The bottleneck is at the top.

The Secret to Leadership is . . .

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

The bottleneck is always at the top.

There is no secret!

There are many books on leadership; many of us are mentors, advisors, and coaches on the topic. There are a few formal classes on leadership in the business schools, and the secret is that there is no secret to be learned.

There are still those who argue both sides of the question about whether leadership is innate or learned. But mostly, I believe we are accidental leaders who, because of being in the right place at the right time, become leaders by default or because someone in a position of authority designates us as a leader. And then we manage to listen, learn, and then lead (as Stanley McChrystal put it).

Dictator or Leader?

When I say there is no secret, what I mean is that there isn’t any special sauce for which only a few folks have the recipe. There is no club to which you must belong to be a leader. My experience is that leadership takes hard work, self-knowledge, and a group who is willing to let you lead them. That last part is the closest I can come to there being any such thing as a leadership secret—your tribe, team, organization, or

group must allow you to lead. Otherwise, you become a dictator and not a leader. You wind up developing followers who add little to the operation. You wind up developing unthinking employees and making yourself a bottleneck in the organization. In the end, you will not be able to lead unless those whom you would lead are willing to let you do so. And it’s good to recall that just like in a bottle of fine wine, the bottleneck is ALWAYS at the top!

Earn It

One must earn leadership, then, rather than being appointed to it. The training, experience, development, and self-awareness are all geared toward earning the right to lead. Living the qualities that people look for in their leaders is a requirement. So, things such as consistency, integrity, transparency, fairness, vision, and many other attributes are the visible signs that folks look for in their leaders. The positional authority will get you to first base, but that’s about it.

The executives I work with on leadership topics are all very self-aware; otherwise, they would not seek a coach. Most get that leadership is hard work rather than discovering a secret. They also are keenly interested in how to earn the right to lead their team. That, of course, begs the questions for you: What are you doing to earn the right to lead? Are you self-aware enough to know your limits, strengths, and values?

[Lightly edited in 9/2020 for our new website.]