When I run workshops for corporations, after some warm-up exercises, I always turn to the group and say “Would all the leaders in the room please raise their hands. I want to see who you are.” Most of the time, there is some nervous hesitation, faces swiveling around to see who might be raising their hands, a few giggles, uncertain looks, silence…and usually one or two hands will go slowly up in the air. I say “Great! Welcome to the program!” Then, to everyone else I ask “So, tell me, since you aren’t leaders, what are you?” Usually I get silence and more uncertain facial expressions as a reply. Sometimes they will say things like “Well I only started at this job one year ago.” Or: “I’m in a relatively junior position.” But these are not the kind of answers I am looking for.
Then I ask them: “Are you visible? Can others around you observe your actions and hear your words? If you are visible, show me your hands.” Then, of course all the hands go up quickly. And I say “If you are visible, you are a leaders. Others will see what you do, listen to what you say and they are going to assume you know what you are doing. And they will copy your style. As a result, everyone is a Leader. It’s just that some people don’t know they are leaders.”
The point of this little anecdote is this: in any organization, all the players are leaders. It’s just that some are leading consciously and others are leading un-consciously---they aren’t aware that their actions and words and attitudes have impact on others. But the truth is: they do have impact, but it is often not of a kind that is helpful or positive. So this might be a good time to ask yourself: am I leading consciously or unconsciously?
At this point I share with people in the workshop the words of Jack Welch, ex-CEO of General Electric, who says “In every team, every organization, every workshop there are three kinds of people: Leaders, Prisoners and Vacationers. The key for managers is to retain the leaders and weed out the prisoners and vacationers.” Here I want to share with you the distinctions of these three types of people and let you decide where you want to spend your time on Earth.
Prisoners. These are people who feel ‘stuck’ in their lives and live as if the survivors of a death march, the walking wounded, who would rather be doing something else, somewhere else, but “because of circumstances” they don’t see other options. Their mantra is “I have to be here, I have no choice.” They might as well hand-cuff themselves and walk around moaning. Prisoners complain the most, blame the most and do the least to make a positive impact on things that need to be fixed in their worlds. Sadly and ironically, many prisoners have staying power and even get promoted to senior positions just by playing politics well or staying out of the spotlight. And, because they are visible, it is even sadder that others will copy them and the system is soon replicated. Does this seem familiar to you? Do you know people like this?
Vacationers. Vacationers are different from prisoners in many respects, however, their impact on an organization over time is quite similar. In essence, vacationers are just “here for the ride” and don’t really take their work very seriously. They also try to get the most for themselves while doing the least for others. They know how to squeeze every possible benefit out of the system for themselves and always seem to want more…for themselves. Their work is perfunctory and they show up as “floaters”---people who are actively disengaged. They excel at “looking good and not making mistakes” and they are the very last ones to take on additional responsibility. If they weren’t visible, it wouldn't be so bad. The problem is, they are easily observed and so lots of people may copy them and their style of “sliding by.” So vacationers, unfortunately are modeling another negative model of leadership. Yet in some organizations, vacationers can move up the ladder for a while.