“A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” — John A Shedd
Building on Shedd’s wisdom, leading during the calm is nice, but that is not why we need leaders. Your people can manage the status quo. They know what to do when things go as planned. Sunny day leadership — when your people don’t need you to guide them — shouldn’t be about kicking back and enjoying the warmth. Rather, that is when a leader needs to be looking ahead and positioning the organization to thrive amidst whatever comes next. That’s what leaders are for!
Persuading a group of people to step into the unknown, especially when they are comfortable where they are at, is the job of a leader. “Sure things” don’t take leadership. They take good management, yes, but not leadership. Casting a clear vision for the future in the midst of a fog of competing predictions and expert opinions, and a myriad of challenging variables outside your control . . . building a network of people excited to walk along side you on the journey . . . outlining specific action steps to move the organization from here to there . . . that is the stuff of leadership.
Before you start puffing out your chest or cueing the dramatic music, however, leadership is also about uncertainty and course corrections and hard decisions. It is about weighing consequences and pushback and possibilities and risk. It requires far more hard work, and entails far less glamour, than it might appear on the surface. The “weight” of leadership is a real thing. And for the best of our breed, leadership is far more about who a person is, and how they approach the world, than it is about any position they might hold.
Leadership isn’t for everyone, any more than accounting or welding, or farming, and that’s okay. Yes, you can hone your skills, and learn new ways to increase your effectiveness, but just as in any profession, a bit of it has to be “in” you to persevere through the work it takes to do it really well. One of the best descriptions I’ve found to describe this inner sense of purpose comes from Parker Palmer in Let Your Life Speak, where he said, “Vocation at its deepest level is, ‘This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.’”
If you’ve got that, you’ve got what it takes to be a leader. So take a deep breath and leave the harbor.