Simple questions often have the most complex answers. A small discussion can have huge ramifications for your likelihood of promotion.
In 1993 Haddaway asked the fundamental question, What is love? When asked by Flavorwire, he answered, “I meant that ‘what is love’ needs to be defined by everyone by his own definition. It’s unique and individual.” (We’ll have to wait for Haddaway’s follow up song “What is Flavorwire?” to better understand the meaning of that publication’s name.)
This brings us to our question: What is leadership? For many people, you know it, but can you put it into words? Give it a try (without using any of the contextually self-referential words lead, leading, or leader). While I do have a definition, and a whole chapter on it, in The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You what matters more is your definition of it.
More importantly, ask the same question to your colleagues. How different are the answers? Don’t just compare the 1-2 sentences answers each person gives, dig into the terms used in those definitions and give concrete examples. Importantly, compare your definition to those of your manager and those of your subordinates.
Marriages often run into problems because the two people in the marriage have different expectations of what married life should entail. It’s not that the couple needs to agree on everything, but once they know the expectations of their partner they can better engage and relate to them, leading to a more successful marriage (or knowing not to get married in the first place if the expectations are too far apart from a willingness to live up to them). Gary Chapman defined five love languages so people can better describe their preferences as to the expression of love. If some person prefers words of affirmations and the other acts of service, but both express their love by their own preference, there will be disappointment. If you expect quality time but your partner doesn’t provide any, you may feel unloved.
How do your expectations of leadership align to your manager’s?
How do your expectations of leadership align to your manager's? If you want that promotion to a role seen as one requiring leadership, will your manager view you as a leader in light of her definition of it? Can your subordinates show their leadership skills if those skills and actions aren’t within your definition of leadership?
It’s important to have these conversations because without them you may find your efforts fall on deaf ears. Like the partner who feels unloved in the prior paragraph if you don’t express leadership the way others are looking for it you may not be seen as a leader. You’re never going to win by playing pinochle at a bridge game.
You’re never going to win by playing pinochle at a bridge game.
Sit down with your colleagues, including managers and subordinates, to talk about leadership. This can be done in casual conversations while getting coffee, or formal group discussions. There’s no right answer, which is what makes it challenging. The key is to make sure everyone knows if the game is pinochle or bridge or something else altogether.
What is Love is probably best known these days for Saturday Night Live’s Will Farrell and Chris Kattan’s clueless nightclub-going brothers. Their misunderstanding of social protocol led to lots of funny sketches (and yet another single-joke-turned-into-a-two-hour mediocre SNL movie) but ultimately disappointment for the lonesome dancers. Make sure that, by the standards of your organization you know: what is leadership. Otherwise, you might find yourself singing, “I don’t know why you're not fair / I try to lead, but you don’t care.”
It’s critical to learn about corporate culture before you accept a job offer but it can be awkward to raise such questions. Learn what to ask and how to ask it to avoid landing yourself in a bad situation.
Investing just a few hours per year will help you focus and advance in your career.
Groups with a high barrier to entry and high trust are often the most valuable groups to join.