Leadership is Not a Day Job

by Anthony F. Smith

Leadership is more than a full-time job. Learn how to maintain balance between power and approachability as a leader.

 

The following is an excerpt from the book
The Taboos of Leadership: The 10 Secrets No One Will Tell You About Leaders and What They Really Think
by Anthony F. Smith
Published by Jossey-Bass
April 2007
$24.95US/$29.99CAN
978-0-7879-9582-9
Copyright © 2007 Anthony F. Smith
 

For most people, work is a job. For leaders, it's much much more.

Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, conducted an employee satisfaction survey when he was chief operating officer to gauge how happy his people were with their jobs. One of the general issues brought up among junior employees went something like this: "At times we're made to feel that we're lucky to work at the NFL. Whenever we raise concerns, we are listened to but also reminded that the NFL is a great place to work."

When I discussed this with Goodell, he was both surprised and animated. To him, working for the NFL is a great place to work. He feels lucky every day he comes to work, and he thinks that every employee should share that same sense of wonder and enthusiasm. For Goodell, working at the NFL is the coolest thing he could ever imagine doing; there's no other organization like it in the world. He simply can't understand why every single other person doesn't feel the same way. Clearly the club owners also recognized this when they named Goodell to succeed Paul Tagliabue as their eighth league chief executive in August 2006.



For the record, I can't understand it either. The NFL is the coolest place I could imagine working for. But Goodell's comments are not unusual ones for leaders, no matter where they work, whether that is the NFL or the Acme Bolt Cutting Company.

Leaders are separated from followers by what drives them, a distinction that is the source of some degree of loneliness. Leaders have a greater sense of urgency than their followers. They are more active about seeing and doing something about problems and opportunities. They care more about outcomes. They cherish the opportunity to make a difference through accomplishing their objectives.

Followers say that it is natural for leaders to have a bigger sense of emotional investment in the organization. After all, the leader is the one who benefits most when the organization succeeds. If the followers had as much at stake and could gain as much as the leader, they'd care that much too.

In fact, this simply doesn't bear out. As leadership studies have shown, a leader is someone who cares more, even when he or she is still a junior executive and not in a position of any authority. Some people argue that this is why they become leaders. Their caring, passion, and effort go a long way to distinguishing them on the job at every rung of the ladder.

Leaders can't understand why someone would not want to spend all of his or her time thinking about work, on and off the job. They don't get the person who has to go off fishing or mountain hiking or to the opera to feel good about life.

Eventually this sense of disconnect begins to have an impact on leaders. Not only do they feel lonely in the crowd, but they come to use that aloneness as a psychological tool. After all, leaders often have to make tough decisions. Sometimes they have to fire a friend or give a poor performance rating. Sometimes they have to close a factory or lead an army into battle. Being put into that position is lonely, but it's also easier if one is alone. It would cloud anyone's judgment to have strong emotional ties to the people whose fates are being decided. Leaders can have trouble getting good data. The people around them are eager to tell them what they want to hear. It's easy to fall into the trap of sycophancy, if only because it masks the loneliness. And yet a leader needs distance from others in order to be effective.

Leaders use the mystique of power both to maintain status and motivate others. Getting close to the leader is a game among followers, inspiring a kind of performance competition. Shrewd leaders play this game very skillfully, knowing that the cost of the game is their own further isolation. A successful senior executive I know loved to play golf. Outside of work, it was his one true enjoyment and passion. To please him and get time with him, his key reports periodically organized golf outings. To be one of those key three or seven people on a regular outing was a sign of status in the division. But the executive knew that he couldn't let his guard down and get too close to these people regardless of the human dimension of the activity. It would impair his effectiveness as their leader.

He understood that leaders cultivate loneliness deliberately.

Copyright © 2007 Anthony F. Smith

Buy The Taboos of Leadership: The 10 Secrets No One Will Tell You About Leaders and What They Really Think

Author Anthony F. Smith is co-founder and a managing director of Leadership Research Institute, recognized as one of the leading management consulting firms specializing in leadership development and assessment. An active writer and researcher whose articles have appeared in numerous publications, Smith was a contributor to the books The Leader of the Future and The Organization of the Future (from Jossey-Bass).

For more information, please visit www.taboosofleadership.com.

 
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