Last week, I wrote a short case for the bold leader. Over the course of the days that followed, it received decent traffic, but certainly not as much as what I have come to expect from one of my posts, and certainly not as much as what I have been receiving in recent weeks.
This fact could be caused by a number of factors, including normal variation, but I’m not writing today about web traffic or statistics. Regardless of actual cause, that reduced traffic led me to think about why the topic of leadership boldness might be less popular than other topics.
I mentioned this to my colleague and co-author Guy Harris, and he said, “Almost by definition, boldness isn’t going to be a popular topic, Kevin.” Guy often makes insightful comments that lead me to think further and deeper.
Boldness does, after all, require us to do, think, or decide something outside of the norm – something beyond what everyone else is thinking. If boldness was common practice, it wouldn’t require its own word – it wouldn’t be bold – it would be normal.
For the early part of my working life, and long before that, a standard and accepted model of leadership success was what we now call “command and control.” The boss was in charge, and they made the decisions (right or wrong). Their decisions were followed (without much/any conversation). Looking at this through today’s accepted leadership practices, many words might be applied to that approach, one of which might be “bold.”
Today, the model accepted, taught (including by me), and much more generally applied, is a model of leadership that includes engaging the ideas and inputs of others, involving others in goal setting and decision-making, and more. Share this model with the “strong, bold” leaders of a past era, and they might apply the word “wimp.”
Let’s pause for a couple of dictionary definitions (from Merriam-Webster.com).
bold – fearless before danger, or standing out prominently.
wimp – a weak, cowardly, or ineffectual person.
Am I suggesting today that we need to return to the command and control approach to leadership? Far from it.
Am I suggesting that being an engaging leader somehow makes one weak, cowardly, or ineffectual? Not necessarily.
What I am suggesting, and urge you to think about, is have we, in the name of being open, engaging, and enlightened leaders, lost our ability to be bold, make a decision, and take a stand?
I believe many people have.
Being a leader isn’t easy work. It requires intellect, wisdom, emotional intelligence, and a dedication to learning (among many other things). It also requires that we lead – that we define a vision and move toward it – encouraging, persuading, and influencing others to follow us.
Doing this requires a type of boldness, a willingness to stand out prominently, stand by our vision and values, and perhaps, in some ways, be fearless before danger. To not do this in proper measure and balance with others is certainly to be ineffectual and perhaps, in some cases, cowardly.
As with most things in leadership and life, the answer lies in a balance, not in the extremes. We should be neither despot nor wallflower.
But I fear, for the wrong reasons and by misinterpreting principles, too many leaders are being wimps.
Where you fall on this “bold/wimp” scale is a useful thing for you to consider; a willingness to ask yourself this question, in itself proves a type of boldness.
A willingness to implement based on your self-assessment, however is far more important.