Leadership always matters. In times of transition, challenge or opportunity, it matters even more. Certain leadership creates confidence for the people who are being led. We live in a turbulent time that requires leaders to boldly act, not be “acting.”
Some in the national media are hyperventilating over the turnover in President Trump’s administration. Turnover is normal, and while this White House has higher than normal leadership changes, it isn’t worth passing out. The real test for the president is how many people have the word “acting” in front of their title and for how long that status remains.
Currently, the White House has an acting chief of staff, attorney general, secretary of defense and secretary of interior, along with over a dozen other positions held by individuals with “acting” in front of their titles.
“Acting” creates uncertainty and can cause those reporting to the position to hesitate and vacillate rather than act with assurance and confidence. Just as an “acting” head coach doesn’t receive the same respect and reactions from players or people outside of the team, “acting” staff members, even senior leaders, are not afforded the same kind of regard and serious responses as those solidly in their position.
The “acting” official can even careen into a sort of “substitute teacher” caricature. Employees may meet their communication and expectations with exaggerated eye rolls expressing a “they won’t be here long” attitude. The “acting” official can also be forced to endure the outright disdain that can unfortunately come to the substitute who is simply striving to maintain order, let alone pursue some progress.
An uncertain administration will be overrun by the news of the day, paralyzed by ambiguity and derailed by the lack of focused action necessary to execute an agenda. Many presidential administrations have run out of energy before they ran out of opportunity due to uncertainty in leadership.
There really is a shelf life to “acting” appointments in any organization, but particularly in government. Sadly, what often begins as a temporary solution to a pressing problem, by default, becomes “good enough” and is perpetuated to the detriment of critical goals and organizational culture.
The president needs to prioritize getting the “acting” element removed from key leadership posts, or get the right leaders onboard, so the administration can move quickly and confidently on policy priorities in the new year.
There is a second type of “acting” leadership problem that extends far beyond the White House, and even beyond Washington. It is the person who is only acting as a leader because they have been given a title, even when they really aren’t a leader at all. Managers at best, and mediocre bureaucrats at worst, they cripple organizations with their inability to act or inspire those they are supposed to lead to execute the mission.
The president has been rightly frustrated and exasperated by so-called leaders in Congress and the national media who act as if they are in charge when in truth they aren’t leading anything. Many talk a good game, especially in private, but cower in the corner when faced with real opposition.
Leaders who are acting spend most of their time managing up and creating the organizational motion that can be incorrectly viewed by superiors as forward movement. Motion is the mantra of the “acting,” while forward movement is the mission of the real leader.
” Motion is the mantra of the “acting,” while forward movement is the mission of the real leader. ”
Washington is notorious for motion. Actors in Congress regularly trot out distractions that constituents might perceive as movement. They engage in fake fights in the media and use a variety of shiny-object diversions to create the appearance that they are making headway. Acting leaders who hide behind parliamentary procedure or the excuse of deep division create the kind of motion that leads to the kind of stagnation we now face daily in Congress.
It has been said that an army of sheep led by a lion is more fearsome than an army of lions led by a sheep. True leaders create outcomes and elevate those they lead in significant ways. History is filled with undersized, out-skilled warriors, athletes and businesses that achieved the extraordinary because they were led by a lion — an authentic, rather than acting, leader.
There are untold numbers of teams, departments and constituents in this country filled with lion-like individuals who are floundering because they are being led by a sheep-like acting leader. What a tremendous waste of talent and opportunity, especially in a country facing big challenges and an uncertain future.
Lion-like leadership does matter and is desperately needed. America simply does not have time for acting leaders of any kind.
Reprinted with Premission from https://www.deseretnews.com/