Leadership Is a Choice

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

To lead, or not to lead. That is the question.

It’s a fundamental question. And it’s one that we ask of ourselves, over and over again, every single day.

There are a lot of presumptions made about leadership. A disturbing number of them are wrong, or at the very least misguided. A crucial presumption—and one that I want to tackle here—is the idea that some people are leaders, while others are not.

Leadership has been a topic of study and exploration for millennia. There are literally hundreds of thousands of books published on the subject. There are tens of thousands of articles. You would think we’d exhausted what we had to say on the subject. You would be wrong.

A lot of early leadership focused on the traits, qualities and attributes of what made a great leader. In other words, the belief was that leadership was innate. Either you were born with the magic ingredients of being a leader, or that a lifetime of serfdom lay ahead of you. And while I might be exaggerating a little bit here, it’s not by much.

This extrapolates into a more familiar assumption, and one that’s a lot more prevalent: that our leadership ability is tied to our position in the organizational hierarchy. The pervasiveness comes from a lingering sense of top-down, command-and-control functioning that’s a hangover of traditional organizational …

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"Impartial observers from other planets would consider ours an utterly bizarre enclave if it were populated by birds, defined as flying animals, that nevertheless rarely or never actually flew. They would also be perplexed if they encountered in our seas, lakes, rivers and ponds, creatures defined as swimmers that never did any swimming. But they would be even more surprised to encounter a species defined as a thinking animal if, in fact, the creature very rarely indulged in actual thinking."

- Steve Allen