Leadership For All

Leadership For All

A friend of mine was fired from her job because she “didn’t act like a leader”. She found it to be a strange excuse since her boss micromanaged her and gave her no latitude to be a leader. This sparked a curious question – in corporate America, what does it truly mean to be a leader?

In the Business Dictionary, leadership is defined as “the activity of leading a group of people or an organization or the ability to do this. It involves establishing a clear vision; sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly; providing the information, knowledge, and methods to realize that vision; and coordinating and balancing the conflicting interest of all members and stakeholders.”
What this definition suggests is that leadership is the exclusive role of those in the higher echelons of the corporate hierarchy.  It is their responsibility to drive the performance of the workers. This feels like a definition that was appropriate for the work environment a century ago and no longer relevant in the knowledge-based economy we currently live in. From this lens, it is understandable why employee engagement levels have been hovering around the 30% rate for so many years. Leaders are, for the most part, doing a poor job at leading because the definition of leadership hasn’t been adapted to the 21st century.

The impact of poor leadership has been magnified with the entry of the Millennial generation into the workforce. These fresh and knowledgeable minds have established themselves as leaders at a very young age – far earlier than most other generations. They are socially informed and entered the workforce with more skills, talent, and know-how than other generations had gained after 5 years of work experience. They have rebelled against the status quo of corporate America. They rejected the idea of “starting at the bottom and working your way up” because they know they will figure out how to get things done. They want to be empowered to do the work their way and bring their skills to the table to improve things wherever possible. Leaders aren’t comfortable with this type of bottom-up change. As a result, employee turnover was worsened. According to the Bureau of Labor, the median number of years a worker stays with an employer is 4.6; however, for workers aged 25 – 34, it’s 3.2 years.
The younger people see themselves as leaders, yet our definition of leadership doesn’t support this. It’s time for a new definition of leadership that is inclusive – enabling everyone to be a leader. What if leadership was defined as “a mindset or energy that calls each person forward to be their personal best, to have a positive impact on the lives of others.”

What would be different in organizations if every member, regardless of age, title or salary level brought to their work their personal best, to have a positive impact on the lives of others? How would team members work differently together? How would departments interact with each other? What would the customer experience be like? How would this impact a company’s bottom line?

The truth is, everyone wants to be empowered to be their best. This doesn’t mean goals and objectives would no longer be relevant. It doesn’t take away the need for CEOs and business owners to define and share the corporate vision and help people realize it.  Enabling and applauding each person to take ownership of their responsibilities in their authentic way and to consider how they can have a favorable impact on others would be a liberating experience that would resonate with all generations of workers. This is what spurs innovation and change. And with innovation and change comes growth – personal, professional and financial – for everyone involved. This transformation would allow leadership to be the right of all employees, not a privilege. Let’s break down the walls of the exclusive leadership club. It’s time to invite everyone in.

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