A few weeks ago I had a compelling urge to offer leadership to a group I was working with. I was experiencing a leadership vacuum in the room and realised that I was being sucked into the void. I wasn’t the leader of this group and they hadn’t asked me to take over – and yet I felt they really wanted someone to step up. I resisted the urge for all of ten minutes and then found myself in the chair. They all looked to me, and I could so easily have manoeuvred myself into position. I chose not to .
Instead of taking over I shared my feelings and wondered (out loud) what was going on. This prompted a healthy discussion about what the group was looking for and how they were going to move forward. It got me off the hook and made me think about what kind of leadership was appropriate in these situations.
If I was the appointed leader, things would have been simple. I could have found out what was going on, explored who could do what and then given some direction and guidance (consultatively of course).
Metaphorically, I would have taken control of the ship. It would have swung onto a new course and all would be well – or would it? The crew could have relaxed and set about their duties knowing that an experienced commander was at the helm, but would they have been better off?
From the organisation’s point of view – the answer was probably yes – in the short term. From the individual’s point of view – I would argue – no.
Next time a leadership crisis came up, the team would have been plunged back into the same position; doing their best and looking around for some direction. My stepping into the leadership void would have been a short term solution. The team would not have had the chance to learn by taking on some of the responsibility for running their organisation. Looking back, I hope that bringing my feelings into awareness enabled the team to have this opportunity.
For many leaders, the desire to provide firm strong leadership and “get a grip” would have been overwhelming (as it nearly was for me). When our top leaders falter they are taunted with this cry by the media. It is the model we are used to. The vast majority of the world’s population have acquiesced to authority and have known their place. I think this is changing. It means that those in leadership positions will have to change too.
If I am honest, I couldn’t resist the leadership vacuum that materialised in the group. I did step in but not in the conventional way. By expanding the level of consciousness and understanding in the room, I provided an opportunity for the team, to grow. They filled the void themselves and in the process created a far better outcome than I ever could by taking over.
I realised I could lead effectively as a catalyst and that I didn’t always need to be a commander. I suspect I will swap my “leading light” for a “catalytic spark” more and more as time goes on.