Does Leadership Always Matter?Nov 28, 2023
Now that we’ve identified a few of the most common misconceptions (or myths) around how leadership impacts EVERY organization and we’ve connected the dots on how productivity and profitability come into play for nonprofits and public sector organizations just as much as they do for those of us over in the greedy, capitalist side of things, let’s get to work on how we can make a positive impact through the way we lead - regardless of what type of organization we’re in. But first, there’s one thing we need to come to terms with!
While productivity and profitability do indeed show up everywhere, there are some stark differences in what it takes to earn high levels of buy-in and engagement depending on the type of group we may be leading. I’ve often heard references to the idea of militaristic leadership, and specifically how harsh and forceful it is. Although that’s most certainly not what I’ve experienced after working with a ton of Veterans in various roles, I can at least understand where that myth started; picture the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket… If anything, the Veterans I’ve worked with were some of the best leaders I’ve ever been around and I learned why when I helped with the Discover Your Team’s Potential collaborative book project several years ago. (I won’t go into that here but I can still hook you up with a signed copy where you can read all about in the very beginning of the book!) If I’m being completely honest, some of the demanding managers who displayed the poorest leadership I’ve ever seen were the ones who grew up through the ranks in their respective companies and expected anyone unfortunate enough to be reporting to them to heed their every beck and call. That approach did yield results, just not always positive ones in terms of peak productivity or profitability - and that’s one of the reasons we created our Emerging Leader Development and Recruitment, Retention, & Culture courses!
Even with the grouchiest of the grouchy in a leadership role, their minions have some level of responsibility to comply when they’re dependent on a steady paycheck or bound by a contractual obligation. Even then though, you can bet the ones calling the shots are absolutely not seeing the benefits of that 57% increase in discretionary effort that comes with authentic (and earned) engagement… With that in mind, let’s consider how that same impacts an organization where the compensation is meager at best as well as the ones that are completely dependent on volunteers.
My experience with nonprofit organizations and many public service roles, like law enforcement or fire and rescue, has been that the employees in the majority of these organizations are there due to a passion for the difference they can make for the communities they serve - in spite of the often low wages that come with their roles. If the person they’re reporting to insists on cracking the proverbial whip rather than earning the influence necessary to truly lead, I have to think most will find another place they can make a difference sooner than later. That idea is only amplified when there’s no pay tied to the role at all. We’ve all heard tons of stories of folks changing churches or leaving civic organizations because of disagreements with someone in charge - and I get it…
To answer the question, Does Leadership Always Matter?, I’ll say with confidence that I’m convinced it does; in the private sector, the public sector, nonprofits, and in volunteer organizations! And quite frankly, I believe it’s even more critical where there’s no big, fat carrot (paycheck) dangling in front of whoever we need to chip in. Some of the best leadership lessons I ever learned came from roles where I was expected to achieve results that required the support of people who had ZERO reporting accountability to me. We’ll pick up there next time!