The funny thing about labels is that we often believe them. Call yourself a barber and most people will believe you. Now if you can’t cut hair, business longevity may be an issue, however for a time people will accept that you’re a barber. That’s your label - so that’s what you do.
It’s the same in the workplace: you’re the IT Guru. You fix IT issues - all IT issues. HR Manager, you get to solve all those HR issues. But what about being a leader? Is a leader a title, a label or something more?
Who gets to be a leader?
Sure, a CEO is a leader, or so we hope. We assume the same applies to the senior executives and managers, however, often there seems to be a threshold for the title ‘leader’, and those at lower levels of the organisation might hesitate to attach the descriptor ‘leader’ to their role, thinking ‘it’s what my manager does’ or ‘that’s not how we do things around here’.
Most of us would agree, in theory at least, that everyone can in some way be a leader. The big question is how do you make leaders and leadership happen, and be legitimized, at all levels?
It starts with culture. Leadership is a lot of things, however successful, shared, participatory leadership at all levels is a cultural trait. The military has for hundreds of years instilled leadership at all levels. No matter who you are, no matter what you do, part of your label is leader, and you are expected to enact leadership behaviours.
Five tips on growing leadership at all levels.
Legitimize the leadership component at all levels. Some people will take up leadership opportunities and run with it, however for others they need to be given a ‘label’ before they step up. Want proof? Hand out the apron and tongs at your next BBQ and watch the inner chef rise to the occasion.
Make leadership an activity. In general terms leadership is performative: it’s about what people do. It’s about values-in-action. Role models are helpful here, in showing people what good leadership looks like. Also delegating responsibility, even for less critical tasks, allows people to begin to flex their leadership muscle.
Give people options. Leadership can be daunting so allow your people to explore leadership. Within every role, task and even action there is a chance to lead so give people the chance to try it on for size. People lead in different ways. Allow your managers, through training, coaching, mentoring and discussion to explore what leadership works for them and their team.
Make leadership success something people aspire to. Acknowledging and celebrating leadership as something to aspire to is a key driver in making the art of leadership a cultural norm. There is a very good reason that a certain Scottish fast food empire allows its managers to dream of becoming franchisees, it is a powerful motivator to take on responsibility and to lead.
Recognise that leadership success is achievedwith and through others. Leadership is about achieving with and through others so be gracious with praise and the recognition of success. Include the leadership roles and activities of all involved. Celebrate good leadership at all levels.
“If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
Sir Isaac Newton, 1675.
Organisations flourish when leadership is practised at all levels. Be careful not to lock up leadership in the C-Suite, rather give your people the support and guidance to lead wherever they are in the company. In this way you’ll build your organisational leadership capability, as well as strengthen your leadership culture.
At Executive Central we are achieving real breakthrough in helping organisations create cultures of participatory leadership at all levels. If you’re got a question, need some clarity, or are just interested click on the button below or check out my Bio.