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Filling the leadership vacuum

Years ago, in the Israeli army, candidates to be promoted as officers were selected through an exercise.

As part of the exercise, eight people who had never worked with each other and didn't know each other were brought together and tasked with solving a problem. The problem was designed such that it needed different skills to be displayed and couldn't be done by any one person alone. The task was designed such that the eight people would have to collaborate in order to arrive at the solution.

Nobody was allowed to pull rank, i.e. nobody was allowed to disclose what rank they held in the army or how long they had been in the army for. This way, nobody could exert influence merely because of their position or seniority. Everybody was put on an even field.

This setup a situation where there was a group of people who needed to organise into a team and identify their own leader, who could direct them towards a constructive collaboration and result in solving the problem at hand.

The person who evolved as the natural leader and filled the leadership vacuum in this scenario was then promoted.

Of course, this is a deliberately designed and controlled scenario, and is not practically experienced anywhere. We always work with people whom we know something about and we always know their rank and seniority.

But that doesn't mean that we don't come across leadership vacuums.

No matter what work you do, you are guaranteed to encounter situations where there is a leadership vacuum, where nobody really understands what needs to be done or how to go about it, where nobody is sure what is expected of them or what to do next. And if you don't, it just means there is always someone who is a better leader than you.

Every time I come across such a scenario, I feel like the seventeen year old who plays for the under-18s football team, who is suddenly given twenty minutes off the bench to play for the main team.

These are opportunities to be seized.

Whenever we see a leadership vacuum, we tend to hold back and gossip about how the "designated leader" doesn't know what is happening and doesn't have things under control, but never take the opportunity to step into their shoes and make a recommendation or clarify things. We tend to wait for the situation to resolve itself or be resolved by the "designated leader".

That's the equivalent of saying no to a free lunch (and a good one at that!).

When you spot a leadership vacuum, step up and show what you can do. It's your opportunity.

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