There are some busy executives who appear bigger than life. Their charismatic, bold, innovative expressions with sweeping visual displays make a nice, even inspiring show. However, leadership is not about being bigger than your surroundings. It is about the size of the influence you have where you stand.
A solitary well-functioning lighthouse can stand stoically through a storm and still provide direction, feedback, and encouragement to those in distress. In fact, it is expected to fulfill that role. That is not to say you as a leader should be rigid and unmoving, nor should you misconstrue the shape of a lighthouse for that of a silo, with the brightest being up top.
At the most generous, business professionals tend to think of silos as vertical, independent organizations. Let’s reframe it back to what they are, structures built to contain bulk storage. If you are the proud leader of a silo organization, you are not king of the mountain or even the snow pile, plowed into the back of the parking lot. The bulk storage is the talents, strengths and breadth of experiences of your direct reports, and you are holding them back, which borders on leadership malpractice. If you are not sharing knowledge or information with others cross-functionally, you are not projecting leadership, and you are certainly not spreading influence. You are fostering discontent, and encouraging the growth of employee disengagement like a fungus. Furthermore, you are destroying any hope for a highly reliable, performance-minded culture.
Sometimes people mistakenly think holding onto information makes them powerful. While it is true, knowledge is power; like money and time, its influence cannot fully be realized unless shared. That is one of the reasons there are so many leaks in politics. Anonymous, often hardworking staffers who receive little to no recognition, want others to know, because of their access to information, how powerful they are. One way to do that is to become a trusted source. They get the adrenaline rush of seeing a story break solely because of them, without any threat of the potential repercussions. Gossip works the same way. Except when manufactured or strategically placed, leaks and gossip are born from insecurity. Insecurity is not power; it is a ruse. This kind of weak leadership is easy. It takes less effort and minimal thought. It is also less effective and more damaging.
If you are a leader, do not take it for granted, take it seriously. Endeavor to lead better, no matter where you stand. E.M. Forster said it well in, A Room with a View; “Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”
Positional power only goes so far. Real leadership is not first appointed and then earned. Learning and providing effective leadership is not for the faint of heart. It is for those full of heart.
Karl Bimshas is a leadership consultant who collaborates with busy professionals who want to improve their working relationships with their colleagues and direct reports to create high-performance minded teams. He’s the author of “How to Stay When You Want to Quit;Strategies to get over yourself“.