No – Not Everyone Can Assume The Role Of Leader

Can we stop treating the position of leader like it is a participation medal? The role of leader is one that should be carefully considered – the position has far reaching effects on the team, the business culture and ‘how things are done around here’. For that reason, not everyone can assume the role of leader.

‘When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.’

Let me explain. I must admit that I try really hard not to be negative about other people’s work in the leadership space; I have learned so much from people with differing ideas from my own and I have been convinced of ideas / concepts and theories that at first glance I didn’t like or appreciate. However this recent TED talk, that starts with the tagline ‘When everyone is a leader, it allows us to do more and do it better’, got me annoyed / frustrated / angry in a way not many do.


First, let me state out loud – There are some truly great leaders out there – and some truly terrible ones as well. There are some people that have been promoted to leadership positions that are so far beyond their competence levels that then go on to do lasting damage to their business and the people around them. That does not mean that the solution is to make everyone a leader – it means that we should stop accepting terrible leaders in leadership positions.

It means that we should all strive to have better leadership skills and behaviours, and that we should expect – no, demand – that those in leadership positions work hard at their leadership skills and fully assume the responsibilities that their leadership position requires.

Hierarchy is Not All Bad

In the video, the concept of hierarchy is seen only through a negative lens; bottleneck decision making, one person making all decisions etc. Yes – a leader that creates an environment where all decisions come through them has created a decision bottleneck that is a nightmare for the team around them. Good leaders create an environment where multiple people can make decisions on aspects of the business. This does not mean that everyone needs to be given the title of leader. It also doesn’t mean the idea of a hierarchy is bad!

Hierarchal leadership is given such a bad name – because it assumes that all power and influence MUST come from the top. What rubbish. Hierarchal leadership is a way of ensuring that the right people get the right information at the right time, and they are not burdened by being provided all information on everything all of the time. Yes, in the wrong hands it can create a bottleneck. In the right hands, it can be a highly efficient tool to get the best out of people at the right time.

The difference – good leadership!

Good Leadership Is a Sum of Good Leadership Skills and Behaviours

Can we also stop talking about communication, cohesion, team dynamic and idea generation as the sum of leadership? They are good leadership behaviours for a leader to possess but they are not the sum of leadership. All of those things are part of being a team and of being a leader – but they are not the only components of leadership.

Good leadership is more than the production of something, it is also about the care and welfare of all people in the team / organisation (and a myriad of other skills and behaviours which is a whole series of articles in itself).

While everyone in the team can look out for everyone else in the team – everyone is not responsible for everyone in the team. That is the role of the leader – and it is a role that should not be taken lightly, nor distributed to everyone int he team.

Sharing All Information is Highly Inefficient

Lastly, the concept of sharing all information all of the time was put forward as an ‘uncomfortable idea’ that should be considered for efficient and effective leadership. ‘Share everything’ isn’t an uncomfortable idea, it is just a silly one. In busy organisations you need smart people to discern what is needs and what is not, what can be discarded and what is required. This takes intelligence and discernment, not leadership. Sharing everything all of the time bogs down everyone in having to discern the good from the bad, the needed information from the less important, the wheat from the chaff.

Should the marketing department know some of what is going on in finance? Of course! Should they ask questions outside of their profession to seek understanding and challenge assumptions? Of course! Should the finance department provide the marketing department with every detail of what is going on, invite them to every meeting and explain every detail? Of course not.

A concept that seeks to provide all information to everyone forgets that not everyone needs to know every detail all of the time – we need what we need when we need it. That takes discernment – it is not about hiding information is is about finding what is useful.

Everyone Should Not Be a Leader

Finally, let me say that all humans have the potential to be leaders. Pretending that all humans will be good leaders, and that everyone will be of the same capability, is just to deny reality. Can leadership is organisations be better? Of course! But making everyone a leader is not the solution. Improving leadership can be done through reading, observing, coaching, training, evaluating, emulating, mentoring, trying our new ideas, making mistakes, owning mistakes, learning from mistakes etc etc

Rather than entertain the concept of ‘everyone should be a leader’, maybe we entertain the idea that we should not accept poor leadership and that good leadership is something to work at and aspire to – for those that want to assume the work and responsibility that comes with it.

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