Leadership Theatre

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time, plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII

If you are too busy to lead, then you are not a leader. Leadership is work, not a status. If you don’t do the work those who have given you authority and influence will offer that work to others.

The Work Of Leadership

Our leadership has become focused on performative not functional tasks. Leadership is work, not theatre. If our leaders do not focus on their work, they will loose their influence and their power.

Before I continue let’s define leadership. Leadership is the ability to influence individual or collective action. Leadership is not a status or a title. It is not for show. Leadership is granted by communities, not appointed by organisations or bosses.

Leadership is the work in groups of people come together to align and choose their actions. The foundation of leadership is the work of influence and the authority that others grant to leaders to have influence because of the work that they do.

We all recognise the theatre of leadership: the stage, the lofty pronouncements, the adulation, the email banner & more. Some leaders become so focused on this theatre as the role that they seek to outsource it to communications professions. The demand for ‘post on behalf of’ features in communication and community platforms is one inisidious example. Sure someone can write your emails or make your post, fixing the grammar and the sweeping rhetoric, but remember they are the one’s influencing others, not you. This feature may have a role when the risks are high, but it is limited role, not an outsourcing opportunity.

This focus on the theatre of leadership leaves many employees and community members heads scratching. There are real community problems to solve. They aren’t solved by stages, banners, slogans, messages or fancy rhetoric. The more time invested in those things the more disengaged the community that is looking for personal work to solve problems together. No wonder leaders of all forms are grappling with lack of engagement and authority. The answer is not more communications packaging to cut through. The answer is human connection, sharing, problem solving and learning together.

The theatre of leadership exists only to make the leader feel better. Performance satisfies the ego. Performance keeps up appearances. Performance lulls people into a dangerous complacency. Meanwhile the real work is forgotten or being directed elsewhere.

Communities make Leaders

Communities make leaders. They grant them the authority and the influence to help the community come together in action. If a person is too busy to exercise that authority and influence, it goes to another. Nobody chooses to delegate authority and influence. The community decides who to follow, based on who best does the work.

If you don’t do the work, you won’t be a leader. When the focus is on leadership theatre, people leave communities or they go looking for authority elsewhere in the community. It can be a tough conversation to explain to senior management that the reason they aren’t the most followed, most liked or most influential in their community is that others have done more work, won more trust and built stronger relationships. A ‘post on behalf of’ feature will increase activity from that leader. It does nothing for influence and authority. Communities reward humanity, openness, alignment, transparency, trust given and work done.

The work in question is to improve the functioning of the community. Community managers, champions and change agents are doing this work every day. The influence and authority is to help others to connect, share, solve problems and learn together to achieve individual and shared goals. If you aren’t working for the community, they aren’t working for you. If you are too busy to do that work, then why call yourself a leader? Cancel a few meetings and sessions of self-praise and go find your community again. You might want to start by enabling the community managers, champions and change agents to be more effective with a few degrees of freedom.

The praise that rings out to those in power standing on a stage is empty and hollow. Step off the stage and go to work. Do the hard work of connecting, sharing, solving and learning in the community. Enable others to succeed and let the trappings of theatre and ego fall away. There’s much more to be gained as communities and individuals achieve their potential. That is the work, not the theatre.

4 thoughts on “Leadership Theatre

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