There’s a song in “The Lion King” called “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” In the song, Simba, the main protagonist, shares his eagerness to take over the leadership of Pride Rock. But Simba is not quite ready to lead yet. He must first grow and learn more. I believe that Saint Vincent teaches our students how to mature into effective and influential decision-makers.
Unfortunately, not everyone has had the opportunity to develop in such a way. So many real-world leaders in a variety of decision-making roles are like Simba. They are eager to take on leadership roles even though they are not quite ready for the responsibility. Some might just want to take on leadership roles because they believe that they will become more powerful and achieve more notoriety or glory.
Yet notoriety and glory are not the true marks of a leader. In fact, as I teach in my classes at Saint Vincent, the true role of a leader should be to serve others (Greenleaf, 2002). As such, a leadership role should not necessarily be perceived as a job of status – it is simply the role that exists within a group of people that helps them to coordinate their efforts together.
It is also not uncommon that people are placed into leadership roles based on their personal characteristics (a common example is extraversion) that others perceive to be useful for a decision-maker. But such characteristics do not necessarily always make them successful in such roles (Calloway & Awadzi, 2008). In other words, those traits that allow for someone to rise to a position of power do not always make them perform well in that position.
Yet, sometimes people desire to be placed into leadership roles despite not being a good fit for them. They might not possess the knowledge, skills, perspectives or expertise that would be most effective in that role. Or they might not be ready to take on the responsibility. But, the most effective leaders are those that fit their context best (Fairhurst, 2010; Urick & Sprinkle, 2012).
I’ve been working on a book on leadership examples in the works of Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien and I am reminded of some of Tolkien’s remarks related to leadership. To paraphrase, Tolkien stated that no person is suited to rule over others, especially those who seek out such a role (Tolkien, 2014). Tolkien was not anti-leader as some readers have interpreted, but his points are clearly critical of some leaders. First, and as mentioned above, a leader should not seek to rule but seek to serve. And, second, some people who want to be a leader are not fit for such a position.
So, we must always consider the fit of leaders with context. This is true whether we find ourselves in a leadership role or if we are considering who we support for promotion to a leadership position. Does this person fit the context? And are they ready for such responsibility?
I’m always interested to hear your perspectives – what do you think makes a good leader? What are some ways to prepare people for leadership roles? Get in touch with me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on social media at Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter.
Dr. Mike Urick
Calloway, J. A., & Awadzi, W. (2008). Leadership and Organizational Success: An Examination of the Trait, Skills, and Transformational approaches. Consortium Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 13(1), 13-23.
Fairhurst, G. T. (2010). The power of framing: Creating the language of leadership (Vol. 290). John Wiley & Sons.
Greenleaf, R. K. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Paulist Press.
Tolkien, J. R. R. (2014). The letters of JRR Tolkien. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Urick, M. J., & Sprinkle, T. A. (2013). Glenn Miller: Leadership lessons from a successful big band musician. In Extreme Leadership. Edward Elgar Publishing.