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.

Sharing a Mission Moment

Mission Moments are sacred. I learned that from my friends Derek and Laura Cabrera.   Those moments of interaction with my customers (my clients) that matter…matter deeply.  Not just those instances when something cool happens.  Mission Moments are moments when the work we’ve done together gives birth to a new reality.  Deep?  Yep. That’s the point.

I have four parts to my (THINK’ID8’s) mission.  THINK.Design.Innovate.IDeate. There’s nothing too profound about each separately.  I put these four words together years ago to guide my daily work more so for how each relates to each and how that relationship helps me help others.  They represent a system of processes that when working together bring about BIG shifts in people, teams, departments and whole organizations.  They are never done but always starting.  I know…deep again.  I’ve built my own ideas on Mission Moments over the years.  When helping others think, it’s great to co-celebrate moments of clarity.  But, that’s not enough from my perspective to create a Mission Moment. For me, Mission Moments are those moments when all four of my mission parts come together and are witnessed as the system they are for my clients through some revelation.  That “holy sh…” moment, goosebumps and all.  That’s a Mission Moment for me.

Like most consultants, I have a bag of tricks to help those I work with THINK.Design.Innovate.IDeate.  I heard Mathew Chow (IDEO) speak about managing to change and one of his techniques hit home.  The question was “How do we manage to change within our organization?” and can we articulate our practice, either written or in unwritten format? He shared a simple method of placing a group into a situation that has them reflect on how they would manage to a specific change.  Awesome…a new addition to my sack.

I headed to my local 5&10 cent store, I love Beiters by the way.  I’m working with an amazing private school, the West Branch School in Williamsport, PA.  I was looking for a blue hat and wow, I found the perfect blue hat.  Totally blinged-out with sequins and a butterfly.  West Branch’s logo includes a Monarch butterfly.  Perfect!

I pulled out the hat and posed (and posed with the hat on by the way) a simple change.  Everyone in the organization would receive and wear the hat, every day, all day.  How would we manage to that change?  Now, the conversation was great, lots of process, decision making, communication planning and other aspects of change management were shared.  But then, the Mission Moment.  “Change should be done to support our Vision.”  Wait…what?  “All this stuff we just talked about, the change, if we want to change, we need to show how it supports our vision.”

The conversation that followed was for me a Mission Moment.  My clients created a new reality for themselves.  Our time together on our new Journey (which we branded #SojournTogether….Reflect Together.Delve Together.Stay Together) to explore their Vision and establish new organizational development practices had come into crystal clear focus.  This clarity was personal, organizational and unique to them.  That’s why its hard to write about.  From the outside, maybe even hard to see why it was special let alone sacred.  But for them, for us, for me, it was a sacred moment that I had to capture.

Why are Mission Moments critical. My vision for the last several years has been “A VISION’ABLE” world.  My Mission supports my dream that all organizations have the capability to create a vision and work toward it and I do my part to help raise them to that level.  Using vision and mission, we give organizations and the people within them purpose.  Mission Moments highlight purpose, create connection and motivate us to dig deeper and continue our vision-focused journeys.  That’s pretty awesome.