So far, we've looked at influence, a real-life leader story, and the idea of viewing leaders as people, not roles.
What about the multiple factors that are impacting leadership and leaders today?
Here are some that may not be so apparent.The list is incomplete and I hope you'll add to it. I've seen or experienced each one as a manager as well as in my consulting practice. Some are disguised as good things and conventional wisdom. Others you may not have thought about.
The Leadership Movement
I believe that the leadership movement, replete with books, tapes, and clever sayings has (with good intentions) created as many problems for leaders as it has solutions. Here's why:
1. It has elevated leadership to a god-like practice with god-like qualities. Yet it is practiced by ordinary men and women.
2. The manager/leader dichotomy is intellectually understandable and helpful in delineating the skill one has to exercise in a given situation at a given time. Otherwise it is bogus and, from observation and experience, actually gets in the way of organizations accurately viewing the development of their people. I've never seen a manager who didn't have to lead. Nor have I ever seen a "leader" who didn't have to manage.
3. The range of attributes used to describe effective leaders are relatively standard. You won't find substantive differences among respected writers, researchers, and practitioners.
- No one can be a "10" on all of the stated attributes. No one. Do everyone a favor and don't expect it.
- Organizations need to spend some time pinpointing the handful of qualities that are most important in executing the strategy. Focus on hiring and building leaders with those qualities and inclinations, and help them become adequate in the others. But do make them become adequate. If they say it's too much of a struggle, then let them know that that's how you learn.
- Take a page from physicians: You can't cure every illness. Do no harm.
Sometimes the best thing a leader can do is no harm. Make sure that yours have the discernment to know when to make that call.
4. Leadership development is still, for the most part, classroom-based. People are reading books or hearing lectures about leadership. Uh, that's called "increasing one's awareness." There are good programs to learn about leadership. The most useful classroom programs that I've run involve computer-based simulations that require decisions that impact financial, customer, and employee outcomes.
If you're going to actually develop leaders, then let people start leading from the get-go. You can't tell if someone has long-term leadership potential unless you--and the individual--check to see if anyone will follow them.
I can't tell you the number of times that some client has said, "What we do is important! We can't afford to have young/new people managing a project or running a big-time meeting. It's too risky."
OK, fine. When it's time to activate your succession plan, do so with the knowledge that people with absolutely no experience in managing/leading will now have the capability to make mistakes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of a few thousand.
4. Start doing "What About Bob?" development. Baby steps. (This is related to #3).
Before every leadership program in which I am involved (sure, I do those, too), I ask participants to rank the value of their development activities to-date. Every one--I said every one--is emphatic about job assignment and small project leadership being the major influence on their development.
What about classroom learning? They said that it gave them a good conceptual model to fully understand what they were experiencing and to develop mental models for their own variations-on-a-theme.
What and How: Potential Conflict
When we sign on with a company, we are saying that we agree with what it wants to do and that we're willing to receive compensation in order to help achieve it. But the sticking points start to emerge when the "how" begins: how we'll do it, how you do it, how come we're working harder than they are, and how can we do it better?
The "how" issue is important because the how helps define our uniqueness and our unique contributions. How we do something is the expression of our expertise. In fact, starting at certain levels in an organization, it's why we were hired.
If leaders get in the way of the how without good reason they'll see a decline in initiative and commitment.
Leaders, Followers, and the Relationship
As strange as it may sound, some people don't like it when the word "follower" is used. In an age when cashiers are "associates" and trash collectors are "sanitary engineers," it's not surprising that egalitarianism would make it's way into the workplace.
Yet if we demand that the heads of our organizations be effective leaders, then we better understand that they can't live up to that expectation without followers.
My online friend and EQ expert Galba Bright describes the productive adult leader/follower relationship in this way:
The most effective leaders I've observed often lead...however, they often follow ..in the sense of eliciting the views of their team and enabling them to shape the direction of the organisation...part of it involves enabling people to lead themselves..it is a messy, frustrating and often very rewarding process.
What works for me is the idea of influence, because it encompasses a range of nuances and behaviours that go far beyond issuing orders for followers to carry out. Sometimes one influences by direct orders, another time, by showing a very deep understanding of the person that you're seeking to influence.
Galba's right, of course. People who are effective in all areas of life know when a situation requires strong, even non-negotiable direction and when a goal is best served through the right degree of participation with the right people.
Are there any other factors that are not-so-obvious but really important to effective leading?
I'm going to add a couple tomorrow in the wrap-up post.
But I know you probably have a shopping list from your own personal experience, so take a moment and let the world know (all enlightening comments cheerfully accepted!).
photo attribution: www.sphoto.com