This past weekend, the cartoon on the cover of the New Yorker Magazine showed Mitt Romney debating an empty chair. The joke, of course, is on Barack Obama, and what many feel was his lackluster performance in the first presidential debate. It also calls to mind Clint Eastwood’s chat with a chair at the Republican National Convention.
The cover struck a nerve with readers. Emails flowed in, expressing support and outrage. Some thought the image was disrespectful to the office of the president.
I think there is something more fundamental going on. The image of an empty chair is a powerful statement about leadership. We all react viscerally when our leaders don’t perform the way they should - when they don’t fill their chair effectively.
There are many leaders who do an exceptional job of filling their chair – we love these leaders and give them our full support.
We also know leaders who occupy a seat, but don’t really lead. In these cases we want to say, “get out of the way so someone else can lead!”
Other leaders just don’t seem present. The chair is empty and they’re providing little to no leadership.
I’ve worked with many clients who have expressed frustration with the lackluster performance of their leaders. Maybe it’s a CEO who isn’t truly leading the company. Maybe it’s an executive who isn’t fulfilling his or her obligation as a senior leader. Or maybe it’s a middle-manager who’s going through the motions, but not truly leading.
All of us as leaders should pause from time to time and ask ourselves the following questions:
- Am I living up to the expectations of my leadership chair?
- Am I going through the motions, filling a seat, but not truly leading?
- Have I completely left my seat, either because I’m distracted by things that don’t really matter, or because I’m no longer motivated to lead?
How would you answer these questions? If you aren’t effectively filling your leadership seat, you’ve got to face up to it, and either turn yourself around, or give the seat to someone else.