I often find it odd how leadership development is seen by different levels within organizations. Typically the people who hold the purse strings and hire me as a consultant, coach, or facilitator are Director level or above employees and their focus is on teaching the people below them leadership skills. But what I find more often than not is once I begin working with these groups, there also exists a large (but sadly unadmitted) gap with the exact people who hired me. So it got me wondering, am I really teaching things that get people ahead? I mean, after all, if the people at the higher ranks are not displaying better leadership behaviors than those I am training, do leadership skills get you promoted? And is there a difference between being a “leader” and rising into Leadership?
During my career progression I have had the opportunity to work for a number of different companies in a variety of roles. Some have been great experiences, full of good energy, visionary leadership, development opportunities, and recognition and respect. Other experiences have provided great learning on what not to do or how not to be as a colleague. And working in human resource development (talent development, leadership development, organizational development, etc.) they have all be good lessons to learn and contain nuggets of information that I can take to others looking to further their organizations. But perhaps the most profound realization has come in the past few months when I started reflecting on my future career path.
If you had asked me a year ago what my career ambition was I would have said Senior Director or VP at a medium sized company within 5 years. If you asked me now, I’m not sure it would include a title or a time limit. This is for a couple reasons. The first has to do with the evolution of Human Resources/Organizational Development/Talent Management – the same role within these areas at different companies may have very different titles. The other reason I would not include a title is because I have come to realize that being a “leader” and being a Leader (capital “L”) are not always the same. I have known (and worked for) a number of people who are in Leadership roles (Director and up) that I would never work with or for again; on the other hand, I have known lots of “leaders” who I would partner with and follow with passion and dedication, and rarely did these people have any kind of title other than “individual contributor” or at most “functional manager.” So it got me thinking, do I want to become a Leader or be a “leader”?
Being a Leader is all too often just a title or position of authority. Being a “leader” is inspiring, moving, motivating, engaging. Working with a “leader” changes you for the better, inspires you to be better, to want more, to influence more, to change, to welcome that uncomfortable feeling during times of growth and development, to make you think about things differently, and to grow on to do bigger and better things if that is your desire.
When time works out Leaders are also “leaders” but you have to wonder, what comes first? What do you want to be? My fear is many people (like myself in earlier years) aspire to be Leaders and sadly learn the way to get ahead with those above them without getting the support of those around them. They spend the rest of their careers playing catch up or talking downward on how their team needs to be better (without themselves ever admitting they need to be better as well.) That is not what I want. I want to be a “leader”. What comes will come in terms of career progression, but I want to be a successful person first before being a successful professional. That, to me, is inspiring.