Leadership has been defined by many people in many ways. A definition that I like goes like this: leadership is the ability to get people or organizations to do what they don’t naturally want to do, or to get them to do things that they don’t believe they can do.
At Mission Critical Partners, all of us are expected to “lead self,” i.e., to take ownership of one’s thoughts, actions and statements, while also having the discipline and drive necessary for meeting one’s responsibilities, both personally and professionally. But effective leaders understand that they can’t achieve their objectives by themselves. In other words, they need a team. And when leading a team, one’s mindset needs to shift from leading oneself to leading others. This is especially true for those working in the public safety sector.
There’s a lot that goes into that. As suggested in the opening paragraph, an important aspect of leadership is the ability to inspire others. Also critical is an ability to recognize that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. The hall-of-fame baseball player Frank Robinson didn’t become an effective manager after his playing career ended until he was able to understand this. In the beginning Robinson couldn’t understand why his players couldn’t do certain things that he had been able to do effortlessly. The reason, quite simply, was that none of them was Frank Robinson. Once he came to this realization, Robinson started to leverage what his players could do well, and stayed away from what they couldn’t, and as a result became a much better manager.
As many of my colleagues know, I am a big fan of Penn State football, so I am going to use an analogy from that sport to expand upon the previous thought. Just about everyone who plays football starts with a desire to play quarterback or running back, because those are the glamour positions. They’re also arguably the most fun because quarterbacks and running backs get to touch the ball most often.
But the reality is that, if you grow to be 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, you are going to be an offensive lineman who protects the quarterback when he drops back to pass, or opens up the holes through which the running back will scamper. It’s all about team—and building a strong team should be the number one objective for public safety leaders.
Becoming an effective leader depends, in large measure, on the ability to build a strong team to lead. And that ability depends on making sure that people are placed into positions where they can thrive, i.e., making sure that round pegs are going into round holes. It also depends on creating teams whose members complement each other. Teams that have members who possess all of the same strengths almost always are less successful, if they are successful at all. The goal is balance. The team must have quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and linemen to be successful. If they’re all quarterbacks, there are going to be a lot of sacks.
In the next post I’ll explore how public safety organizations can develop leaders and build teams.