Leadership vs Skill

In 1987, the year I graduated from high school, I remember hearing a coach at an awards banquet speak of how many leaders there were on the team. The coach boasted about their high level of skills and how they set an example for others. They were role models as evidenced by their dedication to on and off the field preparation according to the coach. At that time, I remember feeling confused. Was the coach saying that by being really good at what we do, we are leaders? I wrestled with how simple this sounded. Be good at something, be a leader. But was that true then? And, now after reaching the 50 year old milestone in my life, is it true now?

Young American football team on field.
Leaders focus on the performance of others.

Simply…NO! I’m frankly amazed at how easily we confuse leadership and skill. We can be skilled leaders. But, just because we have a skill, are we leaders? Or, are we as the coach added, capable of being great role models? And, is skill acquisition an automatic pass to being a role model. Certainly not. So, likewise, skill level is not the same as leadership.

Why do we confuse leadership and skill?

  • Because our Mentors Did/Do the Same. Too many coaches, teachers and mentors create confusion for young minds. When a student excels at a sport, artistic or academic pursuit, too often, they are given the title of “leader.” While they may “lead” (as in outperform) others in their skill, their leadership abilities should be assessed uniquely. That mindset (mynddset for me) carries through into adulthood. In fact, we start to feel that if we aren’t given leadership roles when we excel at what we do, we must be doing something wrong. Worse, we suffer when over-promoted at work. In this case, we excel at what we do skill-wise and are promoted to a leadership role. Without leadership capabilities, we struggle. We often fall back on what we know and “do the work” for the team. That’s an entire post on its own. Without intervention, we either learn our mynddset was wrong, or we failed and aren’t a leader. We were duped actually.
  • Because Leadership Needs Defined. I love this definition by Kevin Kruse (Author and recognized Leadership Authority).

DEFINITION: Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.

  • Because We Forget Leadership isn’t about US! When someone is really, really good at something, and they do that something in a way that inspires others, that is AWESOME. But, it takes more than that to be a leader. Leadership requires influencing others in a purposeful, MINDFUL way for the intent of maximizing their efforts to achieve a collective goal. For example, is the star quarterback a leader just because he hits the gym every day after school or is the water boy a leader because he gathers a group of younger friends with a goal of playing varsity at the field after school and teaches them the drills he knows they will perform when they get older?

If you’re not sure if you are a leader, which are you, the quarterback or the water boy from the above example? Are you attempting to lead based on your skill or are you practicing the act of leadership? Have you recently labeled someone a leader who you now see falls short of the definition?

This shift is a mindset (I call it a mynddset) shift. Within your organization, be sure you’re crediting those with high skills for their achievements while also reserving the label of leader for those with the right mynddset.