Are you familiar with #Leadershipchat? It’s a twitter chat that takes place every Tuesday night at 8pm ET. It’s moderated by two swell people in Lisa Petrilli and Steve Woodruff and it attracts some really nice folks who say some of the darndest things. It also makes me nucking futs sometimes.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about #Leadershipchat but this time I simply want to express my prevailing views without the limitations of 140 characters, once and for all, and then return to the dark musty cave I crawled out of. Promise.
So why does #Leadershipchat (and other similar twitter chats) drive me batshit crazy? For one, there’s a tendency to discuss perfect leadership scenarios. The ones where the leader makes everyone on the team feel empowered; where the leader’s door is always open, he (or she) always has time to listen. A world where the leader makes everyone on the team feel they matter, and the team then goes on to make everyone else around them feel like they matter, too. It’s about believing in people, trusting them, nurturing them, winning over their hearts. It sounds so damn good, doesn’t it? Too good.
Let me make one thing clear. Leadership responsibilities are given to a person over a team to attain an outcome; a result. In sports, it’s winning games and/or a championship. In a nonprofit organization, it’s raising more money. In a church, it’s saving more souls. And in business, it’s all about the Benjamins; the cold reality of shareholder returns. Oftentimes, the consequences of failing to achieve said outcomes is being replaced or even fired. With great power comes great responsibility, yes?
So now the leader (a good one) has to outline a plan for success (and, quite possibly, his own livelihood), review his team members, consider their strengths and weaknesses, and assign responsibilities accordingly. And that’s where the fun usually begins.
The Awful Truth
Now, at the expense of sounding like an unreservedly jaded bastard (which I’m really not), allow me to offer up a sobering reality: People will, more often than not, let you down. On #Leadershipchat, we’re always looking at the leader’s responsibilities and we tend to forget those of the team. Yeah, the team. You know, the ones that have to execute the plan that the leader so carefully and lovingly laid out to them. It’s the team that usually determines a leader’s success or failure…
and people will, more often than not, let you down.
Why? Because human beings live in a complex world with an infinite number of habits and beliefs. We’re inherently competitive and destructive; we have a propensity for pride, selfishness, gossip, greed and deceit. We’re quick to judge one another; we try to remove the speck from our brother’s eye while a beam is lodged in our own eye. We split off into “packs” for self-preservation and wage “war” on other packs. Ultimately, we abide by the Darwinian principle of “survival of the fittest”.
Do you see now what a leader (also a flawed human being) has to deal with?
The good news is it isn’t our fault. That’s just how God made us. As soon as He let Adam and Eve run around in the Garden of Eden by themselves, our true nature was revealed. The serpent helped Eve realize that nobody should be the boss of her (“You gonna let God tell you what to do?”). Eve, realizing she might have screwed up, drags poor Adam into her mess (“Here, eat this apple. It’s all good.”). Adam then lies to God (“Apple? What apple?”), then throws Eve under the bus (“But she gave it to me!”) and then tries to divert the blame back to God (“If you had never created her in the first place, this would never have happened!”). Sounds like just another day at the office, doesn’t it?
The “Good” People
So are there good people in this world? People who believe that caring, support and trust can still flourish? People who can suppress their innate human tendencies and actually be sensitive to the well-being of others? Sure there are. If there weren’t, we certainly would have destroyed ourselves a long time ago. We’ve come close but not yet.
In any “team” environment, there are several people who really love what they do; who tackle their responsibilities with enthusiasm. Their intentions are ultimately self-serving but carefully disguised. You see, these people want to succeed because they want to move up to a higher position, to a thicker paycheck. They want to buy a nice house in the suburbs, buy a nice car, put their kids in the best schools, then take out another mortgage on the house to send them to the best colleges, then sell the house and hopefully have enough left to retire to a small ocean front condo on Miami Beach. Survival of the fittest at its most admirable.
Alas, many times these noble souls have to endure the envy and resentment of the others; the “normal” people. The people who hate to see another team member be praised over them (Dang! Susie’s making us look bad!”); the people who resent the fact that their one-time co-worker has now been put in charge of them (“Bob’s gonna now tell us what to do? Not me he ain’t!”). Should I tell you the story of Cain and Abel? The story of Joseph and his eleven brothers, perhaps? Let’s just blame God again, shall we?
This is why being a leader is so hard. People.
This is why there are so many dang twitter chats wishing impossible things about leadership, business, customer service, and life in general. Because it’s the nature of people to make a mess of things.
And this is why the leader gets the cash, the new car, and the girl when he can get a group of ultimately self-serving people to just do what they’re supposed to do for an extended period of time to achieve a goal. Despite their jealousy, hypocrisy, pride, selfishness, egos, and religious beliefs. It’s a reason to celebrate! Pop the champagne bottles! All of us actually worked together and did something! Hallelujah!
Whether it’s done via intimidation, patience, love, hook or crook; whether at the end of the day people hate their leader, love their leader or fear their leader; the successful leaders know it’s all about the results.
[Digital artwork by Stefano Bonazzi]
Great point about the successful leader knowing its all about results. I guess the issue is how the leader defines results; personal, the development of others…etc.
Good point. But it also depends on who the guy (or girl) signing the leader’s checks defines results, yes? 😉
Like you, I wonder sometimes what is happening in the brains of so called thought leaders, motivational speakers, coaches. What’s going on in that third dopamine circuit. Can we cut their heads open, slice it up, and have a look through the electron microscope?
I’m not talking about Lisa or Steve. Because I haven’t followed them closely enough to have an opinion one way or another. Maybe, I have read three or four blog posts by each. Maybe.
The obvious answer is that most of the people doing leadership happy talk have never led 25 or more people through the desert and across the years in the search of a promised land where everything is better. They have not walked in death marches to get er done, they did not answer directly to the royal purse and the outrageous insults, they did not hold the line in the face of inevitable failure, nor did they ever lead the charge on the machine gun nests.
You and I also know that the people great at talking the happy talk are always the same people that are equally comfortable with deserting the team when the going gets rough. They’ll cry up a river of tears and give you a big hug on their way out and that’s meant to make it all better. [grin]
But for all their lack of full disclosure (or experience), what they’re saying is not always wrong. It is incomplete. What would impress you or me is if they can speak to love and results amidst hate, envy, jealousy, dishonesty, deceit, and mutiny.
In other words, they do not lead you or me to the promised land. They flash a map from a Captain Crunch box and tell you everything is going to be flowers and candy. And that is what’s really bugging you, buddy.
You hit the nail on the head. I think we’re starting to really understand each other. Scary 🙂
Leadership is tough. Period. It’s not the fairy tale that many people on the various twitter chats (many of whom have never led at any level where results are expected) wish it were.
There is an ugly side to us human beings that is always forgotten during these chats; human nature. To many people, introducing these factors into the discussion would devalue the utopia that many people wish the social space to be. It’s unfortunate as it would make for a healthier (and far more realistic) conversation.
Nice to see you here again…
As usual, I have no time to read your long rants, yet I often do, and I’m always glad.
Aside from specifics of LeadershipChat, I echo your sense that leadership discussions are too-often filled with platitudes about how all leaders should act. Your point about a goal is not only important…for me, it’s the glue. And if people used the glue well, they’d either have fewer platitudes OR the things they say wouldn’t sound like platitudes.
Specifically, the questions are: “Why act in certain ways?” and “In service of what result?” If someone were to bring that causality into the discussion, I suspect I’d get more comfortable quickly. If leaders should have an open door and engage openly *in service of gaining commitment from employees to a path of action,* then we can instantly have a more interesting discussion. What would employee motivations be with and without that communication style? How long does that communication style take? What are the unintended consequences of that style? What action won’t get done if the leader maintains that style? What the implied ROI?
I suspect the most experienced in chats about Leadership have a pretty well developed sense of goal and causal relationships between leadership behavior and behavior of the led under different leadership scenarios. At least, I want to believe this (since I’m the open optimist–you’re the optimist disguised as a cynic). But for the less experienced…they often have no flipping idea. If one’s whole context for leadership came from these chats, one would walk out with a sense of absolutes about leadership behavior that may or not fit situations, may or may not fit different employee groups, and may or may not actually get the job done.
We once seriously considered a tagline for our consulting company as “An obsessive commitment to causality.” You can’t talk causality about leadership techniques without a well-developed theory of human behavior, including all the ways that, as you say, “people let you down.” But if you DO have this, leadership discussions get some meat quickly.
I really like what you’ve written here. I think there is so much more to a leadership discussion than the fluff on display on #Leadershipchat. Moreover, I strongly believe there are a lot of people commenting who have either (A) never been leaders themselves so they know not what the heck they’re saying; or (B) been (are) part of a dysfunctional work environment and speak from a desire for things to be different (better).
Leadership discussions could be quite meaty if they’d explore other side of the coin.
Having never tuned into #LeadershipChat, I have no specific personal observations on the chat itself. Yet the theme you hit upon here is familiar Dan, that of idealistic platitudes. Sound bites that fit neatly into 140 character nuggets, suited perfectly for a retweet and its associated social proof.
Though this is definitely a phenomenon that runs through many Twitter chats in which I’ve participated, it’s by no means contained within the walls of that platform. Nor is it necessarily a concern brought about by social media, although these platforms have amplified the voice of those who practice it.
Essentially, I think you’re hitting upon the traditional educational challenge of theory vs. practice.
Theory is what tends to prevail in environments like classrooms, presentations, and, yes, newer knowledge sharing forums such as Twitter chats, webinars, LinkedIn groups and myriad others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, providing as it does a framework through which to process real world scenarios, but theory alone is insufficient to deal with the human element that you’re referencing here. That takes pure, hard fought experience of a given situation, from which we can add the required depth and context to our understanding. With a base of these fully-rounded experiences, theory suitably tempered by practice, comes a solid platform from which to teach others. Although I’ve led small teams myself and encountered some of the challenges you touch upon, I would by no means consider myself rounded enough to educate others in that arena. Combined with no direct management requirement of me in my current position, I have my reason for not having participated in this particular chat.
Swinging back to that, I do think Twitter limits the depth of discussion and lends itself to short, sharp bursts of theory, more so than other social media. That doesn’t mean that inquiring minds can’t cut deeper into such idealism with razor sharp questions, however, so perhaps that should be your approach this coming Tuesday? That would certainly give me cause to lurk, if nothing else!
Thanks for the brain candy.
Nicely written. Maybe I should just stay away from chats altogether (but then, what fun would I have on twitter if I can’t poke fun of people’s tweets?).
I think these chats should focus more on the reality of leadership (and/or customer service, entrepreneurship, etc) and less on the retweetable fluff that usually gets kicked around. It all sounds really good but it’s miles away from reality. Anyone who’s ever really led knows that…
Thanks for stopping by 🙂
I get social media. I understand (probably minimally) its ability to increase reach and influence. I think I get it.
But I always come back to talk vs action. I have a computer, Internet service, and time to Tweet, post, and engage from the comfort of my own home. I can talk all I want about how I feel about the problems of my family, community or my world and what any good leader might do in any one of those places. But I really wonder how many of us have actually lived the nightmares that we preach about.
I encounter that problem as I teach the youth at church all the time. They haven’t experienced extremes of any kind. They’ve never been hungry, homeless, neglected, tortured, or persecuted for anything other than being a teenager.
It’s when you find yourself in the midst of a struggle that you discover a leadership principle or strength in yourself or someone else. THAT’s where the leaders show up. NOT in chats where ideas are thrown around, but where the rubber meets the road.
(Mind you I’ve never been in on one of the leadership chats so these people might be doing a lot of good in the world that I know nothing about!)
I guess on twitter, it’s easy to do a lot of talking when you consider that nobody’s gonna hold you accountable for whatever you tweeted, yes? It’s all talk – but who’s actually practicing what they preach? Or even in a leadership position? My guess is few; very few.
You do find out what you’re made of when you gotta walk through the fire. That’s when the talking ends and action begins. Or not.
Thanks for your comment 🙂
I would tend to agree with Steve and Betsy – I think what you are really touching on is a problem not specific to #leadershipchat (or any one chat) but rather to the online world at large. It saddens me to say that the longer I stay in the world of social media, the more I see that people say what’s right on Twitter only to act in the completely opposite way in the real world. People who preach the importance of customer service do not return calls. People who preach good leadership do not know how to lead. Etc.
As for the concept of leadership, I agree that there are a lot of “sound byte” type tweets during the chat, but I also think that sometimes good conversation gets stirred up. If you acknowledge that a leader can’t just snap his or her fingers to get people to do things, where do you go from there? How do you keep the people who do want to work happy while dealing with people who may even be destructive in the long run? These are topics that do get covered, and they are all things a real leader needs to deal with.
My only real ongoing confusion is that often the terms “leader” and “boss” are used seamlessly, and I’m not sure that’s really the best way to approach things. Often, the bosses who work as part of the team, not high and above the team, are the ones who experience the most success. If you go around the office touting your leadership skills you’ll probably just inspire the mock cartoonists amongst your ranks.
Interesting post, Dan. Good stuff.
I consider a leader anyone who has to get a group of people to work together to achieve an outcome. That could be a CEO, sales manager, youth pastor, etc.
As for the chat itself (and others similar to it), there have been times when a flash of reality finds its way into the conversation (usually initiated by me) but is quickly swallowed up by the fluff. I mean, that’s why people are there, no? To talk about how nice the world could be…if.
Lots of ifs. Way too many ifs. Ifs are nice, though. Reality? That’s an ugly fire-breathing beast. Best not to talk about that 😉
Always nice to see you here, my dear.
Snuff the fluff. To lead is to greed. So sayeth the Psalm.
I wish I could say, “I wish I could lead” with authority, like there’s a viable reason… a palatable obstacle that I cannot get around or through keeping me from leading. There is not. The biggest obstacle is me, and finding the potent combination of motivation and perseverance to overcoming… me.
Until then, just call me Fluffy.
Sometimes it’s just finding the right “thing” that you’re passionate about. That passion infects others and soon you find yourself in the position of a leader. It’s what happens next that defines you.
Thanks for the comment 🙂