I owe you a big apology. For over twenty years I’ve been an active contributor to the complexification of leadership. I’ve been a card-carrying member of the Legion of Leadership Complexifiers – the LLC. Sure, we’re well-intentioned, but too often our leadership quadrant models and esoteric theories have more to do with proving how smart we are than providing simple ideas that you can actually use.
My fellow “experts” and I have inflated the expectations of what it means to be a leader beyond anyone’s reach. We expect you to be bold and calculated, passionate and reasonable, rational and emotional, confident and humble, driven and patient, strategic and tactical, competitive and cooperative, principled and flexible. Of course, it is possible to be all of those things … if you’re God!
After two decades of contributing to the complexification of leadership, I got schooled in leadership by a brief conversation with my five-year old son, Ian. Last year Ian was a pre-schooler at The Asheville Montessori School in Asheville, North Carolina, where we live. Each Monday, his teachers pick one person to be the “Class Leader” for the day. When Ian got his big chance, I asked him what he got to do as class leader.
His answer was simple, funny, and in its own way, profound:
“I got to open doors for people!”
In a matter of fifteen seconds, with seven simple words, Ian clarified what’s most important about leadership. Leaders open doors of opportunity for those they lead. Aspiring and emerging leaders would do well to stay focused on that simple concept.
Following Ian’s words, I formally resigned as a member of the LLC. These days I stay focused on simple leadership ideas that work. Not simple as in easy, but simple as in not complex. Leadership is still hard no matter how simple you make it.
Here’s an example of what simple leadership looks like.
I recently got to meet Charles Bolden, the head of NASA. Administrator Bolden and I were headlining a leadership workshop for senior executives within the government. Keep in mind that Charlie Bolden is a leader in the truest sense of the word. He commanded two space shuttle missions, was a crew member on two others, is a retired Major General in the US Marine Corps, a Vietnam veteran, and a graduate of the US Naval Academy. Charlie Bolden has lived every complex facet of leadership. Yet when he spoke to the government bigwigs, he shared these three simple but important leadership ideas:
- Know Your Self: Reflect on what you care about deeply. Know and build upon your strengths. Put yourself in situations where your strengths can make a real and lasting difference.
- Know Your Stuff: Do your homework. Put in the elbow grease. Study the facts so that your opinions are informed and your decisions are accurate.
- Do the Right Thing: Have courage. Be able to look yourself in the mirror at the end of each day and be proud of how you lived. Be a person of integrity by putting your values in action.
The world needs more leaders and less leadership “experts.” Maybe if we all spent less time drawing attention to the complexities of leadership and more time acting on simple but profound leadership ideas, we’d have more leaders like Charlie Bolden. We’d know better how to “lead simple.”
Image Credit: FutUndBeidl