It is true that if you are a successful leader and respected as such by colleagues and other employees alike, many will not only aspire to be like you, but may also indeed crave your position or at least your role. Managing healthy admiration by members of your team is one thing; managing obsessive craving with subsequent positioning, on the other hand, is really tough; though knowing that the success of your leadership has been largely realised through your focused team members executing the strategy precisely should facilitate an evenness in your approach to managing team members’ expectations.
Former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, during a recent webinar hosted by journalist and author, Frank Luntz, was asked a similar question related to the subject of leading change in times of crisis: “How do you work effectively with a cabinet when most of them want your job?” He simply replied: “There are those who want to be part of a team to achieve something greater than themselves and then there are the rest”. David Cameron then went on to explain that only a few decisions matter in the end: he inferred that there are many pressures that keep leaders from taking a few steps back in order to reflect before making a decision, noting that there has been an acceleration in our ways of living and working that make it more difficult to think and act wisely. Yet, reflection is foundational to learning about issues and making important decisions. Looking back, he has come to realise that a few key decisions defined his time as Prime Minister, not the myriad issues and micro scandals he had to tackle regularly.
The Prime Minister implied that constantly thinking about others wanting his job would diffuse his focus and render his leadership ineffectual. “You job is to decide”, he noted, “with indecision being the worst choice of them all. Ultimately, the job of a leader is to decide”. Previously, Barack Obama had spoken similarly about being President of the United States of America, suggesting that by the time an issue rose to his desk, the choices had become impossible. If the outcome was likely to be simply one thing or the other, the long list of incredibly competent and powerful people below him would have made decisions already.
To work effectively with team members who want your job requires a humility that recognises a two-fold responsibility: to learn and to teach. With regard to teaching, Cameron stressed the importance for leaders to communicate daily with members of the team, particularly in relation to values that need to be upheld and goals that need to be achieved. With regard to learning, he noted the ongoing need to wrestle time away from unyielding schedules to reflect and educate yourself about the key bricks that will form the architecture of your important decisions. His closing comment was the following: “Listen, Learn and Build Your Knowledge”.
Of particular note for me in this webinar was his lack of using phrases like: “protect your back”, “use political gamesmanship techniques”, “have a spy network to get a grasp on the opposition party’s strategy”, etc. He avoided all this altogether and focused on the job at hand. Ultimately, the test of leadership comes down to a few critical decisions – decisiveness based on understanding, wisdom and a good dose of selflessness.
Leadership success does not depend on how well you outmanoeuvred team members or protected your back. John Maxwell rather notes: “Your willingness to learn and adjust positively from mistakes and shortcomings will largely determine how far you will travel the road to success”. Empower your team and give them acknowledgement and recognition. Let them become your success.