Friday, March 29, 2013

Time for a New Approach to Leadership - Part II

Andy Warhol once said, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” This is especially true in leadership. We cannot afford to wait for times to change and instead have to be the change we want and expect. Leadership is personal and therefore any change we seek must first start with us.

In a recent post, I proposed five fresh ways to think about leadership development. This new dialogue is intended to explore how we think about leadership and the language we use to describe leadership. Again, my attempt is not to abandon what we know to be excellent leadership traits, instead I seek a continuing conversation, an exploration into what leadership can and should be in our current environment. What follows is the continuation of this dialogue.

Passion. Leadership often fosters in us an intense emotion or enthusiasm for the work we do. This is revealed in the passion we have for people, for living and for doing what is right.  Manifest in this passion is empathy and positive thinking; an ability to accomplish the task set before us. Nelson Mandela, someone who understands what is required of passionate leaders,
Stated, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” There is no substitute for the passion we have for leadership.

Talent. People will follow leaders they believe have the talent to lead them. The talent you posses and the respect others have for it can be a powerful leadership tool. But as John Wooden warned, “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” As we increase our knowledge base, we too can increase our talent. Experience, opportunity, and a little hard work can create a talented leader… but we must be careful to always remember the leadership is about others, not ourselves.

Heart. Leadership is about fostering relationships and developing others. Heart is what allows us to give great meaning to this work. Heart is leading through emotional intelligence and helps to define who we are as leaders. As Christina Baldwin states, “To work in the world lovingly means that we are defining what we will be for, rather than reacting to what we are against.” Our actions are dictated by the beliefs of our head and our heart. But heart is a necessary leadership skill that is central to everything we do as leaders.

Tempo. In music, tempo is measured in beats per minute. Too often leadership is a label bestowed on those who get things done quickly and efficiently. But a more contemporary concept is the idea of quality outcomes. Our beats per minute are now measured in the energetic quality of our work instead of the speed with which we get it done. Manolo Blahnik offers some unintended advice, “People walk differently in high heels. Your body sways to a different kind of tempo.” For leaders, this means being dynamic and agile while focusing on quality.

Legacy Thinking. Vision has always been an important leadership skill and one that most experts would agree is critical to leadership success. By nature, vision is always thinking about some future state. Legacy thinking moves us beyond vision to considering how our actions impact this future state. Henry R. Luce, founder of the Time-Life Magazine empire, once said that leadership “is a continual dealing with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight.” The legacy we will leave as a leader begins with our actions today.

Our new look at old leadership is now updated with five additional contemporary ideas. While leadership is certainly more complex than the simple labels applied here, the idea that these skills are observable, and therefore may be modeled by others, is important. There are many more to share over the next several months as this dialogue continues.

I would love to hear how you are thinking about leadership differently.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

There is no Band Aid for Bad Leadership

As a child, I was always very active. I remember my family moved into a new neighborhood when I was about ten years of age. A few days in this new place, I saw some other kids riding their bikes and I wanted desperately to make friends so I jumped on my bike and took off down the street. In my haste I didn’t put on shoes and about the time I caught up with the others, I stubbed my toe.

This was no ordinary stubbing… I was on the verge of death. But what could I do? I couldn’t cry in front of others. So in the spirit of every brave boy, I acted like I meant to do it and rode back home. But I couldn’t keep the tears back as I stumbled into the house crying for my mother. And what did my mother do… she put a Band Aid on my toe and gave me a big hug.

Don’t you wish it was that easy to fix bad leadership?

But, what is bad leadership? Is it unethical or immoral? Is it incompetence or chaos? Or is it something else entirely? We may have a hard time defining bad leadership, but we certainly know it when we experience it. Some could argue that if you are not a competent leader then you are not a leader at all. But this seems too simple. Certainly there are leaders who do some things well but are not as capable as they could be. Maybe the line in the sand is ethics. Clearly someone who is unethical is not a leader… right? But, leadership, while generally considered a set of positive traits, certainly has a dark side. When considering examples of “bad” leaders, we invariably mention evil leaders like Hitler, Saddam Hussein, or that manager we once had who wouldn’t let us take a cigarette break. But, too often these leaders were in fact good at the act of leadership. After all, leadership is influence it just happens that not all influence is benevolent.

But my purpose here is not to debate good and bad leaders and leadership. Instead, my intent is to convey that effective leadership is not something that is easy to accomplish or achieve. And in those times when we do fail to be effective leaders, there is often no easy fix. Consequently it is better to avoid bad leadership in the first place. Below are a few thoughts on being an effective leader so you can avert the need for a Band Aid.

Adapt Quickly
Leadership is about flexibility and a willingness to change. If we stick to long to one way of doing things, we not only become stale, we become ineffective. With apologies to Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the leaders that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Act Decisively
“Make a decision and stick to it.” This was some of the best advice I ever received as a novice leader. My mentor was not suggesting I avoid the input of others or to make decisions in isolation. By all means seek the counsel and contributions of others, but when it comes time to make a decision… do it!

Connect Seamlessly
Consider those around you… what aspirations, passions, and goals do you share? As social beings, connecting with others may be the single most important thing we do for our happiness and our success. Althea Gibson was correct when she stated "No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you."

Communicate Relentlessly
Communication is like cheese in a casserole, when you think you have enough, add more. James Hume tells us that “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Shared information and transparency in your leadership style leads to open communication.

Reward Generously
Hard work and outstanding performance should be rewarded handsomely. This may be money, it may be time, or it may be something else like responsibility, empowerment, or trust. The reward matters less than the act of giving it. Winston Churchill said it best, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

How do you maintain your effectiveness as a leader?