Without any doubt, one of the biggest frustrations in life for me is watching people fill roles for which they aren’t qualified. Especially if those roles have a leadership component, I watch the unqualified struggle with the requirements of the role and shake my head and take several deep breaths. Leadership roles are some of the most misunderstood aspects of human existence, yet people refuse to take the time to understand leadership.
Leadership roles ARE NOT about having power. Leadership roles ARE about responsibility. Here’s the thing: While some roles in life have clear leadership responsibilities, most leadership roles don’t appear to be leadership roles. For example, I fill several roles in my life: Husband, Father, Son, Friend, Addiction Counselor, and Writer. Some of those roles are clearly “leadership roles,” but some may not seem to be. However, in my mind, each of the roles I fill is a leadership role. What may be hard to see is how these roles are all leadership roles.
To clarify: As a “Husband,” one of the requirements of the role, to me, is to try to understand my wife’s needs and feelings such that I can better meet those needs and sympathize with her feelings. In order to meet that role requirement, I have to listen to my wife and learn as much as I can about her. I can take the role to mean that I should do “man” things and she should do “woman” things, but the role, “Husband,” to me means I am one half of a whole partnership.
In my “Father” role, I must provide guidance, structure, and support for my son. But, in order to do so, I have to do my best to understand the world through which my son is developing. I can easily order my son around and make him do this, that, or the other thing, but, “Father” means more to me that just giving orders and being the boss of my son.
The reality is that I must try to understand what each role I fill requires of me. I may not always like those requirements, but I do the best that I can to try to grasp the needs of those around me. Really, I believe that whatever I do has an emotional impact on those around me and it would be irresponsible of me to act through any of the roles I fill for my needs alone. I think that, when it all boils down, people too often get caught up in using people around them to get their own needs met and keep themselves ignorant of the needs of those around them.
To me, that’s what leadership really is: Awareness of the impact of the roles we fill such that we can better serve and guide our actions, collectively. Every role a person fills has to mean something social. That is, there’s no such thing as a role that is defined in isolation of other people. Therefore, we should all understand our roles and see that we are always leaders and followers simultaneously. Some may have more knowledge in certain domains that others and some may have more capability in some domains that others, but NO ONE has all the answers for all of life’s questions. When I see people filling roles, especially traditional leadership roles, for which they just aren’t suited, I can’t help but want to shake them and wake them up by saying, “If you can’t fill this role with respect to the emotional and behavioral impact you have on others by understanding the role’s requirements, either learn how, or leave the role to someone who can.”