The Obligations of Leadership
Title, position, or authority does not make someone a leader.
In reality, many of those with the title and authority to lead fail to do so. So-called leaders often take the role for reasons of compensation, influence, and tenure. While peers work hard at perfecting their leadership skills, these pseudo-leaders go through the motions, but fail to perform the function of leadership necessary for others to succeed and prosper.
To address this problem, organizations develop core leadership competencies with hopes of reminding all leaders what is expected of them. Better organizations will make these expectations explicit, suggesting the leadership role requires a distinct set of behaviors and outcomes. These can even be measured. This raises everyone’s game and clarifies for would-be leaders what leaders are supposed to do.
The best organizations go one step further. They create an important conversation before leaders even take on the role. Where an expectation outlines what is supposed to happen, the idea of an obligation represents a promise to uphold a standard. The metaphor of leadership obligations carries more weight and sets the record straight in a way competencies and expectations do not.
When organizations make clear the Obligations of Leadership, they spell out precisely what it means to agree to the role. The title, authority, and position of leadership then become a decision, not wishful thinking.
When other leaders outline the obligations and ask those stepping into a leadership role to make the commitment and promise to uphold those standards, the choice to become a leader falls squarely on the individual who must decide to accept or decline the role.
While it may seem like a small difference, the metaphor and articulation of obligations change the conversation and require those who raise their hand for a leadership role to have skin in the game. Leaders are only obligated if they decide to be. That alone is a powerful influence on how they choose to lead, or not.