Leadership Game – Wanna Play? – Okay, Show Your Heart!

Leadership is knowledge, skill, and the art of working with people and relationships, of seeing the broader picture and connections of separate parts, leading the way to this big picture that manifests into reality, and to create and achieve goals with people you lead. Partially you can learn about it in books, a lot from observing other leaders and their performance, but most of it with practice. It is about constant improvement and mastering yourself, and the skill and the art of leading others.

John Maxwell says that a leader is someone people like and trust to follow, someone who helps people to do what they have to do most effectively and appropriately, and someone who gives them direction, aim, and a sense of success. We often notice the outside of leadership and leaders, but not so much the inner process and the inner game that they go through when performing as leaders. This inner process and game, and the gap between the inside and outside, is something that makes the difference among leaders. Many of them master several leadership skills and are successful in their role. But many of these understand leadership and their leadership role as a power leverage, and not as a service and an influence for creating positive change in people, organizations, and society.

There are so many great and powerful books and quotes about leadership and leaders. And it is a perfect place and theme to integrate a few of them in this post. One is from Max DePree, Leading without Power: Finding Hope and Serving Community, and he says “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”. I wonder how many leaders already playing the leadership game today, and how many of those who want to be in the leader’s seat can go through this filter, and sign this statement.

The inner game, and the gap between inner and outer, represent something that makes the difference among leaders, between good ones, and not-so-good ones, and among leaders in both groups. It indicates where are possibilities to learn, and further improvement of a leader, and of a team or organization she/he leads. It says what kind of leader someone is, where is her/his source of influence, and what is the intention/goal of her/his leadership. It says also a lot about all of us – what, who, and why we follow, co-create, and/or support. It’s a two-way street. We each play a certain role in it. Mother Teresa said “Leadership is a contact game. Do not wait for leaders, do it alone, do it person to person.”

Regardless of different leaders and their leadership styles, it is a fact that leadership is a people’s business. You can not be a leader without people to lead, and to create and achieve goals with. And as a leader, you only play one role in the team. It is to some extent the most important one, but not important per se, or because of the formal power going along with the title. It is important because a leader sets the way, standard, and example of functioning within an organization or team, in relationships, in communication, and in how to achieve success. The second package of rules of functioning is set by the organization or environment, that leader or team is part of. The third package of rules of functioning is set by individuals working with leaders or in the organization. In the words of Robin Sharma, “Leadership is not a popularity contest; it’s about leaving your ego at the door. The name of the game is to lead without a title.”. 

The leadership game is a game played in the matrix of relationships: relationship with yourself, relationship with others, and relationships you have within the community/society you are part of. This matrix functions in certain environments and under certain conditions. We, as main players, bring to the court everything we are – what we know we are, what we don’t know what we are, what we try to hide that we are or aren’t, and what we want in certain relationships, organization, or community to be, achieve, realize, or create. It is up to leaders to make sense of it and pave the way to play together and achieve goals.

According to John C. Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership, I observe many leaders and leadership styles today being on level 1 (Position), some on level 2 (Permission) and level 3 (Production), and very few on level 4 (People Development), and even less on level 5 (Pinnacle – Developing Leaders to be on Level 4, and developing level 5 organizations). There are many reasons for that, and every what and how has its why worth elaborating on and to be properly addressed. But as a society we can not progress if the majority of leaders and leadership stay on lower levels of leadership – development.

In the last few months, after I had decided to continue my career, after 10 years of being in leadership positions within the Government, differently, I had the opportunity to observe the system and leaders in my environment from different perspectives. What I have noticed is how much people get used to and adjust to leaders and leadership at a certain level, and their actions and attitude (including passiveness, routine, complaining, determination, etc.) support these leaders and their level to sustain that way. I have noticed also that many managed to turn these lower levels very well into their benefit – many like/support level 1 (Position), some also 2 (Permission), but 3 (Production) could already be a problem if they do not get additional payment or promotion. It can not be a recipe for positive change and development to continue this way.

As they say, a problem comes with a solution, but you need to tackle it from a different perspective and with a different attitude as it was created. There is huge potential for development and improvements for leaders and leadership, as well as for individuals and society as a whole. It is our choice what kind of leaders we want to be or to be led by, why and how we choose, and what kind of role we will play in it.