Leadership is a job

Philip Morgan

"I'm one of the leaders of the culture. I don't say that like I'm above anybody.

That's a job. That's a burden. That's a responsibility.

That's not something you say and all of a sudden somebody puts flowers on you. That's a hard position to be; to say, 'wait a minute, I'm trying to birth and lead my culture.'"

That's rapper and self-styled hip hop historian/philosopher KRS-One talking about leadership in this wild interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxBeYkmIu5E&t=4m5s

He's right.

Leadership is a job.

What's the recipe for this job?

I've taken a crack at that before, but that article was focused on outcomes.

If I was writing a "job description" for the job of leader -- thinking about the inputs to leadership -- I'd be looking for several important characteristics.

Concerned about 2 timeframes: now and future

Leaders are generally trying to improve the condition of the group they are leading. This is why referring to grifters who have won elected office as "leaders" is absolutely galling to me.

To be a leader, the lines that define the group you are trying to improve the condition of must extend far outside the contours of your own skin.

We pay the most attention to leaders when the timeframe that defines their concern for our condition is short, but leadership is concerned with both the immediate and the future.

Focused on wellbeing, not whims

Leaders care about a better future for the group they lead. This means they care about the future wellbeing of the group they lead and they're not overcome by the present-timeframe whims of that group.

They understand how to manage the whims in a way that maximizes the future wellbeing.

Action. Happens in front of or behind the group, but always involves action.

Leaders are willing to act; to expend emotional and/or physical energy on behalf of the group.

Leading in front of the group looks like living in the future in some way; leading from behind the group looks more like coalition-building or pushing or inspiring along a certain vector.


Leaders act from vision; some kind of imagined future state.

Sometimes they can keep this vision to themselves, but more often their work is the work of building vision: helping their group see and take ownership of this imagined future.

You can build a vision from all kinds of raw material: data (even small amounts thereof), pixie dust and dreams, the concept of modest improvement, and almost everything in between.

Respect, trust, or both

The prerequisite to the work of leadership is the work of earning respect, trust, or both from those you serve through your leadership.

This is why many real leaders started their journey by staying after the meeting to fold up the chairs and take out the trash.

The Stranger

The implements of being a peer feel comfortable in the hand. The implements of leadership feel much less comfortable when grasped.

Everett Rogers describes this by quoting Georg Simmel:

Leaders are both within and without the groups they lead.

They can do without the comfortable conviviality of being a peer.

At the same time, they love those they serve.