The greater your position the greater your vulnerability.
I have five kids and I can see how natural it is to give authority away. My younger kids would come crying to me, “Daddy! Bella said…” My oldest daughter didn’t recognize that her younger siblings automatically gave her a position of authority. The weight of her opinion mattered to them, only because of her birth position—which she had no control over. The fact of her birth position creates a challenge—or tension—for her that is unavoidable: she is both a model and a peer.
How she respond to this tension matters.
She could assume her position and lord it over her siblings (which she did at times). She could abdicate her position and not take responsibility for how her behaviors may have a negative or positive impact on her siblings (which she also did at times). Or she could embrace the tension that exists in this Third Way. Call this the team captain, the leader of the team, or the big sister. Whatever you call it, her position—which she didn’t choose—gives her a responsibility that she must choose to embrace.
Leaders, we also have The Big Sister Dilemma. The choice is a choice of vulnerability and humility.
On the one hand we have a position that we must accept responsibility for. Our behaviors and actions become a pattern that the rest of the people in our organizations will consider as a standard to live up to or to resist. Even the most egalitarian leaders face the challenge that the people automatically, by the nature of the leaders position, watch much closer how they behave. Not only are they looking for modeling, but also for clarity. As leaders the people are looking to us to have an example and a direction to follow.
On the other hand, we are one of the people as well. There is role differentiation, but not value differentiation. The leader is not “better than,” they are “one of.” This means we don’t have ALL the answers. We only see PART of the direction. Our behaviors are not always admirable.
When leaders hide or ignore their peer role, they actually lose credibility in their functional role. People have a hard time following a leader who is clear and decisive, but can’t be one of them. They equally have a hard time following a person who is one of them, but not clear and decisive. The tension of our two roles.
The greater your position in an organization, the more important it is for you to show your humanity.