Any organization can function with effective managers if the goal is to maintain the current path and preserve tradition. For those seeking to create an organization with a culture and performance that distinguish it from others, leadership is a must. Unfortunately, much of what has been written about leadership arrives with electric amplification, synthesizers and full
re-verb. It is hard to distinguish the essential melody and the harmonics that last until we strip it down.
Need for leadership at all levels
The need for leadership is not confined to a handful at the top of the pyramid. Strong leaders need to exist at all levels. People resist being “managed,” but seek and thrive under effective leadership. Organizations with embedded leadership are, as a rule, the ones that respect the dignity, autonomy and self-esteem of the followers. It is easy to see why people “sign up” with such leaders.
Examine and Manage Yourself
“All of the effective leaders I have encountered…did not start with the question, ‘What do I want?’ They started out asking, ‘What needs to be done?’ Then they asked, ‘What can and should I do to make a difference?’ They constantly asked, ‘What are the organization’s mission and goals?’
‘What constitutes performance and brings results in this organization?’
They were extremely tolerant of diversity and did not look for copies of themselves. But they were totally intolerant when when it came to a person’s performance and standards. They submitted themselves to the ‘mirror test’ that is, they made sure that the person they saw in the mirror was the kind of person they wanted to be, respect and believe in.” – Peter Drucker
The journey to sustain excellence in your service area involves working with and serving people every day. What are you doing to make sure your people enjoy the journey and your clients enjoy using the services you provide? Good leaders inspire people! They find a hundred unique, energizing ways to make their mission live in the minds of their people. What can leaders do at all levels to keep the mission fresh and exciting?
“Always do what is right. It will gratify most of the people, and astound the rest.” – Mark Twain
Vision without action is daydreaming. Don’t wait for others to do their part. As a leader, they want to see you walk your talk every day. Commit to ongoing effort to gain information, skills, and wisdom in order to: 1) support the team; 2) decide the issue at hand; 3) support the strategic vision.
John Zenger has described leadership across six behavioral dimensions.
- Leaders create value through communication.
Leaders are particularly articulate and persuasive when it comes to important issues that bear on the values and mission of the organization. Leaders focus on the issues that can connect them to their followers: the high quality of the product, their dedication to customer service, their commitment to the dignity of all employees. They focus on the values that appeal to employees, enlisting them in the noble cause that gives meaning and purpose to the work.
Strong leaders do not communicate on a “need-to-know basis”, telling people only what they need to do their jobs. Instead, they use every opportunity to gather and give (or seek) information. They transmit truth to everyone, even when it is difficult to receive, in a caring and sensitive manner.
- Leaders develop responsible followers.
Leaders take steps to make the people they work with feel responsible for what happens. They do this by involving others, seeking advice, asking for information and soliciting solutions to problems. They provide frequent positive feedback. They initiate measurements that calibrate progress.
By involving people, leaders make them feel more powerful. They encourage people to be self-reliant and take action. Empowerment is not a call for anarchy; it is directed autonomy. People are empowered to fulfill the mission of the organization or unit, and customer satisfaction is the watchword.
“Empowerment is not real unless it is sandwiched between mission and measure.” – Quinn Mills
The best leaders recognize that strong associates are a must. They foster and thrive on the success of others. People in almost every organization can recall events surrounding a small team tackling an enormous project. The task was usually crisply defined and challenging. And the teams were infused with purpose by their leaders, who set lofty expectations of their people. It is the task accomplishment that builds character.
- Leaders inspire lofty goal achievement.
The effective leader begins by accepting personal responsibility for the group’s accomplishments and objectives – with no excuses. Leaders radiate high standards of accomplishment, communicate their trust in their team, and build confidence with positive feedback.
“Excellence isn’t a sometimes thing. You have to earn it and reearn it every single day.” – Vince Lombardi
Leaders mine the goal in their peoples’ values and enthusiasm. They let the commitment and values of others be as contagious as their own. Individuals bring a rich set of perspectives and skills – and good leaders know their people as individuals. It helps them build high performance units.
- Leaders model appropriate behavior.
Leaders earn their followership in part because they symbolize the values and norms of the groups they lead. When leaders fail to send clear signals or when they say one thing and do another, their effectiveness as role models is seriously jeopardized. Leaders know that their people emulate their behavior. If they move quickly, the group will pick up the pace. If they slow down, the pace slackens.
When difficult times arise, people look to their leaders for reassurance. They need a calm, steady hand at the rudder that is capable of taking action, but never precipitously.
- Leaders focus attention on important issues.
Leaders don’t often manage by the seat of their pants. They ferret out key issues and tough problems. Then they focus attention on them. They ask questions that turn the searchlight on the issue, not on placing blame. They build forums to debate serious issues.
Next, leaders bring intensity to the issue. Cynicism and optimism are both contagious. Leaders project confidence that the game can be won. They do this by helping everyone work smart on real priorities, and stressing early problem solving when there is much to do. Leaders know that only a limited number of targets can be pursued at any one time. They carefully choose, therfore, what to emphasize. They don’t announce that some issue is of prime importance and then never mention it again. What you ask about is what you get!
“If you are not serving the customer, you’d better be serving someone
who is.” – Jan Carlzon
- Leaders connect their group to the outside world.
A leader serves as a link to the rest of the organization and to the rest of the world, both giving and getting information. That function is difficult for anyone else to perform.
Research on effective General Managers (the ones who are really leaders) reveals that they have multiple and myriad contacts with the various communities that effect their organization. Strong leaders operate from an “open systems” model, that is, they realize that there is not a single cause and effect relationship to most issues. Rather, we live in a world of interconnected stakeholders, any of which can impede or abet our progress.
Leadership is Inspirational
Leaders need unwarranted optimism. That is, if everyone knew what you know about the obstacles, they might resign. But leaders inspire group members to acknowledge their creativity. This story is told about the need to inspire others. When you had dinner with Gladstone you thought he was the most brilliant person in the universe. However, when you had dinner with Disraeli, you thought you were the most important person in the universe.