We’ve all seen the third T, TACTICS. These are the specific actions or behaviors that are supposed to guarantee you success as a leader. You can almost always recognize these because they’re “THE 12 THINGS EVERY LEADER HAS TO KNOW” or the “one key idea that will make you a successful leader!!!!”. You can walk down the business section at Barnes and Noble or scroll through leadership on Amazon and I guarantee you’ll see thousands of these ideas.
Here’s the secret – if there isn’t a process of learning built into the theory, I guarantee you it’s a tactic.
So why isn’t following someone's "secrets to leadership" going to make you a good leader?
Here’s the problem with TACTICS, with specific behaviors: the context of leading is always changing – team, environment, specific leadership challenge, even the leader himself or herself. This is true not only for you individually, as you go through different situations in your life, but even more so when you compare someone else’s leadership experience to yours. The context that another person was in cannot be the same as your specific environment, team, challenge, or you. It doesn’t matter how many leaders someone looks at, or how many scientific studies someone performs – every tactic has to be applied to a specific situation. This is why you have to go through the process of figuring out if those tactics are appropriate, and if so the specific manner you will use to implement them.
Don’t get me wrong, you should absolutely grab as many tactics from other leaders as you can. Always keep your eyes open for what works, what doesn’t, what you see, what you read; find as many tactics as you possibly can. The more tactics you have, the more choices you’ll have in any situation. Just understand that you need to decide how and when to use these tools, which is where the process of learning comes in. But if someone tells you that the secret to leadership is these twelve things, or changing your behavior in this certain way, just know that it is incredibly unlikely to apply directly to your specific context, situation, or environment.
How does this hurt us?
TACTICS makes us believe that leadership is an exclusive group – if we copy someone else’s tactics and fail, it must be because we aren’t capable. Instead, we need to see that leadership tactics are situational. We have to go through the process of learning and deciding how to build relationships to pick the right one. If we don’t go through the process of assessing our situation, understanding the range of tactics, selecting the best fit, evaluating the outcome, and then generalizing for the future, we won’t be learning. Other successful leaders may have done this process unknowingly – that word is critical, because the practice of leadership is often unconscious – or they may just have gotten lucky. Either way, their tactics are only options for us to consider as part of the process of leadership.
Tactics are a critical aspect of successful leadership. You want to learn as many as you can possibly can. But they aren’t your path to success. Rather, it’s the underlying process of learning how to use these tactics, with accompanying success AND FAILURE, that is true leadership.
Excluding TITLES, TRAITS, and TACTICS from our understanding of leadership is how we begin to redefine leadership. Next week, I’m going to sum up all of this and begin talking about what leadership really is – a definition of leadership that you can turn into actual actions and behaviors in the real world, one that will help you focus your attention on what leadership really is.
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