If there is anything I have learned as I traipse through my adulthood is that not everyone is an effective leader. In fact, I think I have learned what not to do from most of my managers. There are a few shining beacons, but, for the most part, it seems like leaders in corporate America are selected in one of three ways:
1) They have been there forever, they follow orders well and the natural progression is to promote them
2) They know a decision-maker within the organization and are, therefore, hired and/or promoted, skills notwithstanding
3) They still know the right people, and they are great at what they currently do, but the jury is still out as to whether or not they are truly leaders
I have also learned that you don't need to have a title to be a leader (there is actually a book by that title out there that explains this, and it has some great ideas, but, when I read it, I found it to be an attempt to assuage your anger about not getting promoted or paid for your leadership skills, but I digress...). People naturally gravitate toward people who have a good head on their shoulders, are engaged in bettering the company, organization or group as a whole, and genuinely care for the members of the team. Sure, I spent an entire semester in grad school studying leadership, and the emerging concept of followership, but this article posted to Facebook today by a fellow military wife and career-woman friend of mine sums it up quite nicely. Lessons from the Military: Your Risk is my Risk, Too in the Harvard Business Review basically says that leaders need to have some skin in the game. They need to be selfless, not selfish. There's a whole book on that, too: Jim Collins' Good to Great. In it he talks about truly great leaders who exemplify what he calls Level 5 Leadership. To sum it up in one statement: These leaders are selfless, not selfish. The keep their heads down and do what they can to make the company and/or their subordinates shine. They inspire the team to reach for the stars. You won't find hundreds of articles about them in Newsweek, Time, or the business sections of the national newspapers. They are too busy creating something great with great people.
And this is not just applicable to leaders in the military or corporate America. When was the last time you were on a project team? Maybe it was for work. Maybe it was for your kids' school's PTA. Maybe it was a scrapbooking page swap. Whatever it might have been, there is generally a leader, even unofficially. It's the host, the one who did the project last year or someone who just seems to have a good head on their shoulders. Chances are there wasn't just a leader, but a great leader, if the project, task force or swap went smoothly and it was a great experience. Think about what that leader did that you may not have been aware of. Did you feel like a valued member of the team? Were your strengths utilized? Was the mission accomplished on time and within budget? Now compare that to a team experience you would never want to repeat? What was different?
Now think about the last time you were in charge. Even if the last time was you being in charge of your own children, the question remains the same: Were you selfless or selfish?