Act, or Be Acted Upon

Our basic nature is to act, and not be acted upon. Action enables us to choose our response to particular circumstances. Action, and the choice of our response, allows us to create circumstances of our choice.

Leadership is both tactical and strategic. Strategic leaders are the ones who climb the tallest tree, survey the entire situation, and yell down to the troops "Wrong forest!" Solid tactical leaders look at the trees and the lay of the land and tell the troops "This way!" The sad fact is that busy, efficient producers and managers often respond, "Shut up! We're making progress!" They may be efficient, but they aren't effective.

Effectiveness and survival do not depend solely on how much effort we expend, but on whether or not the effort we expend is in the right forest, moving in the right direction, and actually accomplishing the desired outcome.

take_the_lead.jpgLeadership is a dance—sometimes with just one other follower, and sometimes with a whole troop. Either way, the leadership dance does not work if the leader does not act, if the leader does not lead.

Some leaders are leaders in title only; they let others take the lead. And that can work for a while, as long as the titled leader is comfortable following the actual acting leader. But as soon as the titled leader lets his need for significance get in the way, the wheels begin to wobble. As soon as the titled leader starts to take credit (they seldom ask), the confidence of the acting leader can be shaken. The need for unearned eminence is a real problem.

“It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn't matter who gets the credit.” Harry Truman is usually credited with that quotation, although Ronald Reagan made sure a copy of it got posted on the White House wall. I don't agree with Truman's quotation in total, because in the sense of the sovereign man, credit does matter. Jack Welch calls this ‘differentiation.’ Welch puts it this way: “Companies win when their managers make a clear and meaningful distinction between top and bottom performing businesses and people.” Leaders are different from followers, and one of the perks given to leaders is that they get credit for taking action.

When credit for the work of a sovereign man is taken by those who deserve no credit, a crime is committed. It is one thing to say that we should recognize team efforts and collaboration, but he who leads the team must also be recognized. Not the leader of title, but the leader of action. The sovereign man who takes the mantle of action and leads a team has every right to reserve a kick for the feeble windbags who take the credit due him. Still, the sovereign man knows that as much as he would like to kick that windbag, the rest of the team—the team members of courage and conscience—know who they really followed.

Leaders take action, and followers choose to follow leaders who take action. Truman is also credited with saying, "A great leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don't want to do and like it.” Now this is a true statement.

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