Who is the Leader?

We tend to talk about "leadership" as if it is a trait that you either have, or don't have. If you "are a leader," we assume you are a leader in everything. If you aren't a leader in a particular area, we assume you will never be a leader in anything. You either have the gift or you don't.

This kind of logic is why we promote great salesmen to management positions where they don't sell anything. We take great engineers out of engineering and ask the great engineer to oversee a group of mediocre engineers. Then we're puzzled because the guy who was a leader in his field is a lousy leader.

I think this view of leadership is a mistake.

As in a lot of teams, different leaders lead in different scenarios. A person who is a dynamite leader in one arena might be a lousy leader, but dynamite follower in another arena.

With a football team, the quarterback is the undisputed leader when the offense is on the field, but an offensive lineman might be the undisputed team leader off the field. If we promoted the lineman to quarterback, we would waste his gifts and likely lose the game. If we asked the wrong quarterback to lead the team off the field, the results could be equally disastrous.

Great leaders aren't leaders all the time. Sometimes the very best leaders are the ones who willingly defer to the leadership of someone else.