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Why do so many leaders let us down?
Take a quick look around. It seems that everywhere there are examples of leaders – politicians, chief executive officers of multinational corporations – who are failing to live up to the roles and responsibilities they have been given.
The source of these failures tends to vary. Some leaders are so focused on the pay, the perks and the power that they forget to do their jobs. Others seem to be on an endless slide into mediocrity. These are the leaders who are just going through the motions.
No matter how you cut it, we are living in an era of lame and, in some cases, truly horrible leadership. I've thought long and hard about why that is, and have come to a very simple conclusion. Far too many leaders are not fully committed to the terms of leadership.
Far too many people fail to understand that when you take on a leadership role, you are actually entering into a formal, binding covenant. I call this the leadership contract.
These are the basic terms that all leaders, regardless of size or organization or sector, need to live up to in order to produce meaningful results and earn the continued loyalty of the people they lead.
Unfortunately, it seems very few leaders are aware of them.
It's a lot like conducting an online transaction – downloading music, purchasing an airline ticket or buying a pair of shoes. At some point, a window with a long list of boring, exhaustive terms and conditions pops up. We all know that if we don't click that box that indicates we have accepted these terms, we won't be able to complete the process. So we all click "agree," with most of us never, ever actually reading the terms of the online contract.
I think it's pretty clear that many leaders today have just clicked "agree" to get the promotion, the bigger paycheque, the power and the perks without truly understanding what it is they're signing up for. That has created many reluctant leaders who cannot effectively serve their organizations.
In my book, The Leadership Contract, I describe four terms that all leaders must fully understand before signing to take on a leadership role.
1. Leadership is a decision. Make it.
Sometimes, it's easy for leaders to forget that leadership is ultimately a choice. All the great leaders I've worked with describe times in their careers where they had to make a conscious, deliberate decision to step into a situation and lead. But in these moments, you have to be honest with yourself: Are you really the right person for the job? Will you be in over your head? Is this really the role you want to fill? If you cannot answer yes to all these questions, don't sign the leadership contract. Find other ways to add value in your organization.
2. Leadership is an obligation. Step up.
Many leaders don't appreciate the fact that leadership implies significant obligation. In the end, it's not about you – it's about your customers, your employees, your shareholders and the communities in which you do business. If you lose sight of these obligations, you will be thinking too much about how to advance your own career, and not enough about how to build long-term success. You will make it about you rather than the obligations you must fulfill.
3. Leadership is hard work. Get tough.
If you've been a leader for any period of time, you know it is hard work. You also know you need to be tough enough to guide your organization through rough waters. Unfortunately, far too many leaders retreat when the going gets tough. They become bystanders or, worse, wimps who are afraid to tackle the tough work. Leadership involves having the courage to make difficult decisions about poor performers, holding people accountable, and delivering candid feedback.
4. Leadership is a community. Connect.
Older concepts of leadership have glorified the idea of the lone-wolf leader who endures the trials and tribulations of the job in isolation. While it may be necessary to stand alone in some instances, in the end it does not make sense to isolate leaders. I work with leaders at all levels and hear from them how disconnected they feel day-to-day. The new model is about building a genuine community of leaders. Imagine being part of an organization where you don't feel isolated or disconnected; where instead you feel a high degree of trust, support and have shared ambitions. That's what a community of leaders is all about and what you have to build in your organization.
It's time to take your personal leadership to the next level. It's your obligation to your organization, to the people you lead and to yourself.
Vince Molinaro (@VinceMolinaro) is managing director of the leadership practice at Toronto-based Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions and the author of The Leadership Contract.