The Absence of Leadership

I am honored and lucky to have an amazing circle of friends, contemporaries and mentors I can discuss ideas with. They are the ones who I’ve reached out to in my toughest and happiest moments as a leader. Being a leader is the greatest duty I’ve had in the military. Every time I’ve been assigned as a leader, I’ve been given teams and organizations when they are in uncertain times, or enduring low morale and struggling duty performance. These are my favorite teams to lead because they are the ones with the most ideas to make their team better…they’re simply temporarily frozen. Status Quo reigned supreme across these teams and organizations.

So I do what I always do, I immediately begin to go into my cause/effect brain and analyze the energy across the organization, I look for the “doers”, I observe how they are interacting and watch their behaviors. Most importantly, I get to know my Airmen (as many as possible) as individuals – I find out their motivation – what drives them. Every time I’ve done this as a leader something amazing starts to happen. One by one they all start coming out of the woodwork, in a sort of Michael Jackson thriller zombie sort of way…they’ve been hungry for leadership for so long and now they have a present and deliberate leader. What’s my role in all this? To multiply the “present and deliberate leaders” No more zombies – no more absence of leadership. Now don’t get me wrong, these units all had amazing leaders with incredible leadership potential. But they were frozen and needed thawing out…unzombified.

In my last two assignments as a leader in the Air Force, I was given amazing Airmen (hundreds) to lead…but something important was missing, “Leadership”. Sure there were appointed leaders who had the position and positional power, but the art of leadership did not permeate every corner of the organization. Leaders were not active, visible leaders. They were not deliberately leading their Airmen…They were often driving them. As my dear friend Agnes always says “They are all self-licking ice-cream cones” Thanks to Agnes for the hilarious analogy she gave me years ago. Because of her, I always picture those leaders as soft-serve vanilla ice-cream cones with a large cartoon tongue licking and saying “ooh I’m the best leader and everyone should love me!” I’m chuckling right now as I write this entry.

Tonight I talked to another great friend of mine, Ian – who is an incredible servant leader in his career field and an incredible leader in his family. He’s educated probably a thousand Law Enforcement Officers by now in the art of leadership, tactics, respect-effect and so much more. He said something tonight that stopped me immediately. Yes, I had an Oprah “A-HA!!” moment. I asked him a simple question, something along the lines of “why do we have so many leadership schools of thought, so many flavors of the day?”

To which he answered, ” Because we’ve gotten used to an absence of leadership in our organizations…in every field we’ve accepted the status quo.”

Yet we (as a collective body) are hungry for leadership…starving to be led.

Let that sink in for a minute…

We’ve all walked into organizations where the energy is stale or negative and everything and everyone is viewed as a threat. Why is that? Because we’ve accepted the absence of leadership instead of expecting the presence of leadership.

Everyone at every level inside an organization has the capacity to be a leader. To be a positive force to drive growth across their team and even across the entire organization! I’ve seen young sergeants step up in the absence of leadership to create a thriving environment where their peers and followers achieve incredible mission success. I myself have stepped up to deliberately develop my followers to be better than me when they finally reach my position.

It’s simple really – leaders who focus on their people – those who invest time, effort, and care to grow the leadership abilities of their followers. The abilities that ready them for future roles years later. Those types of leaders create a legacy organization! Those are the leaders who create a climate of leadership and excellence that sustains years after the leader leaves. The people are better because the leader was present with and for them!

I’ve been blessed time and time again to see this in my own teams and organizations and it’s rarely the leader at the top inspiring his or her followers to ignite leadership presence in their organizations. It’s the dozens and dozens of junior leaders and a few managerial level leaders who are igniting that spark protecting it, nurturing it, and sharing the spark with all the new people who join their team.

Tonight was a bit of a ramble entry, but I hope it resonates with you. Expect the presence of leadership NOT the absence of leadership.

Love & Leadership,

Erin

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