Leadership Limits By Mark L. Vincent
THE LIMITS OF ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP
Have you ever considered what the limits of your organizational leadership? I have.
When my son got married it meant looking for a dress for his mother. In an act of impulsive love, I cancelled late afternoon plans and took my beautiful bride shopping. A mistake?
I am good at being patient while she shopped. I took a sincere interest. On occasion, I had even been helpful in choosing something she enjoyed and wore frequently. But there are some stores where the husband is not welcome. The tension is up from the moment a person possessing male appendages walks in.
I had dropped her off and parked the car, entering a few minutes later. By then she was at the back of the store perusing the racks. Entering the door, a saleswoman accosted me, demanding to know my name to prove I was actually with someone already in the store. Already uncomfortable, I moved to where my wife was and began my patient wait, moving several times as other shoppers approached the rack where I was standing, making it known I was not welcome to stand there while they looked at the rack. It was a warm day for early March, a hint of spring in the wind, but only frosty estrogen inside.
What would have happened if I had said: “I’m not a predator! I’m married! I’m not going to peek inside the dressing room curtains! I’m not thinking about what you would look like in a size 20 evening gown! I’m happily married. I’m a father of an adult daughter. I am a business owner, a respectable citizen, and have no criminal record. Please, I mean no harm.” I doubt anything I could say would have helped.
An insight underneath all of this is that no-one can expect to be welcomed everywhere, to be loved by everyone, or to always be looked to for the role one is most accustomed to playing. By walking into that store as a man I was a problem, and there was little to nothing I might do to change it during the fifteen minutes we were in the store.
Other rooms into which I might walk will cast me as a leader, but only a few. Most of the rest I will simply be a spectator, a potential source of income, a family member or friend, a volunteer, or a participant under the direction of another. Life can be lived well if I craft my skill at moving comfortably between these roles.
If you immerse yourself in leadership theory, you quickly learn that a key issue is the leader who cannot distinguish when they have responsibility from when they do not. In short, the best leaders are also excellent followers. They understand the limits of leadership.
In the community of colleagues to whom I am accountable, we seek to model this in how we set up and administer projects on behalf of businesses, non-profits and ministry organizations. Any one of our consultants might be lead on a project, provide project assistance under the direction of another, or even provide back office service to make sure the job gets done well. Those who think too much of their self, or believe they have more gravitas than others within our common practice, will not fit well among a group of people who are trying to grow themselves into excellence as both followers and leaders.
Beyond this, and in tribute to the dress store experience, I must also become more comfortable with those settings where I am not readily welcomed. Demanding my rights, flight, avoidance—those normally chosen responses when I am uncomfortable or feeling unjustly treated—can give way to patient humility, light-heartedness, and quiet strength.
Mark L. Vincent is the CEO of Design Group International. He is also actively involved as a subject matter expert and faculty for the CLA Outcomes Academy.
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