Am I Failing As A Leader?

Is it just me or are the goalposts simultaneously moving and shrinking when it comes to success in leadership?

What is success in leadership? Are there metrics to measure such a thing? What are the goals to achieve that would exemplify success? If I don’t know what success is, by default I cant be succeeding, right? Is it possible to discuss leadership in anything other than questions? Is it?

The more I read and study, the more confusing and outlandish theories and ideas I find. For instance, the Great Man Theory, exemplified in the photo above, is a brilliant study on the how the history of leadership currently effects our preconceptions of both ability and success today. Beyond that, it also spotlights many of the ways in which old styles of leadership simply don’t function in our modern, technologically advanced, world. This led me into studying Linda Ginzel’s concept of Leadership Capital and French and Ravens five forms of power. Then I ended up in the world of psychology and neuroscience to study how the brain both perceives and exerts influence. Then it was behavioral economics and the merging of social sciences to better understand human interaction and choices and cross referencing all of this with my personal experiences and new knowledge on what actual leadership looks like.

With just this short list of the thousands of topics and studies you can find around the topic of leadership, you can see how I quickly came to wonder if I am or ever will be successful as a leader. Maybe you are wrestling with a similar dilemma or have maxed out your ability to believe any of it is actually helpful in the real world.

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I have spent a lot of time over the last few months pondering the overload of information available on this topic, the countless numbered lists of things to do to become a great leader, the short videos and the whats and the whys. The barrage that makes me feel like I will never know enough to be a great leader.

The perception and self-identity inadequacy that the monetization of leadership has created is real and it is a shame.

The perception and self-identity inadequacy that the monetization of leadership has created is real and it is a shame. Success story after success story continually being bloated beyond the blog post it should have been and converted into another needless book in order to monetize and “transactionalize” people who just want to learn how to be better people.

Its no wonder so many of us feel like we will never measure up, feel like we will never know “enough” to step up and become leaders.

This is the lie we must vanquish.

Leadership is so much more basic and simple than all the books and videos and blogs make it out to be. We have become mesmerized by great teachers and influencers in this realm because of our predisposition to the Great Man Theory. We project and idealize people like Simon Sinek and Seth Godin and Jim Collins and (insert a hundred other names here who are all very talented and intelligent!) while not realizing that by doing so, we are subconsciously minimizing our ability and influence. Our ability to effectually lead is not measured up against another’s perceived ability to lead.

If I were to try to think of the antithesis to leadership, the first thing I would say is comparison (although I am sure there are many others). Comparing our abilities, knowledge, influence, etc. to others will never make us better leaders.

We must start by realizing that lessons others share and knowledge written in blogs and books are meant for us to digest and meld into our own abilities and spheres of influence. There is no great standard by which leaders are measured to succeed or fail (other than whether people follow you or not of course… ;) ).

When we free ourselves from the idea that we will never measure up to the Simon Sinek’s of the world and realize we get to make a choice in every interaction we have, we realize that leadership is in the serving of others, in the bettering of others, in the building into of others. To lead is to try again and again to make those around you better, to make them feel loved, appreciated, supported.

To lead is to try again and again to make those around you better, to make them feel loved, appreciated, supported.

To bring in an outside perspective: “effectiveness emerges from the ability to match behaviors with the person and the fast-changing context in which the person is operating — behaviors that build adaptive capacity, foster resilience, and engender trust.” — (http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/leadership-developments-epic-fail/)

In the end, leadership is about discovering who you are and aligning your behaviors to your beliefs. Align your real self to your ideal self, ask a friend to hold you accountable to it and commit to grow in order to serve others.

Let us start here. One interaction at a time. One person at a time. Take it day by day. As I have started to do this, I have found that my mindset has shifted as I read and learn new things. I now find myself imagining ways to utilize concepts within my abilities as opposed to trying to brainstorm ways to use concepts in similar ways the author or speaker used them. I have moved away from feeling like a failure as I seek out similar situations to the great men and women in our world and instead now feel like I am offering value in my own way to those around me.

So, no, I don’t think that I am failing. It is the commercialization and monetization of the so called “leadership industry” that is failing all of us. I choose a new path. I choose each day to lead in every interaction, slowly but surely, making a difference. One person, one leader at a time.