I’m a Democrat, but especially a democrat when it comes to work. I wrote a book called Everyday Leadership: Getting Results in Business, Politics, and Life and I have a radio show called “everyday leadership,” because I believe leading is an activity and NOT a position. Everyone can lead. And people without positions can often lead more and better than those who have the title, power and salary. And that brings me to this title: my chicken and egg problem. At the end of this, I ask you: which is it? Chicken or egg?
Apparently, we collectively believe that something separates a great manager/leader from a great teammate. In particular there’s an expectation we have for a leader whom we’d “willingly choose to follow” that’s different than what we expect from someone we’d like “on our team?”
So says my mentor and friend Jim Kouzes and his co-author Barry Posner in their new book, The Truth about Leadership: The No-fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know. If you’ve read their classic, The Leadership Challenge, you’ll enjoy this latest offering as an accessible recharge for your leadership batteries; if you haven’t read their classic, well, The Truth About Leadership is a superbly readable introduction to their research-tested work. “Truth 4” answers the question with which I began. It is this: “Focusing on the Future Sets Leaders Apart.”
Since 1980, Kouzes and Posner have asked “tens of thousands of people” from around the world what characteristics they want “in a leader they’d willingly follow.” Four characteristics continually rise to the surface: honest, forward-looking, competent and inspiring. Forward-looking is named by 70% of respondents. Interestingly, when people are asked not about “leaders” but about “teammates,” only 27% say they need someone who is “forward-looking.” That huge discrepancy disturbs my democratic sensibilities! Why don’t, or why wouldn’t we want our teammates to be forward-looking? Why such a gap? What do you think?
Is it the chicken: Because teammates simply don’t focus people on the future, that creates the perception and expectation that teammates shouldn’t have to focus on the future? Or is it the egg: that because we don’t expect teammates to focus on the future, well, they just don’t? And in turn we don’t expect it from them? Maybe more important: Is this okay? And if not, how do we change it?
Whether in business, family or politics, we can’t afford not to have everybody looking towards the future. Conditions around us are changing too quickly, challenges keep cropping up, so we can’t look to the past, nor even just stay in the present. And we surely can’t just rely on the bosses in our worlds to look ahead. We have to cultivate the practice of looking ahead and being proactive. Agree? And if so, how do we start to build this capacity in our followers and in us as followers?
Look forward with me to a more engaged, proactive, responsible and forward-looking people,
Leading with their best self!