That split second and the quest for leadership

When I read about leadership, I quickly get the sense that leadership is some kind of elusive thing — a quality, or a process, or something I need to hire management consultants for. And having personally shifted into a management role that I would rather be a leadership role, I’m here to testify that leadership is surely elusive and it may require all of those other things.

But for all the talk, my sense these days is that leadership magic happens in a split, deeply personal second.

By this I mean that I think true leadership happens in mundanes moments, when you’re in some anonymous conference room deep in Corporate America, when the conversation is fluid, when you aren’t 100% sure what you think the team should do but you are 60% sure what maybe some of the folks should be working on, when there’s an awkward silence in the room, when someone has to say something, when everyone else is staring at their laptops or their phones, and you — you are the manager who wants to be a leader — need to execute. This is the moment. You start talking, and this is the split second.

To date, I do not believe I have done well with that split second.

I think I’ve done well so far with bigger picture stuff and pulling people together and assembling big moving parts into a cohesive result for my clients over the years despite the split second moment. I’ve done it repeatedly, and I’m proud of that much. But I have this strong, nagging feeling that I’m missing that split second moment.

And I’m not happy about it because I think it’s in that split second that the magic of leadership happens. While it can happen on a stage in front of thousands, the foundation of that magic is those close, intimate conversations between two people.

In contrast to leadership, management seems relatively easy. If I’m a delivery manager on a project and I say, “hey guys, let’s try to get X, Y, and Z done this sprint,” it’s pretty easy as long as I’m reasonable and thoughtful about what X, Y, and Z are. I might get a few pointed questions, but generally everyone follows my direction.

But it’s that fundamental, split second reaction that I want to own.


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