Why Leaders Falter: Leadership as a Practice not a PositionMar 21, 2022
Are you a leader in your business? Your community? Your family? Assuming you are human it is almost certain that you have hesitated, faltered and downright fallen on your face. But why?
You were doing so well. You worked so hard, grew so much and achieved the milestones in your role. Then a trip up.
In the 25 years that I have been coaching top performers, a pattern has emerged. A pattern that is consistent across roles, gender, and pay scales.
Leaders take an action or actions that are downright stupid. Something that goes against all that they worked for and aspire to. It goes against who they really are.
If you have been a leader for any length of time you will likely have faced this faltering. We all have.
The following are examples of faltering I have seen in incredible leaders who wouldn't ordinarily take these actions.
The company owner who drinks and drives
The medical leader who over works to burnout
The coach who stops their self care and gains weight
The mother who spends more time yelling than talking to her kids
This is not a moral conversation. This is not a judgment on any of the actions listed above. It is simply that in those situations the actions were not what that leader wanted. The actions were not aligned with who that person was or what they were a part of. So why does it happen?
It comes down to the foundation of leadership- Level 1. There are 4 depth levels in our Leadership Development Model
Level 1 Learn to Lead
Level 2 Lean in to Lead
Level 3 Lasting Leadership
Level 4 Leadership Legacy
Level 1 Learn to Lead is foundational. It is the part of the leadership model that supports the rest of the levels. When it is not maintained or has been downright neglected then the higher levels of leadership development are negatively affected.
The Learn to Lead level has 3 main layers…
- Learn to Follow
- Know yourself
- Lead Yourself
Sounds simple enough, right? It is. However, as human beings we tend to check those items like a list.
“I learned to follow in my MBA and when I was in sports” check
“I know who I am- I have always been this way” check
“Of course I lead myself- I am just focused on everyone else right now” semi check
Yet, the layers of the first level of leadership are not a list. They are more like a daily practice that is necessary to play the game of leadership.
Learning to follow is not just about following rules, trainings or systems (although that is part of it), nor is it something that is ever complete. Learning to follow really means continuing to learn. It encompasses a ‘beginners mind’ to realize there is always so much more to learn no matter what level we have achieved.
It means that the leader is always growing and that the growth is not in just one area. It can be in various areas of life since the cross pollination of knowledge and growth impacts everything we do.
How often do we as leaders dive so deeply into those we are serving or our mission that we forget to still be a student in life and continue to Learn to Follow?
When we have missed this development as a regular practice the consequences look like stagnancy, lack of perspective and less fulfillment in the leader. None of which lead to good things… then we wonder why we snap at an employee, neglect our health or act in a way that is below our standards.
Know yourself sounds simple enough doesn’t it? And yet when I ask my leader clients what is really important to them they pause. Sometimes the focus of work, the demand of the role or the busy schedule has had them forget what really matters to them. They forget what they value. They become out of touch with who they are.
This is where a ‘values exercise’ becomes so enlightening. The leader rediscovers what matters to them. It is profound to become aware of what matters currently and distinguish how different it is from what it was even as little as one year ago. When a leader is practicing layer #1 learn to follow and continuing to develop themselves, the natural progression of what I call values evolution occurs. The values we had as a 20 year old are likely much different than as a 30 year old. This is a part of growth. Our values change.
Knowing yourself requires awareness, a conscious discovery of values and a creation of future values to go toward. When we have forgotten to check in with who we are and what really matters to us as leaders we have lost our compass for what we really want in our future.
Lead yourself is imperative in the development of leadership. By now you can probably recognize that not leading one’s self well is when the faltering (stupid reactive, negative impacting) decisions are made. And yet, without learning to follow and knowing yourself you might as well be leading yourself blindly.
When we lead ourselves we truly take ownership of our thoughts, feelings, actions and results in our lives. We embrace that the quality of our life is no one else’s responsibility but our own. When this becomes the operational structure - there is no blame, reaction or compensatory behaviour. This is so much easier to do when we are continually learning and acting in alignment with our values. Learning to follow and knowing yourself creates an inevitable result of self leading.
When we don’t lead ourselves this is where the faltering occurs. And as you can gather it doesn’t happen without cause.
The company owner who drove after a few drinks was feeling lost and frustrated. Always leading, not following and not clear on their values. The medical leader put everyone else first until melt down. They followed a system that was not aligned with what they valued. The coach lost clarity on their impact on who they serve. They stopped learning to follow. The mother who yelled more than connecting with her kids was not clear on her own purpose and direction.
We all falter. It’s part of being human. As leaders we don’t have to be perfect. We do however, have the layers of leadership to be a level one leader everyday. We can all follow a system or person that inspires us to learn and grow. We can all get to know and reevaluate what is really important to us and we can take ownership of who we are in a way that creates personal power in our actions. It doesn’t mean more to do. It means only doing what is aligned with your purpose.
Keep leading and making a difference.
For some great leadership reading try the following:
Listen in to the Empowered TEAM Podcast for our Leadership Levels Model
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