This is the last in a series in conjunction with John W. McKenna's leadership challenge Why Most Leadership Sucks, Even Yours. It was originally posted yesterday. Shortly thereafter, half of the post disappeared.
For every wartime Winston Churchill whose pluckiness sparked a country's determination, there are political, business, and military leaders who will tell you with honesty: "Sometimes I've just been plain lucky." No doubt Churchill felt those moments, too.
As for the "sucky" ones, we all have our own personal horror stories. The talented, evidenced-based Bob Sutton just won journalism's Quill Award for best business book with The No Asshole Rule. Commentary on bad leadership and bad behavior abounds. And it sells. It's even cathartic, like watching a "reality" show and thinking "Wow, I'm glad I"m not as crazy as they are!"
But it doesn't necessarily make you any better. Is your goal really to be "comparatively less worse"?
Now that's sucky.
What do you expect from leaders and why?
I've written before about the power of implicit and unspoken rules and expectations. I believe the same is true of leadership. Our expectations (and those of leaders themselves) are often the result of:
A. Unspoken or misguided information and beliefs about what actually makes leadership effective
B. The absence of a clearly demonstrated, universal understanding within an organization that says, "Here's what to expect from leadership in our company. If you want to work here and advance here, this is how we get things done. "
Learning from the Sometimes-Unpleasant Truth
Watch very carefully; my fingers will never leave my hands:
3. The truth is, we may have a hard time handling the truth. The Ambiguities of Effectiveness was presented in April to the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists by Dr. Robert Hogan. His data pinpoint Dark Side characteristics of effective leaders as well as the Bright Side. I'd suggest that you read the findings multiple times to really digest the implications.
A couple of items struck me immediately:
First, if many leaders wrestle with an internal tendency toward "naughtiness" and "living on the edge" a bit, we may be fortunate that there haven't been more Enron and Tyco-like scandals. Perhaps its a tribute to self-awareness and self-discipline on the part of many in leadership positions.
Does this mean that we should begin to de-emphasize ethics and morality in order to give leaders a full head of unbridled steam?
If anything, it explains the need for accountability, increased self-understanding, and attention to ethics by B-Schools, Boards, and leadership development initiatives. It also signals a call for leaders to be surrounded by people with "do the right thing" influence.
Second, the findings on vision ought to raise some eyebrows. Dr. Hogan allowed that the entrepreneurs (leaders) in the sample were less visionary and more pragmatic than their managerial counterparts. I'm not surprised. After years of conducting assessments, other research with which I've been involved shows rather clearly that what we commonly call vision" is a talent possessed by only about a third of those in leadership roles.
What does that mean? It means that we ought to stop expecting everyone at the top of every organization to possess "vision". Or, if we think vision is so important, then assess and confirm in every way possible the existence of that characteristic.
The Impact of Understanding
In "B" above I stated the need for organizational understanding about being clear regarding what leadership actually means in the organization. I haven't experienced any group that does this better than the military.
From Day 1 it's clear who leads, who follows, how both of those are supposed to happen, and when roles, responsibilities, and actions are to changed based upon situational criteria. And from Day 1 everyone is put into situations that promote leadership skill-building.
Code of conduct, rewards, sanctions, and performance standards for everyone are spelled out in detail. There are procedure manuals that tell you where to find the other procedure manuals.
Overkill? Not when the consequences are death instead of a loss of market share.
The clarity that comes from this attention to detail is actually freeing. Regardless of one's position in the grand scheme of things, the clarity and definition allow each person to focus on excelling in one's role. Feedback is continuous. I could go on.
Am I recommending that organizations use the military model to create software or sell widgets?
Nope. The model wasn't designed for that. Yet there are principles such as clarity, organizational understanding, and constant "doing" that make leadership development more effective.
What can you do in your organization to use those principles to your advantage?
Make it Real Like Dean Does
Language makes a difference. The list of "competencies" we see every day ultimately are seen as politically correct buzzwords that make eyes glaze over.
When it comes to playing "follow the leader", see if the brief note below doesn't pretty much sum it up for you. It was sent along by long-time business executive Dean Fuhrman who still takes time out of his busy schedule to add to the conversation and share his experiences. Here's Dean's take:
Steve - Here is my list of what I want in a leader - - Treat me like an adult ... in return I will do the same for you - Tell me the truth ... even if there are various shades and even if it is bad - Talk to me ... let me have some time to develop my own insights into the situations at hand, and then let me participate - Admit your own mistakes - Lean on your strengths and recognize your limitations (even publicly) and then fill them in, even if it takes letting someone else take over in that area - Be collaborative - Don't be a jerk - Help me be my best ... help me liberate my strengths/minimize my weaknesses - Work "with" me ... we're all in it together anyway so be with me Interesting, I think any follower should follow the same model for any leader they are following.
Thanks, Dean. What do you all think?
Postlude (Sorry. I'm a musician)
After five consecutive articles on leadership, I've learned--or remembered--that leader development is,indeed, a life-long process. If you think you've arrived, you definitely haven't. Why? Because you've subtly announced that you'll now stop or slow down your learning. Pick your favorite leadership model. You'll see that Learning is an ingredient. So, by definition, those of us who are committed to leading have committed to a life of learning.
When John W. McKenna initiated this whole challenge, he generated a horde of followers and contributors. Thanks, John. You showed leadership that did not suck! For that, John deserves your vote for his manifesto. The deadline is September 16 and I've already weighed in with mine. Give John some manifesto-love right now.
Finally, the series has revealed the personal, ongoing nature of becoming a leader. We spend a lot of time critiquing those who are trying to move organizations--and even nations--successfully into the future.
But here is the real question that I believe, if responded to, will make a difference:
"What are you going to do to become the kind of leader you think they should be?
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