Looking For Leaders In All The Wrong Places

When I was a young developer, there was a re-org in the company. I found myself a team leader.

That is the normal thing in software organizations (and I assume also in others) – you get a promotion because you’re competent enough in your current job. It’s not stupid (although many times with disastrous results), just normal. What made me a team leader was my track record as a developer. It seemed obvious that I could lead other developers to the same results.

Obviously not. I was a lousy team leader.

There are so many books about leadership. How to become a leader, what it takes to lead. But we’re so enamored with the star power of the leader, we forget something.

There are no leaders without followers

We really have a hard time to describe why we follow someone. Why we find time to listen to her, or read her blog, while dismiss others. Why we roll our eyes when the team leader says something, while the other team lead makes sense. Or even decide to give up qualities of life by voting for official positions.

If you break it down, it’s comes down to basic human feelings. Our leaders help us feel safer and better about ourselves. So we seek their company, and we’re willing to do things for them. When they say something we believe in, we feel better we’re not alone. When they say something funny, we smile. When they blog about something interesting, we think we can someday become as smart as them.

Followers create leaders, leaders don’t create themselves.

Leaders vs Managers

Most of the organizational pyramid is made of managers. Some have the ability to inspire people to achieve results (or in other words, make us feel better).

We call them leaders. We’ll do a lot for them.

We call the others managers. For them, we’ll do just enough to keep our pay.

Why are there not enough leaders?

Much like in politics, this isn’t the right question…

Why aren’t there enough good managers? Those that make us feel better, give us autonomy to solve problems our way, the option to experiment and fail safely?

Simple: the pyramid system does not reward it.

If managers are punished for failures (getting bad reviews, not getting promoted, or fired) they won’t take risks, and therefore will not give their teams freedom. If they are constantly compared to their peers, they will not make the team feel better, but be worried about how they look instead.

Stop looking for leaders

Pyramids are a geometric marvel. The structure enforces stability.

I’m not calling to flatten pyramids, I’m aware that it’s not that easy, and frankly, not my goal. The goal is better organizational results. We get these by better management.

We can become better managers. When we do, then we start making changes in the organizations.

Then we lead.

Reference: Looking For Leaders In All The Wrong Places from our JCG partner Gil Zilberfeld at the Geek Out of Water blog.

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