When I first entered the workforce, I craved the idea of becoming a leader. I didn’t care what it was. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to figure it out. I wanted to lead people to the Promised Land—a heroic, epic, charismatic leader marching his team to glory.
And then someone asked, “Where are we going?” Huh? “Why are we going there?” sung another doubter. Questions…Questions…Questions! I shouted in my best Hamletic-Angst.
Then—like a digital TV satellite feed interrupting your favorite reality show, High Def beauty fading to thousands of distorted pixels, just before they send the next victim home—what was clear to me early on, had subtly became distorted to me now.
An Odysessy and two years later, I have doubts about leadership. I may be a heretic for confessing this, as a disciple of Ken Blanchard’s leadership philosophies, but is everyone really a leader? We’ve all known someone that is leading that shouldn’t be. Furthermore, many of my peers, myself included, want nothing to do with management. We just want to do our jobs, and do them well. Why did I ever want to be a leader? Why would I ever want to lead in the future? Why lead now?
In many ways, leadership is a thankless pursuit. At a local level, at a corporate level, in government, and even often at home, people rarely stop to recognize your tireless efforts of getting out emails, making phone calls, or putting up with other people’s shortcomings, doubts, and immaturity. Few, if any, thank you for organizing meetings, explaining the vision, collecting money to pay fees and bills, even delegating responsibilities.
But that’s the HOW of leadership. Leaders, good leaders, need to know WHY they are leading.
Leadership is a means to a greater end. It is not an end unto itself. Leadership is the board to the surfer; the bat and the glove to the baseball player; the point shoes to the ballerina; the pen to the writer; the instrument to the musician. The opera is within, and leadership is the voice that allows others to hear what you already know, feel, and desire deep down.
Leadership becomes most unclear to us when we get so focused on the how of leadership that we forget the why. Leadership is about going somewhere—to a city on a hill that may or may not even exist. It’s about getting to a better place tomorrow, because of what we do today.
Frankly, it’s easy to figure out the how of leadership. You can read books, go to seminars, find a mentor, and even experience moments that will teach you the concepts of how to lead. But until you put it into action, until you step off the front porch of your house and go forth into a brave new world, get dirty, suffer setbacks, make mistakes, and put up with all of the burdens that come with trying to help people be better, the burdens that come with making yourself better, then you will not know why you need to lead now.
In every good thing—a good company, a good sports team, a great player, a thriving community, a comfortable t-shirt, a delicious sandwich, a good experience—you will find a leader, or a cluster of self leaders, who know EXACTLY why they are leading now.
Do you know why you lead now?
Jason Diamond Arnold
The Ken Blanchard Companies
Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action