The students in my MBA class on Leadership in Action are confronting the difference between the reality of leadership and the romance of leadership.
By romance, I am referring to the concepts or ideas they have of what it is to be a leader. For example, some of them believe that if they just have the right style, engage in the right behaviors, or speak a sufficiently compelling vision, then others will just naturally follow. And if they don’t follow, well that is because there is something “off” with the followers, not the leader.
But they are now coming face to face with the reality of leadership. For example, each student is required to take on a leadership project of their own choosing in which they are to produce specific results through leading others. Since they cannot know everything that will be required of them in accomplishing the project, they have to commit in the face of “not knowing”. Although making such commitments is a hallmark of leadership, several students were anxious and concerned. As one student put it “How can I say I will accomplish the project if I don’t know what I will have to do or if I can even do what is required?”
Furthermore, this concern did not disappear even after we had conversations for understanding about the project. The reality of leadership is you have to commit even when you don’t know or understand everything and even conversations for understanding don’t remove that risk.