Last week, a little more than 20 of us from the Command were fortunate enough to attend a speaking engagement featuring John Maxwell (Leadership Author) and Chris Gardner (Pursuit of Happyness). Making the time to attend this event was important to me because I have a strong desire to both realize my potential as a leader and enable those genuinely interested in personal development the opportunity to make themselves even better than they already are
Having read a few of John's books (my favorite is The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership), I knew what to expect and despite the continual sales pitches, I enjoyed hearing much of what he chose to share. Those of us who are avid readers of leadership books will likely agree that there is great overlap in the teachings or each "leadership guru". The difference is merely in how each author packages their ideas. The foundation of John's talk was his latest book, The 5 Levels of Leadership. As expected, it was much of the same, and reenforced what many of us have already heard and John had previously told his readers. The problem for me was that I so disagreed with the premise of his first level of leadership that I had trouble getting past it.
The first level of leadership in his model is Positional Leadership, which he defined as "People follow you because they HAVE to." Those of you who follow this blog may know how much I disagree with "Have Tos". He went on to say that being placed in a leadership position marks the beginning of one's journey toward becoming a real leader. Hogwash!
I firmly believe that leadership positions are earned only after we demonstrate both the ability to lead and the aptitude for additional growth. That is one of the reasons I make no assumptions about any member of the military, especially when it comes to rank and length of service. At OUR Command, we talk of "Competence over Collar Device" and I ask that none of us default to relative seniority as a means of ranking people on personnel evaluations or assigning them to a specific position within OUR team. Unfortunately for many, that is 180 degrees out from traditional military culture and, therefore, hard for some to accept. Please don't misunderstand me, I believe we have a shared responsibility to help rank, positional authority, and competence to align the best we can. The difference is that competence is paramount and must influence the others, we cannot assume competence based purely on a person's position or rank.
Two weeks ago I welcomed a new Sailor to OUR team. He's a Seaman and he's been in the Navy for less than two years. I make no assumptions. He's 25+, he's received a college degree from a great institution, he has earned a law degree from a premier university, and he has been a practicing attorney. He is now one of the most junior members of OUR team from a rank perspective. Will we constrain him by his rank? Absolutely not! Will we find ways to leverage his strengths? Absolutely! Has he begun his leadership journey without the benefit of a traditional leadership position? You bet! The truth of the matter is that OUR Navy is attracting great talent in both OUR officer and enlisted ranks. In many cases, the two are beginning to blur, but that's another discussion.
On the flip side, I have experienced working with people who believe they are worthy of a leadership position despite not having any leadership experience, without any demonstration of their ability to lead, and little evidence that they are willing to invest in themselves and those around them. John Maxwell's pitch regarding Level One Leaders would have you believe that it's OK to overlook such flawed logic and that we should feel alright positioning these individuals as leaders.
Dr. Maxwell, I agree with most of your teachings and continue to use many of your books as tools to help fully develop as a leader. However, I completely disagree with you on how a position of leadership is earned and when the leadership journey actually commences. Unfortunately, too many agree with you on one or both issues. I will do my part to help ensure that all with whom I serve see themselves as leaders in various stages of development regardless of position and those most deserving are placed in positions of leadership regardless of rank or length of service.
For those of us who aspire to develop into true leaders (not supervisors and not managers), let's overtly commit to becoming better than we are, let's develop those around us, and let's give our seniors reason to block on our behalf. For those more interested in the job title, the office, and the parking spot, please give those who we are "leading" more credit. Be the leader the team deserves or kindly step aside...you're holding us back!