Leadership is more than a position

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Rodney E. Waddell

Leaders are everywhere. In every organisation there are people others look to for support and guidance.  

Most authorities agree that effective leadership contains three common characteristics: vision, passion and a set of guiding principles (values).

Take a moment and recall Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. This speech inspired millions by providing a clear picture of the future (vision), mobilised people toward action (passion) and appealed to our sense of fairness and equality (values). Great leaders from Gandhi to JFK have shared these core characteristics.    

Leadership vision is not just a gaggle of high sounding words. If that is what you want, then go to the Internet, as one of my local clients did, and find one that makes a nice poster for your wall.  

Readers develop their own vision of a future state and craft it in the language that encompasses their follower’s dreams and desires. It answers the question, why does this organisation exist? How does it affect the lives of our customers? What characteristics make our organisation and the people in it, unique and special? The vision keeps the organisation on track, at every level. When tough decisions have to be made this shared vision keeps people focused in the right direction.

Passion is the indomitable drive that enables great leaders to persevere through hardship. It is the motivating force that propels them and others towards an idealised moment in time, their vision. Passion is what allows people to endure long hours of practice in order to become the best.

University of Chicago psychologist Benjamin Bloom’s research indicates, “It seems you have to put in at least a decade of focused work to master something and bring greatness within reach”.  

Passion is the fuel that drives leadership and winning.

Influence, power

Influence and power have long been accepted as hallmarks of effective leadership. These are the tools leaders use to achieve greatness. However, taken alone they may lead to disaster.  

Fortune magazine used to publish a list of the Ten Toughest Bosses in America. Most CEO’s tried to avoid this list.   

Hank Greenberg past CEO of AIG was reported as disappointed if he was left off it. Greenberg was widely recognised for his temper and sharpness instilling fear in those around him. No doubt Mr. Greenberg had power and influence but was that leadership? Many top performers drive themselves to the top of their profession. Then, when they reach management levels they drive those around them and are frequently rewarded for their results. It seems most organisations have very few measures to define successful leadership. Getting results is frequently cited as the best measure of leadership.

But is it?

Take Charles Dutoit, conductor of Orchestre Synphonique de Montreal.  After bringing great international recognition to the orchestra, he was forced to resign, driven out by musicians who claimed he had developed an abusive and arbitrary rehearsal style. Heroic leadership often leads to success in the short run but history clearly shows few leaders, business or otherwise are able to sustain heroically generated results long term.

Prime example

Russell Crow played John Nash in the movie A Beautiful Mind. The movie is about the life of the Nobel Prize winning economist, John Nash. The pivotal scene opens in a pub frequented by university students. 

Young Nash is a doctoral student and desperately needs a topic for his dissertation. Suddenly three co-eds walk in. Nash and his friends begin to strategise how to make their approach. Suddenly Nash has an epiphany and exclaims, “Adam Smith was wrong”. He repeats Smith’s now famous quote, “Society does best when each man is doing what is best for him”. Nash scrambles to pick up his books and papers and hurries out of the bar.  

What Nash had recognised was as he put it “A flaw in Adam Smith’s concept”. Nash recognised and later proved mathematically that society does best when each individual does what is best for themselves and for the group”. Arguably you could say Adam Smith’s invisible hand certainly helped stoke the flames leading to our current economic melt down. 

Doing what is best for the group is brought to life by the values set by the leader. Values are the standards by which we live our lives. As we saw in examples above, a leader’s value-set can be destructive or constructive. Great leaders are consistently guided by their values, they walk the talk. An organisation without a clear set of values simply offers a place for staff to come and trade their time for money. Values provide a deeper meaning for work.  Ask yourself, “Who would take a job for low pay, where they would have to leave home for months or years at a time; a job where injury and death are real possibilities. Yet soldiers have always marched to war for high ideals

Vision, passion
 
Political leadership is nearly as rare as the mythical Singa (Lion). Singapore’s rise from a volatile third-world county with few natural resources in 1965 to a highly prosperous first-world country today is accredited to Lee Kuan Yew, prime minister, and Goh Keng Swee, his deputy. Mr. Lee’s vision, passion and values permeate the Singaporean culture. Lee frequently stated that “Singapore’s only natural resources are its people and their strong work ethic.”

Meritocracy is a central political concept in Singapore. Singapore’s policies are a model for balancing what is good for the individual (business) and what is good for the group (citizens). Singapore’s economy is highly diversified and poised to take advantage of emerging technologies and geopolitical shifts. Mr. Lee remains as one of the world’s most recognised and influential leaders.

President Bachelet, Chile’s current leader, has consistently been recognised for her leadership. She became the Minister of Health in 2000. Two years later she was appointed Minister of Defense; the same Ministry that jailed her and her mother and tortured her father to death during Pinochet’s reign of terror. She could have retaliated but she did not. She led and they followed. She was elected president in 2006. Her actions make evident her vision, passion and values and have become intertwined with the aspirations of a large part of Chilean society for change and moderation. 

In a relatively short period of time she has extended her influence beyond Chilies’ borders and become a world leader. Time Magazine ranked her 15th in the Top 100 of the world’s most influential people in 2008. Also in 2008 Forbes ranked Bachelet 25th in the 100 most powerful women of the world. Leadership is more than a position.

Motivation

Leaders recognise their people don’t work for them, they work for themselves. Effective leaders engage their followers by providing a motivational environment. Motivation occurs in two forms. External motivation occurs when I do something external to me, that affects my wants or lifestyle needs.  Internal motivation occurs when I perform a task for the sheer pleasure of doing it; for example, competing in a three-mile swimming tournament, solving a hard puzzle or learning something new.   

Money, an external motivator, does motivate but it is a very expensive motivator with a very short half life. Each employee has a unique motivational profile of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Great leaders mobilise people by linking their individual values and motivators with the leader’s vision, mission and goals.

Millions of dollars are wasted each year by employers trying to motivate their people. People are unique. We have unique interests and needs.

Highly effective leaders take the time to understand what motivates their staff. There are only six different categories of motivational incentives.  Three examples include: money, recognition and services. Money in all its forms and recognition are self explanatory. Services include things that only the organisation can offer to you as the employee. Examples include, extra vacation time, designated parking or flex time.

Banks frequently offer staff members preferential loan rates. Now imagine receiving these extra incentives based on your performance. You would have nothing to lose and everything to gain.   

Simple survey

A simple motivational survey can make this easy for anyone interested in identifying their own motivators and those of their staff; linking highly desirable incentives with performance targets increases staff motivation. Reinforcing performance this way contains cost and increases productivity. I tell managers, “If you don’t know what motivates your staff you could be feeding bananas to your tigers.’ 

The measure of a leader is reflected in their people. The way to establish leadership effectiveness is to measure staff responsiveness. How long does it take for staff to take action (agility)? How well do staff perform in activities that drive strategic objectives (competitive advantage)? What percentage of employees goes beyond just meeting job requirements (discretionary effort)? How many employees can directly link their daily activities with mission or strategy (vision)?

We may not all be great leaders but we can all do better at leadership. Job specific leadership skills can be objectively defined and measured, including such measures in appraisals increases accountability.  Examples include;

• Ensuring the performance range between top performers and poor performers does not exceed 15 per cent year over year.

• Individually recognise, reward and document staff suggestions supporting the organisation; e.g. giving credit to others ideas, assigning special duties when interest is expressed, acknowledging employees that have completed an important assignment, etc.

• Independently identify and successfully complete ways to measurably increase revenue, reduce cycle time or increase quality (error reduction) within the department/organisation.

If we can measure it we can grow it. Research has found there is as much as a 40 per cent difference between top performers and poor performers. I believe front line supervisors are the most important people on the management team. 

Their direct influence affects everything from strategy and goals to staff morale and customer satisfaction. If they don’t perform, the results are sure to be felt in the financial statements.  

Growing leaders at all levels ensures continued performance and prosperity into the future. Effective leadership inspires people to exceed expectations. It is human energy that drives progress, effective leadership and expands focus human energy; turning dreams into reality.

The world needs more leaders with vision, passion and values. And fewer people with megalomaniac views that are wise in their own conceit. May we all seek to nurture the leadership qualities in ourselves and those around us. It will surely deliver a better world for our future.

Walter Lippman is quoted in 1945 “The final measure of a leader is that he leaves behind him in others the conviction and will to carry on.”

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