The Starting Point for Leadership

“There are very, very few organizations today that have sufficient leadership. Until we face this issue, understanding exactly what the problem is, we’re never going to solve it. Unless we recognize that we’re not talking about management when we speak of leadership, all we will try to do when we do need more leadership is work harder to manage. At a certain point, we end up with over-managed and under-led organizations, which are increasingly vulnerable in a fast-moving world.”
– Dr. John P. Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at Harvard and Chief Innovation Office at Kotter International

It’s amazing to me how many people who are in positions of leadership in the eyes of others function as managers—not leaders—all the while referring to themselves as… leaders! However, in the final analysis, John Kotter reminds us that being a great manager at a time when what’s needed is great leadership puts your organization in a very vulnerable position.

I often ask myself, “Why is there such a lack of leadership in so many organizations?” I think that in some cases, we misunderstand what leadership is; and I believe that sometimes we miss the starting point of leadership, which leads to frustration—which causes us to default to being a manager, instead of a leader.

Great leadership is not about barking orders to everyone around you. It’s not about motivating people to do what you want them to do, while making them think that it is actually what they wanted to do. That’s really just manipulation, disguised as motivation; and great leadership is not about manipulation. Great leadership is about enabling people to work together to achieve a shared vision. Increasingly, I believe that the key thought is “shared vision”, and the key word is: shared.

I lead a lot of workshops where people say, “The problem in our organization is trust.” Leaders want teams to trust each other, and they want employees to trust leaders. However, I find very few leaders who are willing to trust the employees enough to allow them to participate in creating a “shared” vision.

Leader, ask yourself some questions:

  • Have I articulated a clear vision for my organization?
  • To what degree is the vision a “shared” vision?
  • Do the people in the organization really “own” this vision?
  • What percentage of the employees could accurately describe the vision?
  • Can I explain the benefit to the employee if the organization achieves the vision?

Without that trust and without that shared vision, leaders are faced with either management or manipulation. Pick your poison.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

7 responses

  1. I meet excellent natural leaders every day who are currently in “worker bee” positions and will never be promoted because their own organization (which complains about not being able to find leadership) doesn’t recognize a Leader when they have one (Apple firing Steve Jobs is the classic anecdote). Just as Mr. Kotter states, there is not a lack of leaders, there is a lack of recognizing what “Leadership” is and promoting it into a “position” of Leadership.

    1. Wow. Great insight, David! You’re exactly right.

  2. This was a great read. I too have found myself in a position of feeling like I see the bigger picture of that vision to move forward for everyone’s mutual benefit, only to be held back by the very leaders we had to drive us to success. There is nothing worse than being a natural leader stuck under people that only know how to manage and not lead. How can you move forward when the leadership team cant even see its future leaders?

    1. Unfortunately, that’s a growing problem, David. Organizations cannot reach their full potential unless they realize the leaders that are within that organization.

      Don’t give up, though! If you keep expressing your vision, eventually someone in those “leadership” roles may give you an opportunity to put your skills to use. Just be ready when they do!

      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Another great read thank you. Most assume that a manager by default is a leader and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

    1. Thank you, Enna! Your words are always appreciated.

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