Questions about leadership often present themselves at the most unsuspecting times and places.
For example, I was watching Toy Story 3 the other night with my daughter Leila, for about the 50th time, when Lotso the bear says (referring to Buzz) “He has initiative; he has leadership.”
Suddenly, I found myself drifting away from the story and wondering why and how we usually refer to these two ideas interchangeably.
We experience this interchangeability all the time. We see it when the person who speaks up in a meeting is now expected to lead the charge. Or the person who offers to take on a task or to tackle a problem is suddenly asked to be the committee chair. No matter what organization I have worked with: for-profit, not-for-profit, volunteer-based, or employee-based, when someone shows some initiative… bam, they are assigned a leadership task.
But the two are not synonymous. In fact, most of the time strong initiators aren’t the best leaders because they are usually most comfortable doing, not guiding. Or they may only be motivated to do the doing, not the leading.
Invariably, the next problem these organizations confront is that now that they have the “leaders” established, they can’t find any doers to populate the “groups”. That’s because they have taken all the initiators and made them leaders instead of placing those who want to do the doing where they can be most successful.
So by having doers in leadership roles, they struggle to recruit or motivate other doers and they end up working solo.
While leaders need to have the ability to initiate and to do, having initiative does not automatically mean you are able to lead others.
First time managers of people realize this right away. After being promoted over time for their ability to initiate and get things done, when they start to manage others, these behaviors need to shift. They need to start guiding more and be less in control of the doing.
Recently, I was confronted with the interchangeability of these terms. I reached out to the newly appointed PTA president at my daughter’s school. I simply said in an email, “Let me know if I can assist you with anything.”
As would be expected, she quickly responded with a request for me to take on a leadership role for an event. I quickly responded saying that I didn’t have the time for the leadership role, but that I could help out at any event given the time to plan. I was telling her that I would be willing to be a doer for a set time period.
Ironically, I had said the same thing and had a very similar exchange with past presidents.