Leadership

In the next few paragraphs I will elaborate on the topic of leadership, whilst trying to address three main topics: define my approach to leadership, identify some areas, which I would like to improve with reference to the articles, seminar and my own experience and finally provide some steps to accomplish those objectives.

There is no day in our lives where we don’t hear anything about leadership. Well, I guess it is possible to do so, but in fact, by the time I have become a Master-level student I among other students have experienced thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of situations which have something to do with leadership. Everything from articles, books and case studies to group works, relationships, day-to-day happenings in school, at work, at home, in home country and internationally provide us with examples of leadership in different situations; some of them good, some of them maybe not as good. With so much influence from something that belongs to social sciences and is therefore not easily explained, it would not take too long to get bogged into details of overall socio-philosophic debate. Therefore, as most people do, I have considerably simplified my approach to leadership in order to make some sense of it to myself. For me, the three main issues of leadership are the difference between leadership and management, the purpose of leadership and the distinction of the leader and the character.

In my experiences, which have had to do with leading and leadership in general, especially the challenges encountered whilst trying to mobilize more than 300 sales people, most of the leadership dilemmas have explained by leadership guru John C. Maxwell in his various books about leadership. However, it is essential to distinguish between management and leadership roles. In the HBR article of 1977 Mr. Zaleznik[1] has identified several key differences, but written almost 30 years ago, he also confused many leadership issues with personal traits, which are intertwined, but not necessary for one and lacking from the other. Therefore, I offer a simple definition: “You Lead People and you Manage Things”. I must admit, that I am not an expert on this issue and I am also very positive that this notion is recorded way earlier than this, but I have yet to feel the need to scientifically prove it. I will come back to this definition later.

With the second notion – what is the purpose of the leadership – I don’t have to go further than W.C.H. Prentice’s initial observation, which I have put in today’s language: “To get Your things done with the help of others.”[2] If we eliminated the second part of the sentence, this would result in the definition of management: “To get things done”. I realize that for most part, these definitions look overly simplified with an extremely generalized notion of “things” in the midst of it. But that’s the point. The goal of a leader or manager is not just to be one for its sake, but to accomplish something and it really does not matter what it is as long as he makes an effort. In respect to this, another question may be raised: “Can you manage people?” The answer is yes. But in that case, people have been reduced to the level of “things”, which has nothing to do with their nature; we might as well say objects (e.g. bricks) instead of people. A leader, however, uses the unique nature of people in order to make things happen.

As a separate issue, several authors have used the concepts of character and leadership abilities in the same sense. In other words, it is too robust to conclude that “good looking people are better leaders” simply because it seems so. This example is maybe too extreme again, but many times authors use terminology which refers to natural born characteristics while trying to explain the qualities of a leader or even manager. By doing so, it determines that it is impossible to become a better leader, whereas we know it is not true. Although this seems like a dilemma of wording, the conclusions drawn usually reflect that the meaning has also changed in the process, which is usually due to skipping a step in explanation. Therefore, it is essential to deal with characteristic traits separately from leadership studies. One of the ways, which may not be the best, but what has been helpful for me to explain the difference, is by using a few methods which I learned from various seminars in my training with Southwestern Company. One of them is helpful to understand personality types by exploring two behavioral dimensions: assertiveness and responsiveness.[3] By investigating into those four personality types that are formed – Amiable, Expressive, Analytical and Driver it is possible to examine the pros and cons of each type and then draw some conclusions, how these people like to be lead and which leadership style they prefer as a leader, but not necessarily that Driver is better leader than Amiable as suggested in the articles of Zaleznik[4] and partly Khurana[5] and perhaps some others.

To sum it up, for me the role of the Leader is to get things done with the help of others and the measure of how good leader he/she is, is the number of (volunteer) followers, or perhaps, the rise in the number of followers for the next mission. There are many things leaders can accomplish without ever doing any management and there are people who only manage to get things done. But there is a limit, how well you can do imposed by where your skills are. In order to distinguish between character, leadership and management, the simplest visualization of these building blocks would look something like this:



In other words, there are three main areas, where a leader can improve: in leadership skills (that is how to lead a group of people better); in management skills (how to make sure you have not missed out important details) and the underlying knowledge of character (the knowledge of your personality and personalities of others).

After only this short encounter with the field of character it certainly looks ambiguous to even try to assess the full scale evaluation and learning that could be done in order to better myself as a leader. However, it is better to start somewhere. For me, the referred Bolton’s framework on personality styles has been a helpful guide in my quest to excellence. But there are many other facets of character building. One of these was presented in the seminar – developing personal vision. It is quite evident, that “it is easier to choose between two options, if you know what you finally want to end up with” or put it by Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” way: “If you don’t know where you are going, then it does not matter which road you take”. The most comprehensive and at the same time not too overwhelming framework that expands on this topic that I have come in contact with is well-known Stephen Covey’s 7 habits which he now has added the personal mission dimension as an 8th habit.[6]

I must admit that I have yet to stumble upon a framework comprehensive enough to cover all the aspects of successful management. But it could also be that it is too simple to notice. What I mean, is what I have noticed from personal experience working with managers in Southwestern – by the end of the day, it comes down to two key issues: details and discipline. Let me elaborate on this. What I mean, is not that you should have a Gray supercomputer, where you have stored the genetic code of everyone you have ever talked to. I think the art of management relies in identifying the crucial components and then being stupidly disciplined to routinely check them. Give you an example. If you are in charge of getting a car from Chicago to New York, it does not matter which color your car is, but you need to make sure you have enough gas. On the other hand, if you have to do the same in Iraq, you better make sure some moron has not painted it red. Sure it is simplified, but just wanted to make a point, how these key components change. Most of the time, it is not a single thing, but a mix, and I guess therein lies your competency as a manager – how many details can you effectively “manage”.

Another point that I want to stress is the notion of “details”, especially when it comes to management’s connection to leadership and character. Whereas you lead people, you can do heck of a lot better if you are also a good manager, because in order to be able to use your leadership skills most effectively you need to manage relationships. In other words, when leading people means getting people to do what you want, managing relationships means getting the right people to do it. Therefore, the notion of details means far more, than just remembering the birthdays (although which may be important!)

Now, when it comes to leadership, I would just like to introduce couple of frameworks that have been useful in my leadership skills development. The first one was introduced to me again in the Southwestern program and only quite recently I discovered the author. It is essentially Bruce Tuckmans’s model of team development stages.[7] The form in which the model was introduced to me and other Southwestern book people was in the modified Hersey’s and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership® model[8]. Without knowing it, Mr. Schaeffers personal journey[9] follows the pattern, only to miss one stage. The most difficult however is not to do the right things when you are in certain stage, but to recognize the need to change your leadership style.
And second source is not as much framework, as it is an extensive resource of dimensions, which are by nature very practical suggestions what to keep in mind when developing your leadership capabilities. These are available in many books by John C. Maxwell[10].

Overall, there are not as much “eureka” moments discovering new unexplored areas of change as there is a need to re-revise these concepts and more importantly – practice. Of course, there are some areas where I feel myself more confident than others, but even evaluating me within Maxwell’s 21 laws of leadership is too ambiguous, as I said earlier. However, I do know which my objectives within each framework are. As being more in the Analytical quadrant in “Bolton’s people styles” model, my objective is to become more of a “chameleon” – thus being able to communicate with others in their quadrant. In more general character building everything starts with developing and re-figuring your vision, objectives and goals and step by step back from there. In leadership development the objective is simple – to recognize the patterns better and then try to apply the gathered knowledge.

So the action step in order to accomplish these objectives naturally follows: it’s PRACTISE! It is not possible to become a great leader overnight. As I said, and for me it is definitely true, it is not difficult to learn the theory about what you should do in a situation, but it is more difficult to recognize the right situation. But I have to say I have made some progress, so I know this practicing also works, so I plan to continue.

[1] Zaleznik, A. (1977). „Managers and Leaders Are They Different?” Harvard Business Review.
[2] Prentice, W. C. H. (1961) “Understanding Leadership.” Harvard Business Review.
[3] After some research it appears to be the concept taken from Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton’s book “People Styles at Work”, AMACOM, 1996. Another similar method that I have used called DISC Profile is available at www.discprofile.com.
[4] Zaleznik, A. (1977) “Managers and Leaders Are They Different?” Harvard Business Review.
[5] Khurana, R. (Sept. 2002) “The Curse of the Superstar CEO” Harvard Business Review
[6] Covey, S. R. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”; Covey, S. R. “The 8th Habit – From Effectiveness to Greatness.”
[7] A decent overview of this model can be found here.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Schaeffer, L. D. (Oct. 2002) “The Leadership Journey” Harvard Business Review
[10] E.g. Maxwell, J. C., Ziglar, Z. (1998) “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.” Nelson Business, Nashville.

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