Recently, I was sitting around having a discussion with three friends of mine: a young entrepreneur who’s just trying to figure out how to make it, a small business owner who tries to keep it going, and a CEO who is trying to master the universe.
We were just meeting for a cup of coffee on 7th avenue, but the conversation quickly spilled into leadership. It usually does when business people meet academics.
“You guys don’t understand–we run a monster. Everyday I worry about thousands of people,” said the CEO. “Try to do what I do and you’ll have a different concept of leadership!”
The debate began. The CEO declared that as a master of the universe he had unfathomable skills.
Does the size of the organization and the complexity of the organization necessitate a completely unique type of leadership? To put it differently, if you are the limo-driven CEO instead of the taxi-riding small-business guy or the subway-hitching first-level start-up entrepreneur, do you really have a different model of leadership in your head?
That was the gist of the discussion.
The young entrepreneur was talking about getting venture capital, trying to sell his ideas and get his foot in the door. The taxi-riding small-business guy talked about keeping his group together and getting their products to market without being overwhelmed by excess demand or limited resources. The CEO spent a disproportionate amount of time talking about keeping his VP’s moving along, his organization upbeat, and the board of directors off his neck.
Sounds like different types of leadership right?
No. Not at all.
It became clear that all of them were simply concerned with their capacity to move their ideas, keep people in their corners, and make sure they didn’t drop the ball. They were all concerned about the micro-skills of persuasion and mobilizing.
In a taxi, in a limo, or in the subway, these leaders are thinking about the same type of leadership–it’s leadership with a small ‘l’ and it’s leadership as a specific set of tools.
Clearly each leader has a different agenda. The CEO has to balance multiple agendas of many stakeholders. The young entrepreneur has to push one or two agendas up the hill. And the small-business guy has to juggle his unique set of priorities to keep the ship moving. But in each case they need leadership that gives them the capacity to build and move things alone.
So, the important lesson: it’s about the nuts and bolts, about your micro skills of leadership no matter how big your organization is and no matter how small your responsibilities are. Whether you are limo-driven CEO, cab-hopping leader of a small business, or a start-up entrepreneur riding the subway, you essentially have to develop and maintain the same leadership skills.