Leadership is a role and work. Nobody wants the boss but everybody wants someone to do the work. It’s your turn to do the work.
We commonly confuse the two meanings of leadership. Many people do so wilfully in pursuit of status. The human desire for social status takes priority over the hard work of leading. We need to accept that nobody wants the role, but everyone can do the work. Then we need to all get on with the work.
Nobody Wants to be Led
Having a boss or other hierarchical leader is overrated. Learned helplessness can be comforting for those who want to avoid conflict, anxiety and doubt. However, those negatives come find all of us and there being someone with the status of leader rarely helps.
A leader only makes a positive difference if they do the work. A leader who focuses on the status is a very bad thing. They will become focused on preserving and enhancing the status which means pain for everyone and makes the work a distraction.
Everybody Can Do the Work
The work of leadership is the work of encouraging others to realise their potential individually and with others. The work of leadership is not the hierarchical role of making decisions, allocating resources, having answers and holding power.
We all have the power to influence others to act, to learn and to grow. We all can contribute to the value of collaboration in our organisation. The work of leadership is hard conversation, creating tension, leveraging employee potential and creating valuable change.
This work of leadership is not without risks to us and to others. The work of leadership involves conflict with power and status. It also involves pushing against the system and all its inertia. The risks are not a source of our inability to act. They are just reasons why it may be hard and should shape how we act.
Do the Work
Having the ability to do the work of leadership is one thing. Doing that work without status is another.
People need to feel psychologically safe to make their contributions. People need degrees of freedom to make change doing the work.
Organisations need to invest in the capabilities and processes that support this work. Importantly, organisations need to ensure that the status of leader is not stopping the work of leadership – hard conversation, creating tension, leveraging employee potential and creating valuable change.