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Archive for the ‘leaders’ Category



How do you grab the attention of your organisation and ensure that it does the right thing?

Many will say “by having a compelling vision”.  It would be nice to have such a simple exclamation.

Having a compelling vision alone is insufficient for achievement as a leader. It must be complemented by communication and relationship building skills. Peters and Waterman, in “In Search of Excellence” (1982), considered that the principal factor which seems to deliver organisational success is the manager’s ability to deal with people.

Dealing with people in organisations starts with establishing a shared understanding of purpose. CEOs cannot develop a compelling vision or a strategy on their own. Yes, they need to have an agenda, and be results oriented (results get attention), but these cannot be developed in isolation.  The reality is that the best CEOs are good at articulating the aspirations of their fellow organisational members. They are good at listening 
and observing their own people, and turning those aspirations
 into a compelling statement for the organisation. 
Simply put, the best leaders set the direction by energising the 
aspirations already in the organisation.

Articulating and communicating that vision turns it into a statement of shared purpose. The much sought after alignment of staff is more correctly described as a continuing process of orienting people towards the core objective, and to initiate actions that contribute to the achievement of purpose. And organisations become more effective as this shared understanding translates into another continuing process of always challenging what is being done – does it contribute to the purpose? Is it consistent with values? If so, is it the best way? What are the risks? Is the risk worth taking? And so on.
. Rather than being seen as the action of a charismatic or transformational leader, the purpose provides for a fundamental need in people. It is one in which they can find meaning and a sense of personal worth. It is a framework in which their contribution can be appreciated, and not just externally, but in greater levels of self-esteem and confidence. The effective managerial leader’s role then has been to capture and clarify the collective aspirations, to articulate these in a clear statement of purpose, and then to continually reiterate and reorient around that shared vision.

Two other factors are important, and can be deal breakers no matter how effective a leader has been in developing a sense of purpose. Those factors are trust and respect.

Trust is easy, and whilst it encompasses concepts such as integrity and fairness, in organisations it comes simply from making yourself and your position clear, and then honouring your commitments. That is, doing what you promise. This requires accountability and reliability, and implicitly requires you to think carefully about the commitments you are making, and recognising the impact that you are having on the organisation and its people. Max De Pree rightly talks of leadership as a serious meddling in the lives of others. Consider your commitments carefully, make them public and then honour them. Too often this becomes a stumbling block!

Respect, also, is easy. To gain the respect and confidence of staff, managerial leaders must be able to display competence in the work of the organisation, not just in “management expertise.” This is not an argument either for internal appointments, or for appointments of people who already understand your business. Many leaders entered jobs in which they have little content knowledge, and those who survive invariably go into a deep dive to understand the business and its nature. As they develop expertise, and display empathy with the joys and trials of the business, they win respect. Those who do not work to understand the business falter.

The essence of managerial leadership is to develop and demonstrate
the expertise and understanding that allows you to articulate a core purpose
 for the organisation. 
 
Translating that purpose into action is the essence of successful strategy
 and that requires you to be clear about your intentions. 
   
It is more than just “walk the talk” – it is about identifying the path 
everyone wants to walk, and then building that path as you go.

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Leadership is a diverse topic, and there is an enormous literature that surrounds it.  Social media abounds with “insights”, to the extent that I have recently begun reflecting on what I have learnt about leading over the last 30 years in the work force. Not much seems to be new!! 

 One dominant theme in the social media is an attempt to describe good leadership.  The following is an older contribution from Schmertz and Novak on the topic that seems to cover much of what is advocated in more contemporary contributions.

A good leader
  • is always willing to do the dirty work.  He’ll sweep out the store if that’s what’s required to make a project succeed.  If everyone on the team has to make a sacrifice, he’ll set an example for others to follow.
  • isn’t afraid to hire people who are smarter or more creative than himself.  He knows that if he goes to the usual mediocre sources, he’s going to end up with the usual mediocre results.  A real leader can harness the energy of creative people in a way that will enhance the entire enterprise.  Since most people “per se” are mediocre, the true leader can be recognised because, somehow or other, his people consistently turn in superior performances.
  • is enthusiastic during tough times.  Leaders who constantly complain about a bad situation can rarely motivate the troops and help them to overcome adversity.  In a crisis, optimism and confidence are even more important than experience and intelligence.
  • has vision.  In our experience there are two kinds of leader – the “lets-not” and the “why-not”.  When times are tough, the lets-not prefer to retreat, to stay with the familiar, to avoid taking risks.  The why-nots, on the other hand, are open to fresh ideas and bold possibilities.  If the old answers don’t work, they’re willing to experiment with new and unconventional solutions.
  • is tough – a quality that has less to do with personality than with character.  It’s not that the tough leader is abrasive, or uncaring, or insensitive.  It’s simply that he’s willing and able to make the difficult and unpopular decisions – and live with their consequences.
  • holds a set of philosophical principles that guide him when it comes to specific issues.  Rather than making decisions on an ad hoc basis, he has formed some conclusions about the basic objectives of the organisation and about how those objectives should be reached. By the same token, he knows that the long-term health and survival of the organisation must take precedence always over short-term gains.

See:  Schmertz H and Novak W (1986)  Goodbye to the low profile.  The art of creative confrontation.  London: Mercury Books

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Here is a little story from one of my favourite leadership practitioners, Max De Pree, that reminds us that what a leader does is important.  I often find the CEO job a rather lonely life where every move is under someone’s observation.  But rather than letting this develop into a sense of strain or tension, it is important to remember that if your actions reflect your word (or intentions) then you are being authentic and effective.
Esther, my wife, and I have a grand-daughter named Zoe, the Greek word for “life”.  She was born prematurely and weighed one pound, seven ounces, so small that my wedding ring could slide up her arm to her shoulders.  The neonatologist who first examined her told us that she had a 5 to 10 percent chance of living three days.  When Esther and I scrubbed up for our first visit and saw Zoe in her isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit, she had two IVs in her navel, one in her foot, a monitor on each side of her chest, and a respirator tube and a feeding tube in her mouth.
To complicate matters, Zoe’s biological father had jumped ship the month before Zoe was born.  Realising this, a wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave me my instructions.  “For the next several months, at least, you’re the surrogate father.  I want you to come to the hospital every day to visit Zoe, and when you come, I would like you to rub her body and her legs and arms with the tip of your finger.  While you’re caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her, because she has to be able to connect your voice to your touch.”
Ruth was doing exactly the right thing on Zoe’s behalf (and, of course, on my behalf as well), and without realising it she was giving me one of the best possible descriptions of the work of a leader.  At the core of becoming a leader is the need always to connect one’s voice with one’s touch. (my emphasis)

De Pree M O (1991)  Leadership Jazz.  Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia. pp.1-3

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