“Do something wonderful, people may immitate it.” — Albert Schweizer
I don’t think people give themselves enough credit for their leadership, both their capacity to lead as well as the leadership they do display in the course of everyday work and life. While delivering a Leadership Development workshop to a group of teachers I encountered a first hand example of one reason for this.
We started with an assessment tool – a simple questionaire. Yet almost all of them struggled to fill it out. When we talked about why it was so hard it became clear: they did not see themselves as leaders. Many did not even want to be seen as a leader.
The real irony here is that they call themselves and are known as “The Leadership Team” in their school. Many have been on this team for more than 3 years. When they started they were all excited about developing themselves as leaders. They have done some great things in their school and have demonstrated tremendous leadership. But now they were resisting the very notion that they were leaders. Seems crazy doesn’t it?
I think it points to the power of a myth. The particular myth they confront at their school is that if you want to lead you are only really interested in getting ahead. While leadership is mostly spoken about in a virtuous context, this example reminds us that leadership in organizations is not always perceived as a virtue.
In our conversation it became abundantly clear that their school culture frowns upon standing out and wanting to get ahead. If you say you want to be a leader people assume you want to be a principal some day. In that culture some frown on ambition that is not directed at teaching itself. Most of these teachers just want to be great teachers. They care about their craft and they really care about their kids. They joined this team to make a difference in their school. And they have. They do want to be appreciated for their contribution, just don’t call them leaders.
This is only one example of how an individual belief, especially when it becomes a cultural belief in an organization, can inhibit leadership. We each have many tightly held beliefs about leadership. Some of these beliefs foster leadership in ourselves and others. Yet consider that some of our beliefs, both individual and organizational, are actually myths that can inhibit leadership in ourselves and in others. Sometimes they inhibit us unconsciously. Other times they are the reasons we and others use for why we do not speak up, step up and stand up.
What are your beliefs about leadership? Are any of them getting in the way of your ability to lead effectively or even your willingness to speak up, step up or stand up for the things that matter to you? What about the people whose leadership you support? Do they have beliefs that could be getting in their way?