I’ve written in the past about “Captial-L” leaders and “Little-L” leaders. Capital-L leaders are the ones with the fancy titles, budget oversight, and the ability to make subordinates’ lives a living hell. At their best, Capital-L leaders inspire us. At their worst, they’re girly-men, or tyrants.
When economic times are good, even the girly-men look (sort of) muscular. And the tyrants? We abide them.
“Little-L” leaders are those whom we’d follow off a cliff - not because we’re told to, but because we want to. These folks don’t inherit titles. They earn followership from principled, committed behavior. They’re the ones whose offices we seek when we need straight talk and wise counsel. They have our backs and lobby on our behalf even when we’re not there to hear it. They’re the ones we’d elect Presidents of our companies, if only we had a say in the matter.
One of the things I love about our current economic shit-storm is how clear it’s becoming: who’s really leading?
It’s easy to call someone a “leader” when all the arrows are pointing up and to the right. But serve-up a financial crap-sandwhich and you’ll quickly see who the real leaders are.
Many “Capital-L” leaders are not leading right now. They’re holed up in their executive suites talking to a very small circle of like-thinkers (or worse, ass kissers), plotting how to cut expenses even further. The justification? We have to save the ship, if we want to weather the storm. But what goes into their rationale? They’re rarely thinking of how to cut the most salaried employees (themselves), or how to solicit more diverse viewpoints on a long-term plan. They’re looking at short-term, wholesale line-item reductions. A recent presidential debate referred to this as the “hatchet method.” It’s just easier that way.
I get it. There’s just one hitch: leadership isn’t supposed to be easy!
That’s why I love talking with and hearing from Little-L leaders. These folks never got too far away from the front lines. They never bought into the belief that record-breaking years were unending (or based on the wizardry of Capital-L leaders.). And because Little-L’s always had their feet firmly planted on the ground, they know better than anyone what their clients and teams need right now.
Little-L leaders have stepped-up their communication with their teams (while many Capital-L leaders are in a bunker somewhere.) Little-L leaders are offering everyone around them a sense of perspective. They’re helping us think things through. And often, they’re finding the pony in the poop pile, and helping us stay focused on the things we can control.
My point is that leadership is not a title. Leadership comes from the ability to mobilize followers. Many of our Capital-L leaders cannot do that, and I hope that by the end of this economic period, they’re replaced by Little-L leaders who can.