Having just returned from a trip where I encountered a lot of tourists, I’m convinced that one of the struggles organizations will face as it tries to develop the next generation of leaders is signaled by what is being carried around in the hands of these tourists, and just about everyone else it seems these days. The selfie stick. I’ll try to explain, but first an observation.
When I was younger and would visit the homes of my grandparents, one of my favorite activities was to look through the old photo albums that were there. In them, you would see the memories come to life. I saw my parents as children, aunts and uncles, good friends, and places that had been visited on long past vacations. What I didn’t see were photos of my grandparents themselves. To see photos of those people you would have to look in the photo albums of my parents, aunts and uncles, or good friends.
Times were different then. You took pictures of the people and places you wanted to remember. It was about them. The other people. Today, photo albums have been replaced by Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sharing platforms and a quick glance at someone’s Instagram feed might look something like this: selfie, selfie, selfie, selfie, food pic, selfie, selfie … You get the picture (pun intended). At some point, the focus (these puns won’t stop) shifted from capturing memories of other people, to capturing pictures of ourselves.
This is where the connection to leadership comes in. You see, as an individual contributor, the value you bring to your organization is primarily derived from the work you do by yourself. You were hired to do a job, you do it exceptionally well, and you are recognized for that work. Once you are promoted and expected to lead, the nature of your work and the perspectives you bring to the workplace need to shift. You now have to be responsible for other people, and not just yourself.
Two Important Words for Leaders
There are two important words that live in the world of a leader: interdependence and generativity.
- Interdependence kicks in the moment you accept the responsibility of leadership. It means that as a leader, you depend on other people and the work they are doing for your success. By the same token, those people who report to you are looking to you for help, guidance, direction, and feedback. In other words, they can’t be successful without your help in return. Many new leaders report this interdependence to be one of the most challenging aspects of leadership. For the person that has been so self-focused for so long, it can be a difficult adjustment to make, and quite frankly, some leaders never get it. The result? They fail miserably.
- Generativity comes into play for leaders who are later in their career. The term refers to a person’s desire to see the next generation succeed. For many of us who are in the second half of our lives and careers, this is more important than the personal accolades we received when we were younger. The ability to see someone you have coached, mentored, and managed become a good manager and leader themselves is one of the greatest feelings a leader can have.
What Effective Leadership is All About
Can you see the theme here? Leadership is not about what you accomplish or do. It’s about what others do. Your job is to help them succeed. Sometimes this happens because you set a compelling vision and people will commit to following the plan. Sometimes it happens because you coached an employee through a difficult situation or project. Other times it happens just because you were there to listen to their hopes and dreams. But it’s about them. And if you can’t successfully make the shift from a “me” centered approach to your work, to the “we” centered approach, you will not be seen as an effective leader.
So put down that selfie stick, go out there and take some photos of other people. Help to create some memories in your organization by the way you are perceived as a leader.