It was Rob Elkington, President and CEO of Global leadership Initiatives Inc., who inspired me to shift perspective. He was talking about visionary leadership in a turbulent world at the 2019 Imagine Your Workplace conference.
Specifically, he was talking about followership just as I noticed one of my staff in the distance having an active conversation with an event supplier. I immediately shifted my thinking from “What’s wrong?” to “She’s got this.” I settled in my seat.
Reflecting upon that moment now, I am humbled by the strength of habits. I naturally step into and own leadership roles — as president of Your Workplace, as a speaker at an event or even as a soccer referee. Being a follower is not as natural for me, yet I truly enjoy the freedom that it brings. With Elkington on stage, I circumvented a habit and set a different intention. I chose to let go. I chose to be present, thereby surrendering my leadership position to allow my team to step in and run the event. I placed my trust well.
Yet that situation still has me thinking. I needed a trigger to let go. Knowing that I lead more firmly when workload is really high, I wonder if that attribute is leading at its best. Does it create a team that is more dependent on the leader? Balancing leadership and followership, even in the tensest times, may lead to a more cohesive team. Can a good leader be a follower at the same time?
Herein lies what may come across as a paradox. In my experience I notice that good leaders understand boundaries and are willing to accept sound advice from their team members — their followers. All too often, we see leaders who believe they should know it all, be able to do it all and always be in charge. Yet I think that the best leaders are self-aware enough to realize their limitations and secure enough to know they can let go of control and let others take charge.
Elkington made a further distinction — the notion that leadership is much more than a focus on the individual. Leadership development is not leader development, since leadership within an organization encompasses much more than a single individual. He said, “A leader is human capital and leadership is social capital.” What a distinction.
Thinking deeply on these matters is healthy — like a litmus test to ensure that we are moving in a desired direction. As we head into the summer months, take advantage of the pauses in work, the breaks in the day, the moments of quiet, to reflect on where you would like to be more intentional. Do you want to build more leadership into your team?
Elkington ended by passionately inspiring the audience to believe in the goal and be flexible in how you get there. Good advice for thriving in this turbulent world.