Political Leadership is not Organizational Leadership

Sometimes (especially in election years), a participant in a leadership workshop asks the question,

“How does this content relate to political leaders?”

I used to try to find some correlation — to point out that my definition of leadership, “meet needs,” ought to generate the guiding question, “What is needed?” and then, act on it. Politicians should do the same. But that’s overly simplistic in the political environment, and here’s why:

Organizational leadership is about meeting needs, and the leader needs to ascertain those needs, then serve them with vision and integrity. This can sometimes involve getting buy-in from those affected, and can sometimes lead to a unilateral course of action based on experience and wisdom.

But here’s what it generally never involves: compromise with parties who have diametrically opposing values.

While leaders in organizations need to consider various paths and viewpoints, they are all beholden to the same values, vision, and mission.

In politics, going all the way back to the wording of the Declaration of Independence, there is a dance between standing your ground and compromising to move forward. The skill set needed for that is different than the skill set involved in engaging the members of your team to be more productive.

So, it’s okay to treat the worlds very differently, even though we use the word “leader” in both venues.

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