My five-year-old son Ian is a preschooler at the Asheville Montessori School in Asheville, North Carolina. Each Monday his teachers pick one person to be the “class leader” for the day. I only became aware of this because one sunny afternoon Ian came bounding up the stairs proclaiming, “Guess what, Daddy—I got to be the class leader today!”
Being the class leader would be a big deal for any fiveyear-old kid. For Ian, who is used to playing second fiddle to his older twin brother and sister, Alex and Bina, being selected as the first fiddle was even more special. Ian's exuberance caught my attention.
“Really? Class leader? That's a big deal, little buddy.
What did you get to do as the class leader?”
Ian's answer was simple, funny, and in its own way, profound.
“I got to open doors for people!”
In a matter of 15 seconds, with seven simple words, Ian clarified what's most important about leadership.
How Leaders Serve Up Opportunities
I'm one of those people who can get all knotted up by overthinking simple ideas. I love it when wise people like my fi e-year-old son can cut straight to what matters most. Ian is right: to be a leader is to open doors for others. Leaders open doors of perception, possibility, and most importantly, opportunity. This book is about how leaders help people and organizations by creating opportunities for growth. It is about the responsibility that leaders have for noticing, identifying, and creating opportunities for the benefi of people, organizations, and society. I call it open-door leadership.
We Complexify Leadership
In his role as class leader, Ian quickly learned an essential lesson about leadership. Opening doors is pretty much what matters most about leading people. Yet leadership, as a topic, has become increasingly complex and overwhelming. It is the most overanalyzed, thoroughly dissected, and utterly confused topic in business. In addition to umpteen thousands of books on the subject, there are leadership blogs, seminars, webinars, and retreats, all peddled by leadership gurus and consultants. I know. I am one of them.
For more than half my life, I have studied leadership. I began because in one of my earlier jobs I discovered that I was a lousy leader. One of my employees told me so . . . after threatening to quit because of my dictatorial behavior. But more on that later. After discovering how pathetically bad I was as a leader, I started reading books on leadership and management. I got better as a leader. As a result, I decided to go to graduate school and I did my thesis on leadership.
And that's when it started. That's when I became an official contributor to the complexification of leadership. My thesis assessed—take a deep breath—the efficacy of the initiation of psychological structure through the use of directive leadership styles as a negative correlate of role ambiguity and positive correlate of employee satisfaction in workplaces that have undergone a recent reduction in force.
Since graduate school two decades ago, my contributions to the complexification of leadership have only gotten more pronounced. I worked for two small leadership and team-building companies. Later, I was an executive in the change management and human performance practice at Accenture, one of the world's largest consulting firms. I eventually became the company's first full-time internal executive coach. Building on those experiences, in 2002 I founded my own management consulting company (Giant Leap Consulting) and have since designed, developed, and delivered leadership workshops for thousands of employees in prominent organizations throughout the world. I've authored a comprehensive off-the-shelf leadership-facilitator training program and two not-so-simple books.
I became a senior officer in the legion of consultants who make their livelihood by plumbing, parsing, and peddling
leadership. I can complexify with the best of them. The more my consulting compatriots and I complexify leadership by using fancy-pants words and nitpicking the life out of the subject, the more we can charge you for our specialized leadership hocus-pocus. Sure, most of us are well intentioned, but by overanalyzing the subject, we've muddled up the concept of leadership.
We leadership experts, sadly, have made it harder for people to be leaders. As the checklist for what it takes to be a leader gets longer, more idealized, and more complicated, the expectations that we hold leaders to keep shifting, causing people to opt out of the chance to lead. The standards of what it means to be a leader have been raised beyond people's reach. The expectations that leaders are held to have become so inflated that practically no one can categorically qualify as a “leader” anymore. We expect leaders to be bold and calculated, passionate and reasonable, rational and emotional, confident and humble, driven and patient, strategic and tactical, competitive and cooperative, principled and flexible. Of course, it is possible to be all of those things . . . if you're God!