I’ve recently been reminded that all leadership is not equal.
I’m sure we all know this — on one level.
And yet, sometimes it’s not until we see first hand (or hear the laments or praises of someone who is experiencing something very different from what we are), that we are reminded that no, all leadership is not equal.
The images above represent for me two very different forms of leadership.
The closed fist represents the leader (and style of leadership) that operates out of a position of power and authority. They want things done their way — and that’s it.
This kind of leadership stifles creativity, squelches a collaborative spirit, and causes team members to feel more like employees — or cogs in a machine.
It’s harmful — to the members of the team who feel silenced, to the project that is being focused upon, and to the customer who is on the receiving end of both the project and the relationship with the team.
This kind of leadership is often easier for the leader — because they are in control — and because they know how to deal with people who aren’t on the same page. Leaders in this vein often resort to fear and intimidation.
This kind of leadership often results in disgruntled team members and a revolving door effect in trying to keep the team populated. And I don’t know many people who will stay in this kind of work environment for very long if their supervisor is functioning in this way.
And team members don’t feel valued.
They don’t believe that their being used to their fullest potential.
And most will ultimately come to the conclusion that there is someplace out there that will make better use of their gifts talents and passions. So they move on.
And many will take with them the toxic residual of trying to work within this kind of leadership structure.
That’s the kind of leadership that’s represented by the closed fist.
But then there’s the open hand.
The open hand represents the leader (and style of leadership) that operates out of a position of power and authority that’s much different from the aforementioned counterpart. While they might be the person “in charge,” they tend to see themselves as a steward of both the work and of the team. They want the best possible outcome and recognize that in many (if not most) cases that will only come when all members are allowed to speak into the process.
This kind of leadership boosts creativity, engenders a collaborative spirit, and causes team members to feel valued and appreciated for what they bring to the table. They tend to feel a sense of ownership on the project and grow confident that they’re a valued member of the team.
This kind of leadership is life-giving — to the team, to the project, and even to the customer. It’s a win-win-win!
This kind of leadership is often more challenging for the leader — at least in the beginning — because they are choosing to give up power and control. It can feel chaotic at times. It can be messy. It can feel hard — even if it’s producing real results.
But this kind of leadership has a tendency of producing some of the best products, people, teams, and organizations. This kind of leadership can result in very loyal team members — whether they stay with the team for the long haul or eventually move on to do great things with other teams.
They feel valued.
They believe that they’re being freed up to contribute and work towards their fullest potential.
And as their gifts, talents, and passions are refined, utilized, praised, and appreciated — those team members are better trained and equipped to lead their own teams. Whether that be in the same organization or not.
I don’t know about you, but this kind of open-handed leadership is what I strive for.
I’m sure I struggle at times.
But I believe in the team I work with.
I trust their judgments.
I believe they are called, equipped, and increasingly the experts in what they do.
And whenever we get off track, no matter the reason, we know that we can approach one another out of genuine care or concern because of the mutual respect we have for one another.
It definitely takes time to cultivate a leadership style and corresponding culture like this. But it is totally worth it!
What about you?
What kind of leader are you?
Does this idea of seem to simplistic or idealistic?
What’s the biggest challenge you face in trying to be an open-handed leader?