The leadership chasm

I’ve been having lots of conversations lately about the language people use and the way they behave, which essentially creates an organisational culture.

At Kanbee we’ve been lucky enough to encounter loads of truly inspiring people over the years and we’re proud of the inspiring people we work with every day, but we’ve come to realise brilliant people are normally either powerhouses of independence, or great leaders of tribes – seldom both.

The difference lies in what we call the leadership chasm. The leadership chasm is the gaping hole between language and behaviour that resolves around ‘me’, ‘my’, ‘I’ vs. ‘we’.

Personally, I’ve been guilty of the ‘me’, ‘my’, ‘I’ pattern. No doubt we all slip into it now and then.

In ‘I’ mode, I never have enough time. People around me aren’t supportive enough. I read lots of books to increase my knowledge. I try to become more efficient and make better use of every minute. Others don’t work as hard as me and don’t know as much.

The world of management consultancy is built very much around ‘I’. I’m great, you’re not; and I’ll save the day and solve your problems because I know more than you. ‘I’ people make good mentors and get a buzz out of imparting their wisdom and superior understanding.

This extreme confidence and somewhat frantic lifestyle is where many people get stuck forever. Some see great success, in terms of high earnings and continuous back-patting (‘I’ people have an insatiable need for praise and achievement).

The trouble is, some ‘I’ people don’t want to be lone warriors. They aspire to have teams, perhaps grow their own company. They aspire to lead. Yet somehow, they never quite achieve it.

Until they have an epiphany.

The epiphany is vital to crossing the leadership chasm. It’s a transition from ‘I’m great’, to ‘we’re great’.

It isn’t lipservice to teamwork, it’s a deep-seated realisation that closing the knowing-doing gap is going to take a team effort; that it’s impossible to do alone (particularly the ‘doing’ part). It’s when the higher purpose overtakes the self.

The truth is, everyone who wants to be a great leader of tribes can’t skip the ‘I’ phase. They have to work through it and come out the other end. It’s the phase that sets the foundation – with aggressive learning and putting yourself out there – for scaling up, inspiring a following by representing others; and ultimately changing the world.

John King, Dave Logan and Halee Fischer-Wright have written a whole book about this. If you haven’t already read Tribal Leadership and you’re interested in behaviour and culture, I’d certainly recommend it. It’s particularly useful for giving your organisation a language and framework for having these discussions.

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