WANTED: World Changers

“The moral responsibility of every leader is staggering. [It’s] an opportunity to be of service to (literally) civilization...” –Tom Peters
“Leaders make things happen that should have been impossible.” –Robert Hargrove

I believe a leader is someone who changes the world in which we live. That change could be for good or ill and on a large or (seemingly) small scale. We have seen many examples of each throughout history. We have vivid examples of evil and oppression and of those leaders who stood against the tide. We have examples of great darkness and those who sought to bring “light” at great personal costs. We have examples of people who spent a lifetime doing little things that made a big difference in the world. The leader who is both visionary and is willing to sacrifice still exists today but has become increasingly rare.

Where are the “true” leaders, those with great courage, a strong moral compass, tremendous energy, a revolutionary vision, and the willingness to sacrifice? Where are those who will answer the call to lead and to make a difference? (I know you are out there but you are becoming much harder to find.) We have very, very few true leaders. Most organizations do a very good job of developing managers but a poor job of developing true leaders. Indeed, most organizations can only sustain a handful of visionaries and only give a select few the flexibility to take their team, department, division, or company in a completely new direction.

Too many managers? There are many, many managers. Most organizational cultures encourage management versus leadership. Our business schools train people to be better managers. Organizations use the platitudes of leadership but discourage true leadership behaviors at most levels. Most organizations discourage the risks that come from being revolutionary or going in a new direction. In business, managers have the mandate to grow existing businesses, start complementary businesses, reduce losses, and improve current processes. These are the hallmarks of good management.

There is most certainly a place for strong management but we should not confuse that with leadership. It is good to be a strong manager but leaders do new and different things. Leaders often don’t stick to “core competencies”, are visionary, and take risks. They make things happen which should have been impossible and will spend resources in the process, sometimes at a loss. Great managers are often not great leaders and the converse is also true. Great leaders, however, will employ great managers and surround themselves with the people they need to ensure success.

The increasing gap between managers and leaders. I believe the lack of visionary leadership is increasing due to a number of factors including aspiring leaders having too few mentors, the focus of our schools on management skills versus true leadership skills, and the risk aversion of most organizational cultures. Senior leaders rarely have time to invest in younger leaders. Our schools do not teach the skills needed to be a successful visionary. Most organizational cultures do not encourage risk taking or, if they do, they try to keep the risks very manageable. The reality is that most organizations are not very visionary.

You may work in an environment that cannot afford too much risk. While no organization wants to take losses some are more risk tolerant than others. This is due to both the personality of the senior management as well as the financial strength of an organization. Private companies are generally more risk tolerant than public companies. Companies with high profits can obviously afford more risk than companies with lower or no profits. As you ascend the corporate pyramid you may be given more opportunity to take risk. If you do so and succeed you usually earn the opportunity to take more risks. (The reverse is also true so make sure your early bets are successful.) Visionary leaders are often thought of as being a little crazy. You have to manage new (or visionary) efforts within the confines of your environment. If you are unable to get buy-in on the effort you have to decide if you are in the right organization. Many new companies have been started because an idea did not work within the leader’s current culture and they decided to take the risk and create something new.

How do we train true leaders since most of us are ill-equipped to do so? Most of us have been trained to be managers. I do not believe that leaders are the only ones that can train new leaders. Managers need to learn to train new leaders and be humble enough to admit that others, even those they train, may have different strengths that better enable them to lead. Here are some guidelines for training new leaders:

  • Encourage leadership behaviors in those that have the character, the personality, the risk tolerance, the ability to draw others to themselves, and the vision of “what could be” while teaching them to manage risk and resources.

  • Allow tactical failures. This means giving people “grace” to work through and fix failures.  We all learn more from our failures than we do our successes.

  • Do not tolerate ethical lapses. No goal is worth the price of lost integrity. The effects of a lack of integrity are magnified exponentially at higher levels of responsibility. Expect “Fearless Integrity” from those you train. (See Fearless Integrity.)

  • Encourage risk taking within the limits of what your organization will allow. Be wise in helping leaders select which risks to take.

  • Help define “success” and the plan to achieve it. Fear is not a reason for inaction. Not having a pathway to success, however, is a reason to wait.

  • Assess the bets and advocate for the winners.

  • Be unselfish. This is a hard one for most people as individuals want to advance their own agenda. To develop true leaders, however, you have to realize someone may have the gifting to pass you. Your best act of service may be to help someone else be even more successful than you are. (See FIRSTS.)

Are you a leader or a manager? Either way you can change the world. Character-driven leaders take an interest in helping others be successful. They are more interested in changing their organizations and the world than they are in their personal agenda. I believe that the more you help others succeed the more you will realize success in your own life. Are you willing to invest in others? What are you doing to help change the world?

This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help feel free to reach out to me at alanb@abuttery.com.

For more information please visit www.leadershipfirsts.com.
By Alan Buttery