Visualize leadership in the real world. What do you see?

What do you actually see in the real world when someone is “doing” leadership?

It looks a group of people performing tasks together. That is, people performing their individual jobs - whether it be programming, creating art, spraying water on a fire, filling out forms, or whatever it might be - or talking about the tasks they are doing.

And all of these efforts are working towards a common goal. It’s hard to see the common goal, but if you watch over time then you will see that these efforts align towards some invisible future outcome.

Here’s the critical thing: it is not a single person “leading”. It’s not someone talking in front of a room, or explaining things to other people, or telling people what to do, which is what we generally think of when we try to visualize “leadership”.

It’s not a single person doing this because without other people performing their jobs, that single person is just talking. We assume that the talking motivates other people to act and therefore is leadership, but it’s the final outcome that shows leadership has occurred, not the single person’s actions which we assume are causing others to work together.

So why does it matter that we know that leadership appears in the real world as a group of people acting together towards a common goal?

Being good at something requires we go from an abstract idea (“leading”) to specific actions which we take in the real world.

To do that, we have to be able to understand what the idea looks like. Without that understanding, we have no way to know that the actions we are taking align with the idea. This is like saying we are doing math without understanding addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Math is just a concept, those four tasks are what math looks like in the real world.

You can’t see motivation, or values, or emotions, or shared purpose, or relationships, or any of the other things that we talk about in lead