Leadership is Not For You

by  Josh Allan Dykstra  |  Leadership Development

As self-labeled “leaders,” we are familiar with all the lingo. We know that by definition being a “leader” requires “followers,” and that cases can be made on both sides of the “Are leaders and managers different things?” argument. From John Maxwell’s work on leadership alone, we know that there are at least 21 laws about it, at least 5 levels to it, that it requires a 101 class, at least a year to study, and is as valuable as shiny precious metal.

Yet, in his book, Start Something That Matters, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie says, “A leader can create a company, but a community creates a movement.

For me, this sums it up. The leaders I most admire would never be satisfied with just filing a business license — they’re about changing the world. They want to make a lasting impact on the planet, to leave their mark in some tangible way. They want to have advanced something.

Doing this, however, means we need to build a tribe.

Why, then, do we spend so much time on our own leadership, and so little time focusing on how to create a community?

Of course, one could argue that these things are intimately intertwined — and they are. But let’s be honest: right now the majority of our attention is self-focused. It’s on our own personal development, our individual betterment, our solitary growth. While it’s true that healthy (in an emotional, physical, and spiritual sense) individuals do make the most impact on a community, there’s no denying we’re probably on overdrive here.

(A quick Google search should prove me right.)

Have we gone overboard with our obsession of ourselves as leaders?

Have we forgotten about the community?

The research and science behind tribe-building pales in comparison to the immense body of work we’ve gathered on personal leadership. In many ways, this fact is an accurate reflection of our culture’s obsession with the individual. The challenge, however, is that the world is changing. It’s becoming infinitely more connected, global, and intertwined. The future isn’t about separations as much as it is about collaborations.

This is why a community is so crucial.

The combination of our individually-obsessed leadership studies with the industrial-mechanical design of most current organizations has created quite a Frankenstein. We remain obsessed with self-improvement, while we ignore the anti-cooperative nature of the way we work. We want to be better — to grow, change, and adapt — but the systems around us at work often don’t allow us to.

From organization charts, vacation policies, and dress codes to the more “unwritten” cultural rules about how friendly we can be at work or how openly we can talk about “personal stuff,” we have a variety of tools which can allow a community to form. Unfortunately, in many companies today these are the very things which prevent it from forming. All of our structures and social agreements at work either hinder or foster a greater sense of community. They can never do both. Despite this, we barely give these things a second thought — unless we’re complaining about them.

What if we could fix them instead?

Leadership studies which stop at changing us aren’t enough anymore. We need to find and cultivate more great work around leadership which helps us learn how to create communities. It’s the only way we’ll achieve the world-changing impact we leaders so truly desire.


Photo (© Levente Janos – Fotolia.com)

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Jon Mertz  |  04 Jun 2012  |  Reply

Many great points, Josh, but the element of community in leadership is extremely relevant. Until we make the connection with a community, we are just silos standing in a field. We can take things in; we can dispense with things. What we cannot do is connect to others and create a positive movement.

Choosing to connect with a community is a leadership imperative.


Mike Henry  |  04 Jun 2012  |  Reply

Josh, thanks for the great reminders in this post. Many of us want to make all the difference we can and through a community, like this one or others, we can help each other expand our impact. Communities sharpen us, help us be part of something bigger than ourselves. They can lift us up or pull us down, which is why we should be careful which communities and which ideas get our best energy.

Thanks for the great post! Mike…

DeWayne Reeves  |  04 Jun 2012  |  Reply

I think this is a great article and one that has expanded my thoughts on leadership. I am a huge fan of John Maxwell but always felt there was something missing within his teachings. This is that missing piece because so many of us think of ourselves and improving ourselves that we forget the community, or tribe, in the process. Thanks for the great article.

Josh Allan Dykstra  |  05 Jun 2012  |  Reply

Thanks, DeWayne. When it comes to work, I think of it like a coin with two sides: a “me” side and a “we” side.

The “me” side is the individual, singular perspective I bring into my job, and it is crucial. If I’m not aware of my own strengths, talents, weaknesses, and limitations it can truly limit my leadership ability. (This, of course, is the area Maxwell, and many others, focus on.)

The “we” side is the group/tribe/organization side of work. It’s all the cultural, sociological things that happen when people start to work together. As mentioned, this is the side of work we’ve been essentially ignoring.

In my view, focusing more attention on the “we” side is an opportunity for what I call “collaborative advantage” — instead of a competitive advantage, it could be the very notion which allows us to create work that is life-giving and meaningful for everyone.

Aaron Nelson  |  04 Jun 2012  |  Reply

Thank you for the great article, Josh.
I agree with your philosophy on interdependence and that in order to make the largest impact we mustn’t stop at personal growth. Personal growth is perpetually required but often times it’s easy to forget that our goal is to positively influence others. It’s important to “take a break” and use our tools for the purpose of which we hone them.

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