The Myth of Leadership

“There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

In spite of the voluminous amount of literature on leadership, we know precious little about what traits, aptitudes, and styles effective leaders should possess. We have yet to reach consensus on whether leaders are born or made; whether leaders are smarter or just luckier than their followers; and, whether physical attributes play a role in who is considered having leadership potential. Leadership remains an elusive concept. If results are lacking, poor leadership is relatively easy to spot. However, even poor leadership can be spackled over if results are meet or exceed expectations. How much credit should the nominal leader get for hitting the goal targets, creating a productive culture and unleashing the full potential of their people? With unsatisfactory results, can one be considered an effective leader? Does one become an effective leader by simply being promoted to a key position in the organization? Is organizational leadership restricted to high flyers and those in key positions? Finally, is there a specific leadership style that works better than other styles? Each of these questions beg even bigger questions—is leadership restricted to a certain caste or type of person or, most importantly, is it a difference-maker? Who should get the credit for organizational success or blame for falling short of objectives? My personal philosophy regarding credit and blame is simple. When things go right, the so-called leader needs to sit down, lower his/her profile and let the doers bask in a job well done. Similarly, when things go wrong, and they will, the leader should stand up and accept accountability for missed opportunities their team failed to see or maximize. The role of the leader is to provide direction, resources, and support to his/her work unit.

An effective leader is like a good referee and coach in a sporting event. They recognize that their role is to facilitate a contest free of rule violations without becoming disruptive to the flow of the game. Similar to an athletic contest, the business game is divided into four quarters. The players (workers) responsibility is to execute the game plan. In real-time, once the game starts, the leader becomes the referee and coach. During the game, leadership should shift to the workers who must make critical decisions at game speed. The hand off of leadership to the workers is fraught with anxiety for many in leadership positions. Often, they don’t trust their employees. This lack of trust often leads to micro-management interventions that slow down, confuse and frustrate. As a result, employees often find it safest to play dumb and wait to be told versus taking initiatives they believe would result in goal attainment. Consequently, the innate leadership abilities of the employee are stifled. Outside of work, many of these employees are leaders in their social groups, churches, synagogues, and temples. Instead of tapping into their natural leadership abilities, at work, these employees are often viewed as little more than programmed automatons.

This type of top-down and command-control environment shrinks, instead of enlarging the ‘solution space’ where creativity is housed. When we don’t allow employees to “bring their whole selves to work”, we blunt both their problem solving and problem finding capacity.In a real sense, leadership is the process of inspiring and cultivating new thought leaders. As Tom Peters said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” So, exactly, how does this transformation process work? Is there a secret elixir that combines all the elements of effective leadership into a working style? The answer is yes. The two most important roles of a leader are to (1) provide timely and clear direction, and (2) be a servant leader. Imagine a triangle pointing up [ Directional leadership] and another separate triangle pointing down [Servant leadership]. Based on the literature, when combined the new triangle looks like a Diamond. Practicing Diamond Leadership ensures that people know what the destination is and that they will be provided the support and resources needed.

If we tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results.”

–General George S. Patton

Directional Leadership

The tip of the triangle is pointing up because being a leader requires that we provide direction.When we think about being the boss, our thoughts usually start with a mental image of giving directions. We think of bosses always in the ‘telling’ mode. Bosses are notorious for telling people what to do, how to do it and when to do it. While, inevitably,leadership must lead; it is unnecessary to always assume that your charges don’t know how to get the desired results. If you are a receptive and supportive boss, your people will know they can ask for help on the ‘how’ without being labeled inadequate or, worse yet, incompetent.

“He who serves the most grows the fastest.”

–Andy Andrews

Servant Leadership

This triangle points down. The direction and attention are towards the follower. If there are no followers, there is no leader. The relationship between leaders and followers is inextricable.Leaders make demands on followers. However, while not explicit in making demands, followers have certain basic expectations of leaders. Specifically, followers expect leaders to provide a vision, a hope and an environment of trust. The servant-leader possesses a high Emotional intelligence( EQ). S/he believes, at their core, that, vis-à-vis their followers, their first role is to serve them. Their posture is to keep their “ear to the ground” and listen; to be responsive and supportive; and, create a nurturing and stimulating environment that encourages the follower to exploit his/her full potential.

Diamond Leadership

The Diamond represents the merger of Directional and Servant Leadership. Once you merge these two triangles and internalize them as an operating style and principle, you are well on your way to an effective management style. You recognize that a critical component of leadership involves being able to stand up and be accountable for tough calls. Equally important, you realize that your ultimate role is to support and unlock the potential of your people. As a Diamond leader, you will radiate and sparkle as a unique and valuable asset to the organization.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do and become more, you were a leader.”

-John Quincy Adams.

Whose Job Are You Working On?

Unless you’ve given up on your career or feel that you have plateaued, the idea of getting promoted remains a driving force behind your day-to-day performance. Conventional wisdom and some empirical data suggest that the first ninety days in a new job are critical in determining if you are going to experience a ‘hard or soft landing’. Other salient factors include whether the promotion is internal or the result of moving to another company/organization.

For example, being internally promoted has its challenges. You are a known commodity in your organization. Still, your colleagues, nonetheless, have formed an opinion on your strengths and weaknesses. Being a member of the tribe, so to speak, is a double-edged sword. Put bluntly, people know you. Your body of work and your management style are public knowledge. On the other hand, if you’ve landed a higher-level job in a new company, you are an unknown commodity–except for the information your new colleagues might have picked up on you via contacts at your former company.

One arrives at a new place without the benefit of what I call ‘relationship equity’.  Relationship equity is the value that comes from knowing and working with others. The problem is that ‘relationship equity’ does not transfer to your next company–you earn it.  Again, per research, you have 90 days to start building this type of equity with your new colleagues.

In addition to building relationship equity, figuring out how to efficiently transition from the old job to the new one is critical. Regardless of whether the promotion is internal or to another company, the crucial question is “Whose job are you working on?” This issue is important because too often promotions are based on how well you did your previous job. In going through my files, I came across a document [ Author Unknown  ]that asked six questions to help determine the answer to “Whose job are you working on?”

The following six questions should be asked and answered by anyone recently promoted:

  1. Are you working on your own (new) job or the jobs of your subordinates?
  2. Are you working on your present job or the jobs you used to have?
  3. Are you preparing yourself for yesterday or tomorrow?
  4. Are you becoming better at your present job or your old job?
  5. Are you concentrating on important matters which make you a high potential leader/manager or on routine matters which lessens your potential?
  6. Have you already been where you’re going?

In summary, the mindset you bring to the new job is essential to improving your probability of success. To keep progressing your career, focus on adding value to the new job and not living off the laurels of your old job. Finally, employ processes like the New Leader Assimilation process developed at Alcoa Aluminum.

 

 

MORAL LEADERSHIP

 

Leadership is a very elusive concept. Are leaders born or are they made? Does Leadership always promote good causes and outcomes or does it traffic in the immoral or evil, at times? What caused Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein and countless others throughout history to use their leadership gifts and abilities towards such evil ends? Deepak Chopra, the renowned author, and lecturer maintains that every leader, regardless of the goodness of the cause they are initially promoting, has a ‘shadow energy’ that portends the dark side of their personalities. According to Chopra, there are seven types of Leaders: Protector, Entrepreneur/Politician, Team Builder, Nurturer, Innovator, Visionary and Saint. Chopra maintains that each of these, including the Saint, has a shadow energy. To illustrate, let us take a look at the shadow energy of the Entrepreneur/Politician type of leader, as described by Chopra.

Chopra states that the Entrepreneur/Politician, for instance, has an insatiable need for achievement, with a leadership response that is driven by ego. Their frame of reference is self-image, and they are object referred. In other words, Chopra submits, their “thinking and behavior are always in anticipation of a response. It is, therefore, fear-based.” He goes on to say that in object referral, “we always feel an intense need to control things. We feel an intense need for eternal power. The need for approval, the need to control things, and the need for external power are needs based on fear.” And, their ‘shadow energy’ is made up of behaviors based on “ruthlessness, perfectionism, intimidation, stubbornness, manipulation, control, selfishness, greed, influence peddling, power mongering, cronyism, and corruption.” This definition does not include all corporate and political leaders. However, the potential for the manifestation of their ‘shadow energy’ is always present–given the right circumstances. Every leader, regardless of the type, should always be vigilant about keeping their ‘shadow energy‘ in check.

One way to keep this ‘shadow energy’ in check is to practice what I am calling Moral Leadership. My definition of Moral Leadership is a sacred covenant between the leader and followers characterized by the leader being ethical, humble, intentional, directional and supportive. Moral leadership, when consciously and consistently practiced, will release the creative energies of the followers. By being ethical on a day to day, minute to minute basis, the moral leader sets the bar high for his/her organization. Regarding humility, a humble leader, first and foremost, listens and does not hog the credit for all the accomplishments of the group. He or she sits down and gives credit to the team when things go well and will stand up to take responsibility when things don’t go so well. Being intentional means explicitly stating why we are doing what we’re doing. As Warren Bennis pointed out, directional leadership requires the leader to “do the right thing” versus the manager’s obligation to “do things right.” How many times have we observed a group being very efficient and effective at doing the WRONG thing? Finally, the enlightened leader is supportive regarding his/her time, coaching, feedback and allocation of resources needed to accomplish the stated goal(s). Remember that a realistic and well-executed goal is always more impactful than the unrealistic, yet, well-written one.

In closing, based on my years of observing leaders, good and bad, I have come up with seven qualities that effective leaders both possess and use.

  • Initiative: readiness and ability in initiating action, enterprise
  • Intuition: a keen and quick insight
  • Insight: penetrating mental vision or discernment
  • Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles
  • Intellect: the capacity for thinking and acquiring knowledge
  • Instinct: an innate impulse, inclination towards action
  • Introspection: the act or process of looking into oneself.

Note that each of the qualities starts with the letter “I.” As Michael Jordan once said, “There is no ‘I’ in Team, but there is in WIN!”

 

 

The Annual Performance Appraisal

Some very impressive companies have announced that they are moving away from annual performance evaluations of their employees. The rationales given for this radical departure from the past are often based on aspirational statements linked to company values, recruiting and hiring the best and brightest as well as constant feedback from the manager to the employee. In other words, the assumption is that a combination of “real time feedback” and self-motivated employees will thrive in a sort of corporate nirvana. Millennials, we are told, crave and want feedback and mentoring from their managers. Can and would the elimination of the oft-maligned annual performance appraisal deliver on its implied promises?  Admittedly, the old-school practice of annual performance appraisals has some major drawbacks and inherent flaws.

The fundamental problem with the annual performance appraisal lies in the people—not in the process. Of all the energy- sapping organizational complexity that we daily face and grapple with, 80% of it is created by the people. The absence of clearly enunciated performance standards or, put another way, the failure to clearly define “what good looks like” in employee performance is the missing foundational piece. Additionally, there are managers who are incapable, afraid or unwilling to give any feedback until forced by the performance appraisal calendar to rate their direct reports.

Performance that use to be considered unacceptable, run of the mill, second-rate or undistinguished has now nudged its way into the realm of acceptable. This transformation is due to the culture of entitlement that has evolved and engulfed both our society and workplaces Too many employees believe that merely ‘showing up’ merits at least a ‘fully meets’ performance rating. And, too many managers lack the courage of their conviction to stick to this rating. A Fully Meets rating should communicate that the employee did what was expected that he/she was capable of the day they were hired. Consistently going beyond your job description is worthy of an exceeds rating. While ‘showing up’ is one measure used in identifying and measuring performance, it is not the key metric for evaluating performance.

Typically, most organizations use a rating system based on descriptive performance measures like Unsatisfactory, Marginally Meets, Fully Meets, Exceeds and Significantly Exceeds. Because the employee knows that merit pay is tied to performance evaluation, they know that any rating below Exceeds will constrict their annual pay increase. In the mind of many employees, merit pay has become something more akin to an entitled cost of living adjustment (COLA). There is a disconnect between merit or what one objectively earned through performance and the expected annual bump to their base salary. Simply doing away with the Annual Performance Appraisal event does not address the fundamental issue of how to fairly compensate employees for their performance. The challenge is how do we replace the “entitlement culture” with a “performance focused” workplace culture?

Good to great managers of people consistently work together with their direct reports to develop the individual and fairly reward his or her performance. Performance measures must be aligned with organizational goals and work unit objectives. These performance measures must look, primarily, at outputs that drive the enterprise towards reaching or surpassing its annual targets. How is it possible that most employees can be rated exceeds expectations when the enterprise is failing or falling short of organizational objectives? Outputs must be viewed in terms of quantity, quality and timeliness—and most importantly how these outputs move the enterprise forward. Sitting down once a year and giving the employee a surprise rating is both unfair and unprofessional. However, not sitting down formally once a year to give employees feedback and an opportunity to respond is equally unfair. Annual performance appraisal meetings work best when managers frequently dialogue with the employee, periodically check in to see if additional guidance and/or resources are needed and be willing to re-calibrate goals as business situations change or dictate.

In summary, instead of viewing annual Performance Appraisals as a fossil that needs to be put on the growing scrap heap of failed management techniques, organizations should require it be utilized as intended. Eliminating this process and relying on assumptions about a more enlighten workforce is analogous to the old “Emperor is naked” story. Performance appraisals are part of a process—not an event—to ensure that employees are working effectively and efficiently on the right things in the right way to achieve the organization’s business goals.

Managers must be held accountable via upward feedback from employees to the manger’s manager and HR. Data must be collected to ascertain if the manager is giving needed feedback on a consistent basis. No surprises and no confusion is my mantra. Finally, performance appraisals should focus on employee development and contributions–and not be used as a forced distribution device to “rank and yank” employees for budgetary reasons. As the erudite abolitionist, Fredrick Douglass, observed, “you may not get all the pay for, but you will surely pay for all you get.”

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