We don’t really need more spaces where we can show up and be a demand to lead something. The world is rife with those. In fact, the world is those. It’s nothing but a giant, wide-open space where you can show up and be leader, if you’re willing to choose to do so. If you don’t like this job, you can drop it and go and create another one. If you don’t like this experience being created, you can request another one. You can be a demand for more.
Most people, in the development of leadership, expect that if they build it, people will simply come. Like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, all you really need to do is build a giant baseball field in the middle of your corn farm and people will show up to play and watch baseball. But that’s not really developing leadership — that’s simply being open to people showing up as a leader.
You create the space where there’s an opportunity for people’s leadership, and then they’ll show up with whatever capacity of leadership they’ve already got developed. This is a passive approach to developing leadership. It isn’t really developing leadership at all. It’s simply providing the space for people to show up and develop it themselves.
Actively developing someone’s leadership is messy and intimate. It requires standing for them to step in and up to what they say they are committed to creating, even and especially in the face of their resistance. It means holding their feet to the fire and supporting them to be with the consequences of their habitual patterns, rather than shrugging your shoulders and saying “Well, that’s their choice — they’re a leader, they get to show up however they want to”.
(And while you may be right about that, you’re not actually supporting them to be their commitment, nor to move beyond what is currently predictable).
One, you take an active role in the support and development of someone’s leadership. The other, you take a backseat.
Many people I see in the leadership space practice the passive, backseat approach, while claiming (and genuinely believing) they are practising the first, active approach.
The challenge here is that developing leadership (yours and others) tends to run counter to our programming. Biologically, we’re programmed to be fear- and risk-averse, and seek out what is comfortable and known. Carve out a niche for ourselves and then nest there for as long as we can. Procreate, pass our genes on, and live out the rest of our lives in comfort.
While it may take a degree of leadership to get to the point, you’ve completed most of the work by the time you’re in your 30s, and any further growth and change tends to be incremental and in small amounts.
Spaces where there’s an opportunity to step into your leadership abound, mostly because they require a much less active role on the part of the person providing the opportunity. All that’s really demanded is that you get enough people together and do something (For the record, I don’t want to suggest that this is easy — it’s just different from the active development of leadership).
Leadership lies in the unknown, out on the threshold of what we know we are currently capable of. Like lifting weights at the gym, we don’t practice what we can already do comfortably — we aim to exhaust ourselves; to push through until our failure point, and then to grow and learn from that point. You wouldn’t quit going to the gym after failing to push all of your reps, right? But that’s what most of us do in the game of leadership.
Expecting people to show up and practise being leaders is like expecting people to show up and lift more weight than they are currently capable of.
Your job is to help them train — not simply to build a gym.