Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • October 18, 2020
  • minute read

Are you leading, or positioning? 

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

A flash of the bleeding obvious:

Growing any organization effectively requires leadership over the long term.

A scratch beneath the surface: 

Intermittent leadership isn’t enough. Growth leadership needs to be consistently effective over a prolonged period. One period of ineffective leadership – however short – and a considerable amount of progress can be lost. In the worst case, a prolonged period of ineffective leadership can lose an organization its entire competitive advantage. (See: Sculley – Apple; Schwartz – Sun; Fiorina – HP et al; Kalanick - Uber;  Charney - American Apparel; etc).

A look in the rear-view mirror: 

When you examine what happens in organizations (big and small) that lose their growthiness, the problem isn’t always that they got dumped with a poor or bad leader. Often a leader that was formerly effective just seems to ‘lose it’ once they hit CEO level.

A glimpse of the underlying dynamic: 

Often what has happened in such cases is a subtle transference that’s initially hard to spot: the individual in question has traded their leadership for positionship

A peek behind the curtain:

Positionship is like a hologram of leadership:

From a distance positionship can look like leadership, but the closer you get, the more you realize that they aren't the same at all.

Leadership is just that - leading others to achieve what you (or they) could never achieve on your own. Leadership is both an art and a science; an amalgam of multitudinous, combined skills and learned behaviors. Positionship is a blunt, one-note instrument - using authority to command that something be done. 

When positioning, instead of actually leading people, the CEO (or division, department, project, group or team ‘leader’) is instead using the blunt instrument of their acquired or delegated authority to make stuff happen.

A vision of the future:

To be sure, for even the most able of leaders, positionship is part of their toolkit. Any parent will know that there are occasions when 'Because I said so'  is a perfectly valid response. But if as a leader that's your only response, then it's only a matter of time before everything will head south.  

For a while, positionship can emulate the real thing. But eventually, people begin to realize that there is no ‘there’ there; that vital elements of leadership are missing such as vision, and empowerment, and adult dialog. And just as surely, eventually (though it often may take a disarmingly long time), the organization either rejects the organ (by firing the positioner and bringing in a true leader) or it continues to quietly fail until dies.

In the next blog post, I’ll share the most common patterns of interaction that indicate an absence of true leadership – that your organization (or division, department, project, group or team) is instead in the hands of a positioner.

In the meantime, ask yourself this: 

How often, and in what specific circumstances do you find yourself trading leadership for positionship? When do you take the short cut of using your position to get something done, rather than leading people to achieve the same thing?

CLICK HERE to let me know in the comments if positioning is something you recognize - in yourself, in others, in organizations you've worked with or for. I'd genuinely love to hear from you.


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  1. Hi Les,

    I am working my way through your Podcasts..one every morning on my walk to work.
    Have you ever done any articles undefined podcasts about delegating.
    Many leaders are detail merchants and want to be clear about what they want their teams to do.
    Many ambitious teams want to make a contribution and don't like being told too precisely what to do.

    It would be great if you can point me in the right direction to anything you have written or published on this topic.

    I try and delegate and often find that the work is not as expected. My impulse is to do the task myself but I try to resist. …not always successfully.

    Thanks

    Alex
    [email protected]

    1. Hi Alex – Thanks for the kind words – so glad to hear you’re enjoying the podcasts.

      To find articles etc, just go to any article in the blog (e.g.this one) and type ‘delegate’ (without the inverted commas) in the search box in the right sidebar.

      Hope this helps!

      – Les

  2. Great to see you here! Let me know in the comments if positioning is something you recognize – in yourself, in others, in organizations you've worked with or for. I'd genuinely love to hear from you:

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