Getting Ready to Lead
One of the core challenges facing organisations today is the need to develop leadership capacity “all the way down”. The shift to customer-centricity means that decisions need to be made as close to the customer and with as little delay as possible. In the “agile organisation” teams ideally become self-directed, which means that everyone needs to be ready to step up and lead when the moment presents itself. Even in more traditional bureaucracies, the pressure is on: building a “leadership pipeline” and “leadership bench strength” means that organisations can hardly afford to delay leadership development for high potential talent until they are actually occupying management roles. And in organisations of all kinds, facing disruptive and often traumatic transformation, “change leaders” need to appear everywhere to pull the organisation together and forward.
Organisations in transition to more adaptive structures face a conundrum: more people need to lead, but how ready are they to lead? How do we get them more “ready to lead”? And “ready to lead” refer not only to those designated or expected to do the leading: much of their effectiveness will depend on the readiness of others to be led.
What we mean by “readiness” here is of course to some extent dependent on where the organisation finds itself and where it wishes to go.
A staunch bureaucracy with a hierarchy multiple layers deep aiming to become comprehensively agile is up against it. The people are used to the command lines: both managers and managed. They know their place, and they want to keep it that way. Internecine politics is well established, and each level carefully constrains its agency to reduce its own risk of making a wrong move. Becoming more ready to lead may mean taking ownership of transforming “The way things are here” within their sphere of influence. The obstacles are immense – the leader who is ready has fortitude, organisational acumen, and heaps of emotional intelligence.
At the other end, a truly agile start-up faces a different challenge: by its very nature the start-up is flat and fast, but often lead by a specialist with undeveloped “leadership abilities”. You may be great at the stuff you do, but beyond that you have little insight into your own behaviours and motivations. It works in the heady early days when acolytes wait for your wisdom and jump when you make the smallest signal, but later becomes a founder pathology standing in the way of sustainable organisational growth. This leader requires courage of a different kind from jumping in and forging ahead: the courage to be wrong, to be limited, to be vulnerable, to be full of doubt, even, and in that doubt to find the way to a vision much higher.
For a gifted young person, the challenge may be to find your voice and act with confidence, going against your peers and the easy and demanding conformity of those around you. You need to leave another kind of nest now, this nest of the crowd, and claim a bigger role for yourself in your world. You need to stand alone if standing alone is the right thing to do.
And if you are at the top, or at the end, and you have achieved everything and everyone is singing your praises, your challenge may be to hold in awareness the hole that lies concealed in your inner being, so that you may become ready for self-acceptance and through that, for wisdom, so that your purpose may extend beyond your own power and your own success, thereby allowing you to create the legacy not of what you have done or will leave behind, but of who you are and will be even when you are no longer here.
Whatever the context, being Ready to Lead means a certain willingness to show up as a leader and to take responsibility for that where you deem yourself to have influence. At the heart of that where you may have influence is you, your Self.
To be Ready to Lead requires making a choice, to the extent that you are aware of having a choice. And when you become aware of having a choice, and of that choice being constrained by your unconscious behaviour, it means exercising the choice to make that choice more profound. If you take ownership, be ready to take more ownership. If you take responsibility, take more responsibility – not only responsible for what you need to do, but for bringing those around you to an awareness of what they also can take responsibility for.
In this way, we may become Ready to Lead – all the way down, all the way up. We have leaders everywhere, each to their own extent and ability, and because we have leaders who truly lead when they are called to lead, we also have people who are ready to be led when called to do so – the same people, whether they are at the top of large bureaucracies leading the transformation to customer-centric, adaptive organisations, or the members of teams each taking their stand, opposing, confronting, collaborating, choosing to do what is required to bring into existence the organisations and the world they desire.
If we did not believe that people can become more aware, grow, become more conscious, take more responsibility, become more autonomous, more courageous, and make the choice to lead the transformation of their organisations and their world, we would not bother doing this work.
Ready to Lead is a statement of our belief in our capacity as human beings to create the world we really want.