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  • Writer's pictureRob Carr

You are Not a Leader

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

The word “leader” evokes a plethora of perspectives, feelings, and judgments, both from the individual holding a role of leadership and those impacted by that individual’s decisions and actions. People ascribe written and unwritten rules, thoughts, assumptions, expectations, behaviors, historical baggage, etc. to the word “leader.” The state of work today only magnifies and intensifies those descriptors.

A problem arises when people, including those who hold the role, don’t distinguish between the role and the human in it.

When we live out of a story that fuses human and role, we create a dynamic that plays out in many unhealthy ways. For example, an empathetic executive launches an effort to engage employees repeatedly in meaningful dialogue but meets the headwinds of distrust employees encountered with his predecessors. In time, well-meaning individuals in leadership roles grow frustrated and defensive because they see themselves through the eyes of “well-meaning human” while employees see them as “uncaring, untrustworthy executive/manager/supervisor.”

Holding a role of leadership is an immense privilege, but individuals only fill the role.

Water fills a glass; it doesn’t become the glass.

A healthier approach involves viewing oneself simply as a human caretaker practicing good stewardship of a leadership role. So how do you embrace this human/role separation?

  1. Gain awareness of expectations – Ask your customers and followers what they want and don’t want in a leader, so you have a clear picture of accountability. Remember to ask yourself, too.

  2. Recognize the dynamic from which you and your followers operate – Are you and others operating from stories that separate the human from the leadership role? Although they’ll have a perspective, they won’t share it unless you engage them to find out.

  3. Choose what expectations you can meet yourself – Review the list and identify where you excel or want to excel, where you are adequate, and where you don’t excel, without judgment. Be honest with yourself. Ask those who know you well for help if needed.

  4. Acknowledge what is left over – Let what’s left reside with the role. Recognize that you are accountable for owning all the expectations, but you aren’t necessarily responsible for performing all of them. Don’t try to be what you aren’t.

  5. Address gaps by building a horizontal coalition – Vertical silos dominate organizations at the expense of horizontal communities. This dynamic encourages internal competition among people in leadership roles who are supposed to play on the same team! Invest in building “relationships across” with people who hold the same level leadership role. You’ll discover complementary skills and talents the whole group can leverage.

If trust is the currency of leadership, authenticity is the foundation of trust. People invest in authentic humans who invest in them. Separating human from role and embracing who you are as a human (and who you are not) liberates you to excel in the role and positions you as the worthy steward your role deserves.

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