashes cool. But take a break to check your pilot light. Take time to simply be and to think. Who am I? What am I doing and why am I doing it? How does what I’m doing fit with who I am? Is it in alignment with who I am, does it express who I am? In doing what I am doing am I enriched by it? Am I growing?

Is there something I am doing that I should stop doing, because it demands much of me but doesn’t really fit with who I am? Is there something I am doing, perhaps something I have to do, that I just need to better understand why I am doing it? And here is a really odd question to be asking yourself in a time of burnout, is there something I am not doing that I should be doing, something rewarding and enriching that would keep my pilot light going?

Keep a light on!

“Stress is not the enemy. A lack of refueling and renewing and recovery against the stress you face every day at work is really what depletes your resources & causes you to lose your productivity, to lose your momentum, to lose your motivation, to lose your energy.” Robin Sharma

Image: Suvro Datta / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shut the door! It stinks! – a lesson in communication

One spring the mugo pine in front of our house became infested with worms that were eating the needles off the bush. I decided to take the manly approach to get rid of them – chemicals. Well, using a shotgun would have been manlier. But when you use firearms for insecticide it slows down the recovery time of the plant.

On returning home from the store with the liquid weapon the label said (I know, not manly, I read the instructions, I admit it) that it was in concentrate form to be mixed with water (good thing I read the label). As I mixed it up the concoction smelled absolutely horrible. The odor itself would have been enough to fend off worms, wolves and most small invading armies. Carrying the potion over to the bush I walked past the front door of the house. I noticed that the door was wide open. I didn’t want the terrible smell to get inside so I yelled in to my wife, “Shut the door! It stinks!”

After I had committed the application, cleaned up and got everything put away safely I went in to talk to my wife. Our conversation revealed something interesting. When I had yelled in through the door, she was not aware that I was working with an odiferous chemical. What I was not aware of was that she had been singing as she was doing spring cleaning. So here she had been on a beautiful spring day, working with the door open to take in the fresh air, singing joyfully as she went and I yell in, “Shut the door! It stinks!”

Fortunately she realized that I could not have possibly meant what she heard me say. She knew there had to be more to the story. Had I yelled in, “Please close the door so this awful smell doesn’t get in the house,” would have raised other questions for her about me, but would have been more effective.

I learned a lesson in communication that day. It’s not just about the message that’s delivered. It’s about the message that’s received.


What’s better than engagement?

Employee engagement is held up as a key element to corporate success. It is important that employees have a sense of connection with the organization. But what about connecting the organization to the employee? What about the rapidly changing work environment, is employee engagement still enough? Or is it time to focus on something more?

While the general concept of engagement is a wonderful thing, unfortunately it is often regarded in a mechanical view of the corporate world: The Do loop of sacrifice & compensation. In this context the very word “engagement” takes on its mechanical connotation. A clutch is something you engage. Employee engagement seeks to make sure that each individual gear is meshed smoothly with the corporate cogs.

With a line drawn between work and life there is no real balance to be found between the two. How can an employee be engaged at work when they are forced to leave life at the door? What does it matter when what matters doesn’t matter?

And the situation degrades further when economic conditions worsen. The work side gets jammed with more pressure to Do, and employees are just thankful to have the problem and not the less fortunate alternative. Too often employees are thought to be engaged in their work when all they are is married to their job.

It’s important that employees are personally connected with the organization. But if people aren’t able to fully be who they are in their work, the most that engagement will ever produce is mediocrity. Real success is not found in connecting the individual to the organization.

The key is in making sure that within the organization
each individual remains connected to who they are.

So, what goes beyond employee engagement?

It’s not just about engagement; it’s about expression & enrichment: The Be-Do loop. Is an individual able to work in a way that builds upon and expresses who they are? Are individuals enriched by their work, do they become more from what they do?

“The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets out of it
but what he becomes by it.”
  John Ruskin

This isn’t a management issue. It’s not an HR issue. This is a leadership issue, and that means it’s the responsibility of each individual who comprises the organization. In the network of relationships and interactions each person must be wholly regarded and respected for who they are, not just perceived as the piece of them that shows up for work.

What are your suggestions? How do we go beyond engagement to create a more fulfilling workplace? Are you engaged in your work? Is your work an expression of who you are? Are you enriched by your work? Are you there to make a living or to make a difference? How does an organization create a corporate culture that recognizes each individual for their intrinsic worth and not just their value to the corporation? What’s better than employee engagement?

Photo courtesy of AESThetic Photography