“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.” (Brian Tracy) No matter the arena you find yourself in when leadership is missing, it is most evident. Leadership is the act of leading a group of people or an organization. Some words that are interchangeable with leadership are guidance, direction, management, administration, and influence. Leadership is often confused with titles and positions of authority. The mistake often made is, people are given leadership responsibilities because of their ability to carry out tasks related to the assignment and not because they can manage and organize people. I have witnessed this occurring in corporate, non-profit, and church organizations. Being a great consultant or preacher does not automatically translate into being an effective leader.
What makes a leader invisible?
The failure to show up and be present and accountable is what makes leaders invisible. Leaders are responsible for casting and communicating vision to followers. “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” (Jack Welch) Leaders should be a demonstration of how to execute the vision. Often the silence followers experience is due to the leader’s lack of presence. Proximity and physicality is not a guarantee of energy and engagement. Great followers do not need micromanagement, but they do require consistent interaction from those who will evaluate and provide feedback on their performance. “Leadership is a series of behaviors rather than a role for heroes.” (Margaret Wheatley) Leaders, who are reactionary and not proactive, usually show up to put out fires, but rarely do they contribute to fire prevention. Invisible leaders are lackluster when it comes to preparation. They rely highly on their own ability to do the work and are less concerned about their followers’ capability and competency for getting the job done. This activity can go on for an extended time because there is no one else monitoring their management; hence another reason why the leader is invisible.
How do you get invisible leaders to appear? Well, there is no magic spell or incantation required for this feat. I believe it is merely a combination of accountability and responsibility from both those above and under the invisible leader’s management. Unfortunately, most organizations have such a significant gap in management that leaders who are getting by go unnoticed and the followers suffer. “Leaders aren’t born; they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” (Vince Lombardi) Although I agree that leaders are made, some inherent qualities lend themselves to a true leader’s effectiveness. It is challenging to get invisible leaders to appear on their own because they often lack the super-power of self-awareness. If they do have some awareness of their leadership shortcomings, their insecurity causes them to mask it through tyrant behavior or martyrdom. These leaders will blame the followers’ challenges, never acknowledging their failure to properly coach or mentor. “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or conclude you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” (Colin Powell)
No More Rabbits!
“More than half of people who leave their jobs do so because of their relationship with their boss. Smart companies make certain their managers know how to balance being professional with being human.” (Travis Bradberry) Most people, who have invested time and energy in working where they work, are not quick to just leave. They spend time checking their hats for any additional rabbits of opportunities. Also, followers can make a concerted effort to assist invisible leaders in becoming visible and available to their followers. This activity is referred to as managing up. Managing up is often a very delicate dance of communicating, problem-solving, and anticipating the leader’s needs. The challenge with managing up is knowing when it is not providing any meaningful and lasting change within the leader-follower relationship. This is when followers have to assess if it is time to do their own disappearing act and find a more suitable workplace.
Continue to show up!
When you are working on your purpose, never allow yourself to disappear, keep showing up. You may have to leave a particular organization but keep showing up in your own life until you land where you are supposed to be. When I say keep showing up, I do not mean just physically but spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Do not check out just because you are not being fed where you are. “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.” (Steve Jobs) It is unfortunate because great followers often have a 10-gallon capacity, and invisible leaders often have a pint-size capacity. Because of this, followers are often left feeling dissatisfied regardless of how much they love their work. These types of followers want to fly and soar while invisible leaders are ok with just getting by. I know it can be hard at times, but continue to be great and keep walking in your purpose. You may be the magical mirror reflecting to an invisible leader what it looks like to show up and make a difference!