March 23, 2014

The Best Type of Leadership

I've been thinking a lot about leadership.

Mostly, because just about everyone I know is either under the leadership of someone, or themselves in some sort of leadership position.  I wrote about leadership about a year ago, saying that it really boils down to keeping one's cool when the metaphorical crap hits the fan. I still believe this is this case, but I wondered if it perhaps needed a bit more nuance. There is after all, much to be said about leadership.

So I got to thinking...

By and large, there seems to be two types of leaders that can be divided into two camps. We'll call these strategies "Leadership from above", and "Leadership from below."

Both have goals and are driven by the desire to complete a task. However, They are separated by how these goals are met and how this task is accomplished. Leaders that lead "from above" place ultimate value on the task itself. As a result, the people working towards meeting these goals are often considered "cogs in a wheel"-- ultimately very replaceable. Sadly, it seems most companies and organizations are led this way. With leadership from the top, an inordinate amount of value is placed on the goal; likewise an inordinate amount of value is placed on the leader. As a result, you have a boss (CEO, pastor, coach, etc.) that receives a vast majority of the praise. It's the boss that gets a youth hockey rink named after them because of his or her "good work", when in reality it is an entire team that achieves the goal.

A leader that thinks very highly of his own leadership...
Leaders that lead "from below" also focus on the task, but place a disproportionate amount of value on the people working to achieve the goal. Because of the attention given to their employees these leaders typically deflect praise and watch with a grin as their "subordinates" get a youth hockey rink named after them. This type of leader is not self-deprecating and certainly does not sacrifice the overall quality of the work, but rather is motivated to produce the same product as a business, organization, etc., led "from above", but refuses to have their employees become an after-thought. In many ways, this approach is much more difficult.

Some leaders sell books in which the talks about how awesome their leadership is
Stated another way, leaders "from below", because they are so quick to praise others, often drive Honda Accords while their previous employees, students, etc. often come to visit in a new Ferrari which they purchased with their $100,000 signing bonus which they received from some medical research firm that is two years away from curing cancer (of course, you know that they think "malignant" is a heavy metal band from Yonkers, NY, but you wouldn't dare tell anyone).

The thing that makes these leaders so special--and incredibly unique--is that they love that Honda Accord with 250,000 miles on it. In fact, they'd rather have someone else drive the Ferrari and have a hockey rink named after them. They actual prefer this arrangement.

A "Leader from Below's" Cadillac 
I should say, the one strike against the "from below" method is that it often takes longer to achieve a goal.  You are forced to slow down when you learn that one of your key team members has a loved one that was just diagnosed with cancer. You are slowed by the reality that some members may need to be taught a skill, or it might take some time for them to become proficient at some aspect of the job. There certainly are times when leading "from below" is not overly realistic (a navy seal operation, for example).

I have a great example of someone I know that "leads from below." Someone that would do just about anything for his employees. But I'm not going to write about him. He wouldn't want me to. It completely defies the very point of his leadership. Unfortunately, I think he is very unique. Unfortunately, there are too few leaders that love their Honda Accord.

I, for one, consider that to be a darn shame. I just hope one day I can drive a Honda Accord.


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