This past week we celebrated President’s Day. When we think about the President, it doesn’t take too long before we also think about leadership. In fact, being President is often viewed as the ultimate leadership position. I understand why, of course. The scope and authority of the job is unparalleled. The President is often described as the leader of the “free world.” That’s quite the bullet point on a resume. I mean that kind of visibility and power reveals the pinnacle of leadership. Right? I wonder if there’s a fallacy in equating the success of a leader with the size and scope of his or her job description. I’ll call it the fallacy of the big time.
When we use the phrase “the big time” it usually refers to someone that has reached a level of success that becomes visible to large numbers of people. “You’ve hit the big time,” we might say to a person with a new and high-powered job. “Big time,” can also mean that a person has amassed a significant amount of power. “Wow, that’s big time,” we might say to someone with enough power or money to get whatever they want, whenever they want it. So from the “big time” perspective, the President is the ultimate example of leadership success, or at least right up at the top of the list.
Great leaders focus not on the fleeting nature of the big time, but on a compelling mission (the work) that is done in and through meaningful relationships (the people). Authentic leadership then comes when the leader focuses on the work and the people not his or her current visibility and power quotients. This of course is easier said than done. No one would argue that ego plays a role in most types of leadership. That’s why focus matters so much. When a leader is tempted toward arrogant leadership (the big time), he or she gets too far away from the work and the people that matter. Time to refocus on the real-time not the big time.
“Big time” thinking can be the undoing of good leaders. Why? When leaders equate successful leadership with hitting the big time, they focus on getting noticed and amassing power. Popularity and power become the drivers of action rather than gifts bestowed by others. And that’s when everything goes haywire. Arrogant or power-hungry leaders repel us all because they seek the wrong things. They do a kind of smash and grab. Arrogant leaders often smash people around them in order to gain visibility. They also grab power in order to cement their control. In an attempt to reach the big time, they ignore the essence of leadership.
At the SWFL Community Foundation, we convene and collaborate with leaders from all sectors of our region. Our desire is to be humble brokers of the great ideas, skills and passions found in the people of Southwest Florida. We do this because we know it takes all of us (the people) focused on strategic action (the work) to bring about meaningful change. When we lead and work together, it turns smash and grab into include and share, and that increases the effectiveness of our efforts.
So this next week, no matter what kind of leadership you find yourself performing (at home or work) remember these four things:
1. The big time is fleeting; trying to achieve it isn’t worth your time
2. Don’t chase power, share it
3. Don’t focus on getting noticed, focus on doing great work
4. If you happened to hit the big time, refer back to numbers 1-3
photo from cmcacorner.com