It’s funny how life teaches great leadership lessons…
My wife and I arrived at my son’s football game, which was going to be played in the pouring rain. So she gets her cute, little, personal umbrella out of the center console of the car thinking we’re all good.
The cute, little, console umbrella works great for one small person getting from the car to the mall door, but two-and-a-half hours at a football game with my wife holding it over both of us is a totally different story!
We live a few minutes away from the ocean, and always keep a couple of beach chairs and umbrellas in the trunk. So I opened the trunk and pulled out a huge, strong, beach umbrella that would soon become the envy of all the fans at the game. We could both sit under it completely dry—no rain dripping down our backs, no arms getting soaked, no fighting over who was going to hold it.
Funny thing about leadership, it can be characterized by the cute, little umbrella that fits in the center console and gets you to the mall door relatively dry under normal light rain. Conversely, it can also be viewed as a huge umbrella that can be screwed into the ground and hold up under the sun and ocean winds.
But is the size of our leadership umbrella big enough to cover all that is under it? Is our leadership a console umbrella trying to cover a significant amount of territory? Does what we’re responsible for and our leadership umbrella align?
The leadership umbrella principle says:
- Our leadership skills should match the size of our responsibility.
- The storms and trials should push us to grow our leadership umbrella.
Our leadership skills should match the size of our responsibility.
The size of our leadership umbrella isn’t how much we’re in charge of; it’s how much we can lead and keep dry. Many times we equate our title with what we can keep dry, but title doesn’t equal leadership influence. Being Coordinator, Manager, Assistant Director, Director, VP or CEO doesn’t mean our leadership umbrella covers everything for which we are responsible. Title is what we are responsible to cover and our leadership umbrella is what we can actually cover.
We’ve all seen situations where someone had a job title that covered every responsibility under the sun, and their leadership umbrella barely covered themselves, not to mention the responsibilities of the job description. Their world is usually characterized by problems—people problems and operational problems—and they spend their time racing around trying to keep the bad weather out. Truth be told, most of us have experienced this at some time in our lives. When we are out of our league and depth of experience, we don’t want to admit it. We try to fake it, working to make ourselves bigger to fill the void of the experience and knowledge deficit. All this comes from:
- Working outside our strength.
- Working outside our knowledge.
- Working outside our experience.
- Climbing the ladder too quickly.
- Lack of quality leadership mentors.
- Lack of accountability.
- Lack of character or principle.
- Power without influence or persuasion.
When the umbrella is too small, there will always be problems; everything will get wet and life will be miserable, not just for you but also the people you are responsible for.
The storms and trials should push us to grow our leadership umbrella.
When using an umbrella, there’s always this delicate dance to see who will hold it and who will be in the center, because no one wants to get wet. This process of getting wet should drive us to grow our leadership. The struggle of things not going well—stuff getting soaked—should be a constant reminder that we need to be growing our leadership umbrella territory. This takes place:
- When we’ve been handed more than we can handle.
- When we think we’ve arrived.
When we’re young and inexperienced, we work hard to learn and are willing to struggle through the learning process. When we get handed new responsibilities for which we don’t feel ready, it forces us to step up—to learn quickly.
As we get older and gain more experience, responsibility, and bigger titles, we tend to more readily believe we’ve arrived; the learning process tends to slow down or even stop completely. But shouldn’t the opposite be true? The more responsibility we carry, the more focused and aggressive we should be in growing. Throughout our whole leadership lifespan, we should be growing in:
- Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom
Is the size of our leadership umbrella big enough to cover all that is under it? Is our leadership a console umbrella trying to cover a significant amount of territory? Does what we’re responsible for and our leadership umbrella align?
The Motor Principle of Leadership
How to Prepare for the Unxpected