ed muses upon

2010/03/09

Staying Focused: Demonstrating Leadership

Everyone likes team players, people who are just looking to get the job done: complete the project, stay on budget or remain on schedule. Team players are the cogs making up the well-oiled machine that meets business or organization needs, the conventional wisdom goes.

But the fact remains that teams often need leaders: someone who sets direction, herds cats and makes sure that business or organization needs are being met. Teams need someone focusing on the strategic needs as well as the tactical needs.

Teams need someone like you.

You might protest, “I’m not a leader: I’m a team player!” And I’m sure you’re right: just as we’re socialized to be modest, we’re socialized to play well with others. A friend of mine is fond of saying that long-term, cooperation is the best success strategy and I think he is absolutely right.

But that does not in any way mean that being a team player and being a leader are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the two go together, hand in hand.

Sports metaphors sometimes can be hackneyed but to me the mark of a great coach is someone who puts his or her players in the best position to succeed. Is that any different from a leader in the workplace?

Several months ago at a networking meeting, I met an administrative assistant who is in transition. She was concerned that employers are seeking leaders but didn’t see how she demonstrated leadership in her job. I observed that by preparing the executive she supported and keeping him or her as free of distractions as possible, she was demonstrating leadership. Positioning others for success is the mark of a leader.

Leadership is peculiarly democratic: anybody can demonstrate leadership. From the perspective of positioning others to succeed, I think it’s clear that leadership is exhibited at any level of an organization, from C level executives to every other part of the organizational chart.

For most of my career, I did not think of myself as demonstrating leadership. Yet once I began to understand this truth, I realized that for years, I was selling myself short. In my first experience hiring, my then-manager offered me some invaluable advice: I wasn’t hiring someone to perform the position in the job posting but rather, someone who could do that and also be promotable thereafter.

He wanted me to hire a leader.

At the end of the day, demonstrating leadership helps you land your next job.

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