About six months ago, having been reliably informed by my 15 year old daughter and her 12 year old brother that I was now “way past” middle age and having been given a Nike Fuel band by my partner and an introduction to the MyFitnessPal app, I finally understood it may be time for me to become healthy!
So donning my newly purchased sports gear I walked into the gym. Whilst this experience reaffirmed my deep held conviction that restaurants, not gyms, are my natural habitat it did however offer me an insight into leadership development.
Amongst the shiny torture equipment, lying on its side, seemingly forgotten in the middle of the room, was a wobble board. For those of you uninitiated in the art of keeping fit, a wobble board is a disc with a half ball underneath designed to strengthen your core by having you maintain the necessary equilibrium to stay upright on the structure.
Now for the analogy and the (hopefully worthwhile!) insight.
Leadership development is like standing on a wobble board trying to maintain the equilibrium between three separate, yet, equally important constituencies
– your “superiors”
– and your “followers”
Having worked for over a decade in the leadership development field I have come to conclude that building core strength is the biggest challenge faced by anyone embarking on a leadership development journey.
Let’s take each constituency in turn.
Knowing who you are, why you do what you do and why you want to do what you want to do are key starting points. You can be successful without these insights, but only by chance and chance is not the best strategy for success.
In addition, being authentic by being the best version possible of you is key to getting others behind your vision.
Yet, too much emphasis on you can risk hubris setting in. The board wobbles and you will fall.
Unlike what the definition of a leader would suggest (i.e., one who is being followed), it is not followers who decide who leads in organisations but other leaders. Leadership is first and foremost a position rather than an attribute.
We always hope that the two find each other and the right person ends up in the right position because it is the position dictated by their capabilities but all of us have witnessed situations where this has not been the case.
So if you want to lead you will have to be able to fit within the context of your organisation. You will have to understand that context and its gatekeepers; influencing them enough to be put in the position of leadership you seek.
Do too much influencing and you become recognised by those around you as a manipulator and trust evaporates as fast as the ability to lead. Try to become who you think they want and you lose who you are and the authenticity that went with this.
Don’t influence enough and you spend your career seeing others climb a ladder the rungs of which are too slippery for you.
The wobble board wobbles and you fall.
It may seem strange that the most important constituency comes last in my list, but the progression from you to them is not linear; remember the board wobbles.
Whilst they may not necessarily have chosen you to lead them, your followers will ultimately decide on whether you succeed or not. This is because your success will be determined through the extent to which they choose to release their discretionary effort in the pursuit of your cause rather than merely fulfilling their contractual obligations in the pursuit of theirs.
To do so you will need to be able to connect with them, understand their hopes and expectations and craft narratives that will engage them.
Fail to do this and you will fail, but do whatever if it is your followers need without regard to what you know to be true and what you think your superiors need and you will fail to achieve.
To manage the wobble board requires both skill and awareness. Here are some thoughts to get you started:
- Recognise there is a wobble board. It sounds obvious on paper but in practice, as situations unfold, we tend to forget
- Understand where your energy goes. We all have preferences and these tend to be reflected in what we spend time doing. Maintain a sense of how often you are in which area of the wobble board.
- Be clear on the environment. You need to understand where the ripples are if you are to manage the wobble. Keep your ears to the ground and understand the needs of each constituency (including your own which may too often get ignored)
- You are the core. Maintain confidence in your ability but don’t be blind to the reality of your position. Enlist the help of others in giving you unfiltered feedback (a personal trainer if you will)
The wobble board is the most unassuming piece of equipment in the gym but it is also the hardest one to master. The big guys (as they are often guys and mainly big) look down at the wobble board seeing it as not worthy of attention. But outward muscular strength alone can’t replace lack of core strength so, however strong you are, ignore the wobble board at your peril.
Oh and by the way if you’re interested, the app and Nike fuel band have worked for me. I’ve managed to lose 38 kgs and feel all the better for it. Still struggling with the wobble board though. Good luck!
– Emmanuel Gobillot is a leadership development consultant with a range of corporate clients such as Vodafone, Carlsberg, Google and Hilton. Before setting up his own business to focus on writing, speaking and consulting, he was a Director at Hay group where he headed both the consumer sector and the leadership services practice. He is the author of Follow the Leader, Leadershift and The Connected Leader (CLICK HERE to see his books).