Leadership is not a solo sport

I have to wonder where all the great leaders are in our presidential politics. Those of a Democratic persuasion are not running because the party has already chosen their candidate, for good or bad. The Republicans seem to have a field of people who are switching polling positions each week. What about all the people who could be great leaders, who might be able to help us out of this mess? Where are they?Is this the best we can do? I think we are looking in the wrong place. There is no silver bullet, and the sooner we stop looking for one, the better off we’ll be.A few years ago, I was helping with interviews for a CEO for a mid-sized firm. Their perception was that all their problems were directly related to their “leader.” They pointed out symptoms, such as lack of communication, poor decision-making and wanting to take the organization in a non-traditional direction.When I asked the board what their role in this leader’s failure was, they replied, “Nothing at all.” And that’s the problem. People will naturally look to blame someone, but rarely do they look at themselves.Leadership is not a solo sport. In fact, we can’t have leaders without followers. We can’t lead people who have a stake in failure, are afraid to progress and grow or are cemented in the present.I’m not suggesting that this board has to agree with its outgoing or incoming president. Rather, that they are complicit in the results, good or bad, and should at least take some responsibility.Leadership requires a set of skills, and I do subscribe to the belief that a leader is ultimately responsible for the end result. The CEO I was helping to replace failed, plain and simple.However, before making a recommendation for a new CEO, I would also consider the organizational dynamics and the ability, willingness and support to change those dynamics to accomplish something. What organizations think they want is a person who will heal all their ills and move people automatically to action and alignment.The organization’s roleDon’t get me wrong, there are a few of these people around who are gifted with the “silver bullet” capacity, but they still will fail unless the entire effort is collective. And that is what is misunderstood.President Obama will fail unless he can move Congress. If the Republicans win the White House, they will fail as well, unless they too win both houses. Or they can all offer a “profile in courage” and vote independently for the greater good.I’m all for a leader jumping into the biggest problems they can find to truly lead, but not if the organization is unwilling to be successful from the start.Usually a crisis of substantial proportions will push us to step back and suspend our prejudice, stop the rhetoric, loosen our heels to come together for change. Wall Street knew how to do this, and is therefore healthy again. There was not “one” leader in this success, but many, and together they accomplished a banking recovery.Companies I know have done the same thing. The crisis of the economy has made them re-examine their beliefs and priorities, and set them on a redefined course of action. Washington cannot do this, and no leader, from whatever side, will ever make a difference until the body decides to take responsibility.If you’re a business leader and not running for president, you should be looking to your entire team, partners and stakeholders, to take some responsibility for finding solutions. If you face resistance in making change you have to move people to that change, or change your own mind.You are not the one and only solution provider. You are the leader of the team of solution providers. It is rare if everyone ever agrees. But everyone is still responsible for achieving results.If you are thinking your CEO is not leading, take a look around and make sure you have attempted to be part of the solution. If he or she fails, you have failed. The way to success is working really hard together.If you’re just wondering who to vote for, my advice is to look for candidates who take responsibility for solutions. If they are merely blaming others, that’s what they will do when they govern. If they are enlisting your support to participate in solutions, they recognize that they cannot do it alone. That’s what we need — not a silver bullet.Dr. Russ Ouellette, managing partner of Sojourn Partners, Bedford and creator of The Future of Everything Project, can be reached at 603-472-8103 or russ@sojournpartners.com.