At the pinnacle of your success when you’ve climbed to the top, do you plan to be alone? Popular sayings about leaders suggest that it’s lonely at the top and that you’ll be isolated in an ivory tower.
This is one of the most dangerous myths about leadership. Those who believe it and allow it to become true handicap themselves. They cut off the single most important attribute of a leader: the followers.
What research demonstrates is that leaders behave in certain ways that hardly add up to being lonely. The Leadership Challenge, a book and body of work by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, is based on research with over 5 million people who have provided information about the behaviors of leaders. From this work, we know precisely which behaviors make some leaders more effective than others. We have a behavior-based blueprint for leadership.
That blueprint includes behaviors like actively listening to diverse points of view, treating others with dignity and respect, developing cooperative relationships, building consensus, celebrating others’ accomplishments and more. There is not a single one of the 30 behaviors that even slightly suggests that a leader operates alone.
So why do some people in senior management roles isolate themselves and feel lonely at the top? Perhaps it’s a misunderstanding. All those reports and analyses and strategies… all those pressures to make really big decisions with widespread impact… all those expectations of so many people who are counting on them… Maybe it’s all these distractions that prevent them from doing the work of leaders.
It’s a funny thing about leadership. The more you work behind closed doors, the harder it is to do the work. Leaders who are not engaged lose their credibility, their prestige and their support. They struggle to get things done because their followers don’t see the point. When followers are not engaged, they are not really following. They’re just doing the bare minimum requirements of a job.
Exemplary leaders understand that the paperwork, processes, plans and pressures are all secondary to people. They put people first and step fully into leadership behaviors, proven ones that build relationships and ennoble others. Somehow, the work gets done faster and with better outcomes when leaders engage others in these ways.
If you find yourself in an ivory tower or behind a closed door, it’s time to take a closer look at what you’re doing. It isn’t leadership if you’re doing it alone.
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