I’ve held many positions during my career. I have performed many roles. I have achieved outcomes, fulfilled targets and delivered on key performance indicators. But never once have I had “leader” on a business card.
I was considering this situation as I read Gary Hamel and Polly LaBarre’s HBR article How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge. They say, “To gain a true leadership advantage, organizations must be filled with individuals who understand how to maximize their own ratio of ‘accomplishment over authority,’” and it resonated with me. It reminded me of the organizations that I have worked for – of the opportunities and challenges that were presented, and of the many teams and individuals that I have worked with.
From the earliest points in my career, I was attracted to projects and colleagues who were leaders. I could see that some projects really were ground-breaking – would set a new agenda in the world of business – and I wanted to be part of that. And at the heart of these changes – these waves of disruption – were people who could glimpse some shapes in the future ahead of us and inspire the journey ahead. And I say “people” rather than “leaders” – for almost always, they became leaders during that journey.
When I was called upon to lead SAP’s global education business, I saw it as an opportunity, but also as a challenge. It was a substantial business with a long history and a particular way of working. But times were changing, and this business too, had to change. I knew that this was going to be a journey, but at the beginning I could scarcely tell where to start, let alone where it would end.
As I peered into the maze of the organization, I knew I needed to reach outside, but equally found untapped leadership within. This is almost always the case with any organization. There is unexpressed potential waiting to be released. There are leaders waiting the chance to take their first steps on the leadership journey. Of course, there are also pretenders, what Hamel and LaBarre call “bureaucrats”. The difference, as they point out, is that if you start by assuming you have no power, and yet can still “mobilize others and accomplish amazing things, then you’re a leader”.
Think about this today, not only of yourself, but also of your colleagues. Where does leadership reside? Who is on the journey, and who is ready and waiting to go? Look beyond the titles and you’ll see them there – not waiting, but already starting out.