In answer to the question above, most of us would say; “Yes, of course. I know leadership when I see it.” I challenge you to re-think that assumption.

The shelves of the physical and online bookstores are full of books about all aspects of leadership. Leaders are charismatic, strong, visionary, they get things done, and they have followers. And the best leaders get people to follow them enthusiastically!

Meeting others expectations.. or not

We each have a preconceived list of characteristics that leaders have. The contents of the list may be different, but nonetheless there is a list. And then we each have our heroes who are imbued with those characteristics, and execute them flawlessly. My heroes include Ghandi, JFK, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, the first Woman President of an African Country, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.

But what happens when people in leadership positions do not display the expected set of characteristics? Is it possible we cannot see the forest for the trees?

The Board of Directors of a high profile organization recently held a vote of confidence for its CEO. Many did not think she was made of ‘the right stuff’ to lead the organization. They said she was a cheerleader and not a leader, she was not strong and did not give direction. In addition, many others were seen as providing more leadership throughout the organization than her.

Standing for a different model of leader

It took resilience and commitment for her to demonstrate to the board that her paradigm for leadership is not a leader-follower model, but a model where leaders are surrounded by leaders at all levels. She is expert in this. She has designed a compelling and visionary future for the organization, along with a strategy to fulfill it. The people throughout the enterprise are in action and excited about making it happen. The organization has new and unprecedented levels of membership, financing, support and partnership from new sectors, and yet she is seen as weak.

What can’t we see?

Women tend to lead from the perspective of empowerment and coordinated action. It is extremely effective and the results speak for themselves. But you cannot see the power of the model when viewed through the framework of a model where you are supposed to have leaders and followers and power is equal to command and control.

She was almost dismissed. How many more leaders will we dismiss because we cannot see what is right in front of our eyes?  What is your experience with recognizing leadership that doesn’t fit the traditional model?

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