Are you leading or positioning?

Dec 27, 2010

A flash of the bleeding obvious: Growing a business effectively over the long term requires leadership.A scratch beneath the surface: Intermittent leadership isn’t enough. Growth leadership needs to be consistently effective over a prolonged period. One period of ineffective leadership – however short – and a considerable amount of progress can be lost. In the worst case, a prolonged period of ineffective leadership can lose an organization its entire competitive advantage. (See: Sculley – Apple; Schwartz – Sun; Fiorina – HP et al).

A look in the rear-view mirror: When you examine what happens in organizations (big and small) that lose their growthiness, the problem isn’t always that they got dumped with a poor or bad leader. Often a leader that was formerly effective just seems to ‘lose it’ once they hit CEO level.

A glimpse of the underlying dynamic: Often what has happened in such cases is a subtle transference that’s initially hard to spot: the individual in question has traded their leadership for positionship.

Positionship is like a hologram of leadership: from a distance it can look like the real thing, but the closer you get, the more you realize that there isn’t anything there. Instead of actually leading people, the CEO (or division, department, project, group or team ‘leader’) is instead using their position to make stuff happen.

For a while, positionship can emulate the real thing. But eventually, people begin to realize that there is no ‘there’ there; that vital elements of leadership are missing such as vision, and empowerment, and adult dialog. And just as surely, eventually (though it often may take a dangerously long time), the organization either rejects the organ (by firing the positioner and bringing in a true leader) or it continues to quietly fail until dies.

This week, I’m going to share the most common patterns of interaction that indicate an absence of true leadership – that your business (or division, department, project, group or team) is instead in the hands of a positioner.

In the meantime, ask yourself this:

How often, and in what particular circumstances do you find yourself trading leadership for positionship? When do you take the short cut of using your position to get something done, rather than leading people to achieve the same thing?