Leadership only happens if you need to mobilize other people to make progress on an important challenge. You have to care about something—an aspiration or a big concern. Without that clear sense of purpose, the effort won’t be worth the risk. It’s not leadership if it’s not about a tough challenge.
Leadership always starts with dissatisfaction. We only do it when we see something lacking and care enough to change it. When we sense things could be better for those we care about, we motivate ourselves to see and seize our moments to lead.
Most groups don’t do a good job of assessing their current reality. Too often we tell ourselves everything is fine, that we are headed in the right direction. We convince ourselves we are on track to meet our mission. We don’t pause to examine big concerns or articulate bold aspirations. Compelling reasons to exercise leadership remain unspoken. Concerns and aspirations that could fuel progress go unexplored.
Thousands of people have come through our leadership and civic engagement programs over the last 15 years. For them, the term The Gap is shorthand for their most important challenges. It represents the distance between their current reality and their aspirations.
If you are like most people, when you think about the future of your company, organization, or community you see a big gap between the current reality and the way you want things to be.
But, again, if you are like most people, the old way of thinking about leadership—that it’s about an authority figure out in front, shepherding followers toward a predetermined goal—lets you down. It places responsibility for seeing The Gap at the very top of the hierarchy. It sidelines countless people and creative ideas for change.
Groups that want to make more progress need everyone equipped and ready to exercise leadership on their toughest challenges.