The 3 Levels of Leadership

I don’t run like I used to run when I was 16.  Knock on wood, I haven’t had an injury in the years I’ve been running.  But I still don’t run like I did when I was 16.  Notwithstanding the fact that I run regularly, my running pace and style have evolved over the years.

The same is true if you’re a leader.  How you lead will evolve over the course of your career.

Though not exactly like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there are 3 levels of leading that hopefully you’ll evolve through in the course of your career / life: 

  1. IQ,
  2. EQ, and 
  3. Ego.


IQ – It’s about Me

When you start out in your career, your focus tends to be on you.  Am I good enough?  Am I smart enough?  Will I make the grade?  Your primary goal tends to be getting the work done and done well, to the approval of others.  It’s about making the cut, surpassing the bar that’s set for you.  It’s about proving to others, the world, and yourself that you’re worthy, you’re worth keeping.  Even though you’re a leader, you’re a new or ascending leader.  And so although you realize you’re leading others, you tend to ensure that those above you recognize your accomplishments.  You know your job is to develop others, but being honest, you really wouldn’t want any of them to surpass you.
 

EQ – It’s about Us

In time, you show and prove to the world that you get things done through others, and they reward you with promotions.  So now an increased span of control.  More breadth and more complexity.  The work is much more complicated and integrated than it was before.  It’s too complex for you to just take over, and do it yourself.  There aren’t enough hours in the day for that, and you’d forgo what you should be focused on, which is much more strategic work.

So now the focus is on us, as in you and your colleagues, peers, superiors, etc.  The work’s complexity now requires an integrated, collective approach.  In order to achieve your goals and objectives, you don’t need just your people to be on-board; you also need those in other departments, geographies, and even organizations to help you.  However, compared to the IQ level, these people don’t need to do what you say, because they don’t report to or through you.  They will help you only if they choose to, if they want to, if you make them feel the desire to be part of something bigger that includes you. 

So it’s about us.  Do you have the emotional intelligence, the interpersonal adeptness to cultivate meaningful lasting relationships?  To create a sense of something bigger than yourself?  If not, you’ll be stuck back at the IQ level.
 

Ego – It’s about Them

By the EQ level, you’ve made the grade.  You know you’re good.  And so do others.  But interestingly, by the Ego level, if you get to this level, it doesn’t matter.  The accolades and various “trophies” you’ve received accumulate now in your closet.  You got rid of the trophy case a long time ago.  You know the trophies are there, but you don’t visit them or show them off.  They don’t mean what they did, and they haven’t for a long time.  It’s not that you don’t appreciate success; you would hate to fail.  It’s just that success for the sake of being successful doesn’t carry the reward it did.  Your focus is not on you.  You don’t need to focus on you.  You’re a good leader; you know it, but you don’t wear it on your sleeve.  Others recognize it too, and you no longer need to convince your colleagues to support, align, or work with you.  That’s pretty much a given now, too.

At the Ego level, it’s not about you and not about us; it’s about them.  How will I impact “them”, those I don’t have a direct investment in?  If your leadership has continued to evolve, at this level, you focus on leading and benefiting those who can’t benefit you.  You lead because the reward of leading others, of helping others to grow, is reward enough.  Your satisfaction comes from benefiting those who least expect it.  You don’t need or seek the spotlight.  If anything, you sidestep it.  It’s not about IQ or EQ.  It’s about ego.  It’s about letting go of your ego.  It’s about not having one that needs tending to.  It’s not about you, and it’s not about us.  It’s about them.  And what you can do for them with nothing in return.

As time passes, we all will evolve in our unique way.  (I certainly don’t run like I was 16.)
And so the important question is: How will you evolve?  Or perhaps, how have you evolved?  And what will you do now?

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