Why is Leadership So Difficult?

Confused Leader

I’ve had the pleasure of being on vacation in a warm destination for the past ten days and have spent many hours lounging by the pool with one eye on my son and one ear eavesdropping on many conversations.

I’m always curious about people’s complaints about their work environments, especially about their leaders.

Nothing beats real world research to bring clarity to issues.

Amazed and Confused

After ten days of listening to these comments, and at times engaging in the conversations, I am left boggled with how many leaders out there just don’t “get” leadership and what the impact of this is to their staff and their organizations.

I heard so many comments about leaders that spent all of their time telling and very little time listening, leaders that did not treat their teams with trust or respect and yet expected them to act in a professional manner, and story after story that can easily be covered with the phrase “that’s not my job” which just shouts lack of engagement…

Leadership Do Over

Having spent close to 20 years in people leadership roles, I have definitely learned a lot over that time, and often wish I could go back and apologize to some of the first team members I worked with in my leadership capacity.

It definitely took me a few years to sort out the difference between management and leadership… And a few bumps along the way to help speed up the learning curve.

Over the last many years, I’ve become convinced the we seem to be making leadership more complicated, with all the different leadership books, websites, courses etc..

3 Key Points

When you boil it down to the basics, everything important falls under three key points:

  1. Set clear expectations
  2. Hold people accountable to the expectations
  3. Recognize the successes and coach forward to support the learning opportunities

As all of these observations were floating around my head today, I was intrigued to read the Harvard Business Review blog post by Tony SchwartzReward Value, Not Face Time,” which was like watching my thoughts flow out in word in front of me.

His observations about moving through our fear of management (the need to see everyone in front of us in the workplace), and lead forward through trust to create value is something that I hope every people leader can tackle — the rewards are many.

Leading People, Not Managing Minutes

As a leader, all of a sudden you will find capacity to tackle other projects or opportunities when you are no longer managing the minutes in front of you. As a team member, more often than not, people grab hold of the newfound space and reach for the moon to prove their capabilities.

The multiplier of these two simple changes results in increased organizational capacity, capabilities, and outputs.

So let’s move away from the newest leadership book or trend and focus on those three simple foundational items to help us all move forward.

In doing so, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How will you set clear expectations for your team today?
  • Will you write a list of those expectations? 
  • Will you engage your team in coming up with appropriate expectations?
  • How will you hold people accountable to the expectations you have set in stone?
  • In what way will you recognize and reward the successes you see moving forward?


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Lee Vincent is Principal at Look-Solutions
She serves in Change & Engagement Mgmt, Executive Coaching, Strategy Deployment
Email |LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | WebBlog | 867-456-4562

Image Sources:  howtomakecollegecount.com

6 responses to “Why is Leadership So Difficult?

  1. I like the getting back to basics, Lee. Expectations and accountabiity.Let’s not forget to lead, truly lead is to serve. When is the last time you asked someone who worked for you the simple question, What can I do to help you accomplish the mission? True leaders empower, equip, and act as a resource for those they lead. Letting people know their success is your goal makes a good leader great.


    • Hi Liam – I love your comment. It brings to mind the tipping of a triangle upside down and reminding all of us that a leader’s role is to support and enable their team, and to do so in the way that meets their team’s needs (vs the leaders).


  2. Hi Lee,

    I think the fundemental issue is that people use terms such as ‘leader’ and ‘manager’ inappropriately.

    Leader(ship) became the vogue and all of a sudden people stopped “managing”, well actually they continued managing but they wanted to change the title of what they were doing because of the fashion, so they started calling their managing leading.

    Others inherited this behaviour because we are what we see (and humans ape humans) so the last 10 years has seen the name of what people are doing change but their activities have remained the same,

    Now we don’t actually know or remember what true ‘leadership’ is (in the main).


    • Hi Colin – I smiled as I read your comments…somehow management has gotten a bad rap and become a lost skill. Leaders still need to have management skills – manage financials, manage projects, manage deliverables. Leadership is that softer side of how we bring people with us through those areas to achieve organizational outcomes. I agree that in many organizations, courses that were “management development” overnight became “leadership development” without really changing anything under the label. If we can get some strong leaders out there role modelling this stuff, amazing things can happen!


  3. Takes me back to one of my first blogs on Linked2Leadership and one that I’m writing a follow up to (http://linked2leadership.com/2011/06/21/dawn-of-the-leadager/).

    There needs to be a mix of leadership and management skills and the ratio will change dependent on where you sit in the organisation – first line manager might be 80% management and 20% leadership; CEO might be 20% management and 80% leadership with the people in the middle having a different mix.

    Could sound complex when the reality is actually quite simple so I’m hoping the follow up blog explores the reality and future ‘leadagers’ are then able to consciously slide along that continuum.

    Here’s to leaders and managers living in harmony (in the same body!)


    • Hi Collin – I’m looking forward to reading your updated post. I’m especially intrigued with how you help people shift through that continuum – should they just recognize it themselves? are their external cues? should it be formal or informal?


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