Please don’t read this. It’s not for you.
You’re already a Successful Leader, right?
So move along, nothing for you here. No good can come of reading this, for your sort.
Ok, maybe quick look, ‘to help a friend’. But don’t tell them you got it from me. Ok?
An interesting word.
One that is always used to describe other people. Have you noticed?
Not that you are unsuccessful (established already), no, it’s just that ‘success’ is a word that doesn’t sit comfortably as a self-referenced label does it? A bit like describing yourself as a good leader …the point being you really don’t get to choose, as its those that follow you (or not) who always make this call.
So what then makes a Successful Leader, something many of us may aspire to be?
Quite Simple: Good magic.
But before we talk this through, a couple of quick challenges for you…
Identify 3 “successful” people you have worked with.
Got them in mind? Great.
Now, think a little deeper and identify 3 “Great leaders” you have worked for.
Does more than one name appear on both lists?
I do hope so, as from personal experience, being led well can be just as satisfying as (very occasionally) leading well yourself. Positively wonderful magic.
But here’s the thing…and I will make a bet with you here, that most of the names you have just listed are either from your past or from somewhere else, away from your here and now, most likely at a safe and comfortably distanced place.
Isn’t that odd? What dark magic whisked these people so far away from you?
Maybe it’s because, for many of us, we naturally appreciate “Successful Leadership” like we appreciate a fine wine, in that we define it in its history, it’s providence, what it did once, it’s development complete, its result clear, it’s honours won and lauded by the many, its flavour acknowledged and the maker proven… all with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
It can seem successful leadership is something we find easier to define from such distance.
But why do we only see the value from afar?
Isn’t that odd? And strangely lax of us, don’t you think? That we wait to acknowledge such value in our working worlds until such a time when we have missed the chance to learn from it, in that very moment, and talk with our would-be tutor.
Logically then, if those magical moments existed then, they must still exist now, mustn’t they? So what’s changed?
I mean it must be that there are successful leadership moments still around us now, today don’t you think? In our here and now, every single day…but for some strange reason we have stopped seeing them so clearly. Why is that? What mystical forces could be at play?
Many believe it’s because need to see an output, a conclusion to a leadership journey before we judge it – the ‘SO WHAT?’ so much more important than the ‘HOW, NOW?’ assessed after the event, with numbers reached, culture built or teams engaged to a point that we actually miss the experience.
But there is nothing wrong with that is there? It’s normal, right?
But what if this isn’t the case?
What if there is a deeper, darker reason, a wicked secret that distorts your view and hides these magical leadership moments from your gaze every single day. An unnatural force at play….
…and worse still… what if… these forces actually feed from within you…that actively hide these moments from you and others? Uncomfortable thinking isn’t it?
Could it be that the moment we become leaders ourselves we just stop looking for the good magic leadership moments in others, in the moment, you know, those moments where you marvel, those moments you want to bank for yourself in your private leadership vault, the “wish I had said that” or “that’s how I will do it one day” gems.
Perhaps it’s because this large shiny new black leadership that we proudly wear is so big, so brimmed full with confidence (or not) that it now shades us from those brighter lights around us. I wonder.
I think of this as DNSS…’Damn, no Santa! Syndrome. That moment when you stopped looking for the magic around you. The moment when you think you now have to create your own ‘magic’ for your teams, because as a leader, you are all grown up now and If this hat fits, well you must wear it , a leadership burden to be carried alone. Your burden.
This sinister force that breeds such closed thinking also goes by another, more familiar name, another face you may better recognise. Some call it ego.
Ego, tells us if it is to be it’s up to me.
It whispers to us ‘they are judging you…just do something’
Ego breathes in the coldest of spaces ‘don’t listen… tell them to listen to me’, ‘don’t watch them, everyone needs to watch me’
Ego sits quietly in your darkest recesses and holds hands with your cynicism and paranoia and its effects on your effectiveness can be devastating.
Ego breeds in the dark, thinks in the dark, whispers in the dark and pulls your thinking regularly into your blindest of spots.
In Good times Ego is your warmest friend, in bad times your coldest.
It’s interesting to note then, that “Self Labelled” ‘Successful Leaders’ we know, often have the biggest of blind spots, and when times get tough, they are the loneliest of people. A connection? I wonder.
Ok – so how can we release ourselves from the clutches of such Dark Magic?
So simply, it’s frightening. Just like those fairy tales from our childhood – With Good magic.
And like Dark Dreams, Dark Magic hates the broad daylight, so…
Just open your eyes, raise the brim of your hat and let the light in, and let the magic flow.
If we want to know where these examples of great leadership are in our here and now? Why we see them less, where they went?
Well, these moments never left us – trust me, they are here – we just stopped looking.
Open your eyes, look around you
Maybe great leadership is around you now, see it…daily, not just in the actions of those that hold senior roles, but in the actions and words and bravery of your colleagues. We just need to alter our perspective, lift our hats a little more, let in the light, and let the magic flow.
Ok, so we can check these Dark forces – but how do we strengthen the Good Magic? What spells do we need?
None at all.
Just Focus on the light.
Everything is drawn to the light, so just help others to shine…
A final thought for you:
When did you last take a peer, a colleague (not one of your reports) or even your leader aside and use the simple words ‘thanks for doing that’ or ‘thanks, I really learned something from you today, that was great’. This is not about making people you like feel good, it’s about recognising actions that move you.
I make the distinction here between your peers, colleagues and reports for a reason, as leaders in our various worlds we know we should regularly encourage and recognise the great things in the people we lead don’t we? (If not, shame on you)…because that’s in the manager manual isn’t it? On the page right there between smiling in the morning and how to powerfully summarise in meetings to effect control…
No, I am talking here about congratulating those people around you people from whom you expect or demand no favour, whose direct influence on your performance is negligible, these people who in their own leadership moment this week really show you something, I mean really show you…something that grows you and others, something that makes you all think, differently, something you see makes a discernible difference, in the moment for all those that listened.
…and the interesting thing is, this leader you see probably doesn’t even realise their own magic is shining brightly in this moment.
So – be the one to tell them.
Be the one who doesn’t just say well done, but someone brave enough to tell them you followed them and in that moment they carried you. Tell them to do it more. Ask them what made them think to do it, they may even tell you and in this moment both of you may just grow and shine a little more from the experience.
There’s magic for you…and who knows maybe a good first step on the road to “successful leadership”, whatever that label means.