The Problem of Leadership: Behaving All Day Long

Center for Values-Driven Leadership Change, Leadership

Leadership requires a profound understanding of self.  The problem with leadership is you have to behave all day long.  ~S. Blanchard 

A friend posted this quote on Facebook last week and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.  I struggle with the idea of leadership skills because I really don’t think leadership is a “skill.” I’ve always put a skill into the category of something you can watch or observe and then copy or mimic. I believe that leadership is a way to behave and it’s our behaviors that allow us to lead.  

This past week I facilitated a planning retreat for a client. The leaders in the room were divided into groups and given the task to come up with an implementation plan for the behaviors that they believe reflect the culture they are trying to create. I walked up to one of the groups who had been talking for some time but had not yet begun to write anything.  When I encouraged them to pick up their pace and begin to outline their plan they said they were stuck. They said, “You’re really talking about changing someone’s behavior and that’s really hard.” That was one of those moments as a consultant where inside I was jumping up and down and cheering because they got it.  

Changing behavior is really hard and that’s why leadership is hard. It’s not a skill. Many years ago, actually decades, when I was in high school I learned to type on a Selectric typewriter. One of those antiques with the metal ball that spins around and hits the ribbon as you type. We were told how to position our hands on the keyboard, which fingers were to hit which keys. Then the teacher would demonstrate so we could copy her actions. That’s how I learned the skill of typing.  

Behavior, on the other hand, involves changing something that’s ingrained into our routine or even into our being.  A physician friend often says that people don’t change their behavior until the pain of not changing outweighs the pain of change.     

William James, philosopher and psychologist, said that humans are biologically prone to habit or we are “mere bundles of habit.” It is because of these bundles of habits that we are able to perform many of our daily tasks without thinking about it, like brushing our teeth. However, one could also conclude that trying to unbundle those habits, and change them, may not be an easy task. 

Typing was a skill that I first learned in high school. Currently, I’m working to change my behavior to become more mindful, completely present for other people, and really listen. Even though this is a self-imposed goal and I can envision great benefits of reaching this goal, it’s still really hard. Unbundling my current habits and replacing them with new ones is not easy. Synonyms for habit are routine, custom, tradition, and pattern. All words that imply something that’s been around for awhile and sounds as if it might take an act of God to change it.
Continuously developing our leadership behavior is a challenge, no doubt. If it was easy, there’d probably be a lot more leaders. Blanchard said it well, “the problem with leadership is you have to behave all day long.”
Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.

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