A Leadership Tidbit
“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you will help them to become what they are capable of being.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
There are many theories that attempt to account for leadership excellence. The opening quote is, perhaps, the most widely accepted foundation of leadership excellence. If one expands beyond excellence to leadership more generally, a close examination of the various theoretical constructs discloses that they are consistently developed either from the perspective of the leader or from that of those who follow.
If developed from the perspective of the leader, the theory emphasizes the traits and characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of the leader. Leadership excellence is primarily a product of leaders who exhibit more of the desired traits and characteristics and avoid the less desirable traits and characteristics.
If developed from the perspective of those who follow, the theory emphasizes leadership strategies and techniques that encourage and maximize the strengths and individual talents of those who follow. Leadership excellence is primarily a product of leaders who are able to fully actualize the excellence potentials and capacities of those who follow.
Careful attention to these apparently opposing perspectives quickly reveals that they are not separate perspectives. Rather, the second is merely an extension of the first. Excellence leaders are leaders who exhibit traits and characteristics that motivate those who follow to fully participate in and contribute to the shared enterprise.
Leadership behavior then combines with associated thought processes that support and focus the desired perspective. For leaders who believe that leadership excellence primarily depends on personal traits and characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, thinking focuses on how to personally and more specifically manifest those traits and characteristics thought to be associated with leadership excellence.
How do leaders behave in various situations? How do they interact with those who follow? How do they approach and handle problems and challenges? What traits and actions differentiate leaders from non-leaders?
A commitment to leadership excellence is, then, a commitment to thinking about and answering these and similar questions. Excellence leaders ask, successfully answer, and in turn, implement the resulting directives implicit in the answers.
For leaders who believe that leadership excellence primarily depends on strategies and techniques that encourage and maximize the strengths and individual talents of those who follow, thinking focuses on how to encourage those who follow to personally and more specifically manifest the behavior thought to be most clearly associated with the success of the enterprise.
How does a leader motivate those who follow to accept and actively pursue the articulated mission of the enterprise? What needs to happen in order to assure that those who follow commit their full energy and capacity to the success of the enterprise? What techniques and strategies are necessary to maximize the contribution of each follower in relation to his (or her) individual skills and talents? What environmental and situational factors need to be manipulated to minimize avoidable loss of energy, skill, and follower focus and to maximize the actualization of the productive potential of those who follow?
Again, a commitment to leadership excellence is a commitment to thinking about and answering these and similar questions. Excellence leaders ask, successfully answer, and in turn, implement the resulting directives implicit in the answers.
On the one hand, the answers and associated directives are in terms of definable traits and characteristics of the leader. On the other hand, the answers and directives are in terms of factors and conditions related to the performance of the followers and associated strategies and techniques needed to optimize those factors and conditions.
Increasing leadership excellence is, thus, thought to depend either on improving the performance of the leader or on increasing the participation and commitment of the followers. Although both approaches are separately productive, leadership theory has moved to combine the approaches. Current theory posits that leadership excellence is best achieved when the leader concentrates on maximizing personal leadership traits and characteristics while concurrently implementing strategies and techniques to increase the participation and commitment of followers.
Considering this dichotomous understanding of leadership excellence as it applies to decision-making is instructive. How are decisions made and who makes them? At one extreme, decision-making is autocratic. The leader has absolute authority and makes all decisions. He (or she) may ask others for advice, information, and suggestions, giving the impression of participation. Nonetheless, the leader decides. The quality of decisions thus depends exclusively on the judgment of the leader.
The opposite extreme is not consensus or some other type of group decision-making, as one might at first think. Rather, the opposite extreme is chaos. All participants in the enterprise act on their individual judgment and initiative. Even if each participant makes all decisions from the perspective of the perceived best interest of the enterprise, and they likely will not, the resulting chaos is, at a minimum, counterproductive.
If one looks at decision-making with autocracy at one extreme and chaos at the other, leadership excellence falls within a fairly narrow range between the extremes. If the leader moves too far toward autocracy, psychological theory suggests that the followers will become alienated and functionally constricted. Their performance will be less productive than it might otherwise be. Alternatively, if the leader moves too far toward chaos, sociological theory suggests that the enterprise will become fragmented and increasingly dysfunctional.
Defining the excellence limits within the decision-making range is certainly open to debate and disagreement. Even so, the reality of the range is obvious and the importance of leaders thoughtfully functioning within the range is clear. Excellence leaders do not move outside the range toward either extreme.
One could debate the relative benefits of intentionally shifting leadership behavior toward one end of the excellence range or the other. For example, is it better for the leader to be more autocratic or less autocratic? Is it better for the leader to defer more to the judgment of the followers or for him (or her) to defer less to the followers? Should the leader delegate more decision-making responsibility to the followers or less?
The debatable aspects here not withstanding, excellence leaders maintain their leadership behavior within a relatively narrow range of actions and approaches. Exactly where they function within the acceptable range likely depends on the individual leader’s personality, individual strengths and skills, personal preferences, specific circumstances and conditions, and on a mix of other factors. The reality is that the effectiveness of the leader is unrelated to where his (or her) functioning falls on the excellence range so long as the leader does not move outside that narrow range.
Just as there is a fairly narrow excellence range with respect to decision-making, there are acceptable excellence ranges for other aspects of leadership functioning.
For example, strategic planning for the enterprise needs to proceed within fairly narrow limits. At one extreme, planning can be so conservative that there is no real change or growth over time. Alternatively, planning can be so unconstrained that change becomes non-sustainable and chaotic. The success of the enterprise depends on the capacity of the leader to pursue strategic planning within those excellence limits, although that success likely does not depend on the leader’s position within the excellence range.
Competent leaders understand and function within the multiple excellence ranges related to the success of the enterprise. Their competence level is not related to where they function on any specific excellence range. Rather, it is derived from their demonstrated ability to continuously maintain their behavior and functioning within acceptable limits on all of the relevant excellence ranges concurrently.
If leaders are judged in terms of current theoretical constructs, most people in positions of leadership are very successful. The reality is that, for the most part, leaders do stay within the excellence ranges associated with the enterprises they lead. Their styles and approaches vary significantly but nonetheless only vary within fairly narrow ranges. The apparent variety is mostly a product of the multiple excellence ranges, individual variations within and among the ranges, and the personalities and individuality of the leaders.
The Gurus Say
ordas, Juana. Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2007.
It may be said that leadership is changing from an individualistic, self-centered orientation to a We or other-centered orientation.
Leadership in this context is not a vehicle for individual advancement, but instead is based on a collective orientation and responsibility.
Leaders … must keep the cultural memory alive–linking past, present, and future so a sense of continuity, wholeness, and hope for the future is nurtured. They must also build a circle of leaders in which everyone has the opportunity to lead and many people are involved. Thus, the community capacity continues evolving and a legacy of leadership is created.
Reconciling the past, having gratitude for what one has today, and being optimistic for the future nourishes continuity and community integration. This supports the circle of leadership in which today’s leaders shepherd future generations and honor the foundation laid by those who have come before.
But today, effective leadership requires the ability to acculturate, which allows people to be receptive, skillful, and adaptable to other cultures while staying centered in their own.
A Success Tidbit
Get Out Of Your Way
“Make up your mind to win and nothing
else.” — Norman Vincent Peale
Peale believes that all the resources you need to succeed are in
your mind. If you expect to succeed, you likely will. If you think you will
fail, you probably are right. Peale counsels you to expect success. Pealeisms
have a powerfully positive ring. Always play with abandon. It is always too
soon to quit. Conditions will shift in your favor. Faith cures fear. Are you
climbing aboard Peale’s winners’ express? Do you believe you can succeed? Dr.
Peale knows you can succeed. You can if you think you can. Stinking thinking
leads to hardening of the attitudes. Zig Ziglar is at least as colorful as this
Ziglarism. In How to Get What You Want, Ziglar quickly cuts to the chase.
"If you don’t think you deserve success, you will do things to keep you
from getting it."
How do winners who know they deserve success get their get up
and go up and going? Ziglar contends they start from where they are with what
they’ve got. They do not wait for something to change or for things to get
better before deciding to succeed. They just get on with it. They go as far as
they can see, knowing that once they get there they will always be able to see
further. Ziglar combines his self-motivation philosophy with personal goals and
a zest for people helping people. On personal goals, Ziglar zeros in with a
total lack of subtlety. You cannot reach goals you do not have. You cannot
reach someone else’s goal; you can only reach your own. Thinking you are too
busy is stinking thinking. It is not the lack of time that is the problem, it
is the lack of direction. Either you think you deserve success and go for it or
you will get cooked in the squat which is even worse than it sounds. "You
will get everything in life you want if you just help enough other people get
what they want." For Ziglar, this is the nub of personal goal setting. It
is both the value and the direction. More eloquently, Ziglar says, "You
don’t climb the high mountain by yourself; it is in conjunction with others
that you really accomplish the major things in life." If you look, think
and behave like everyone else, you will look, think and behave like everyone
Michael LeBoeuf calls his success philosophy Imagineering. Your
uniqueness is your ticket into the winner’s circle, according to LeBoeuf.
Getting to the circle to be admitted is your personal creative challenge, the
problem before you. But waiting on an inspiration is useless. Start on the
problem and then the ideas will come. Inspiration, LeBoeuf advises, usually
comes to those who have done the groundwork.
In Blow Your Own Horn, Jeffrey P. Davidson shows he knows about
the ways of winners. You are your own marketing department, according to
Davidson. In one sentence, what is it that you are marketing; what is it that
you have to offer the world? If you do not know, no one else is likely to care.
Peter F. Drucker makes a similar point when, in The Frontiers of
Management, he says, "It is your vision or its absence that shapes your
future." Drucker sees success itself as the ultimate test of success; and
your personal vision is the key to your status as a winner or loser.
In Developing Winner’s Habits, Denis Waitley adds meat to the
wishbone of goals and personal vision. Waitley insists that winners never let
anyone know they are scared or unprepared. Winners act like winners; they
project confidence. Waitley’s strategy is to find one good idea to pull your
trigger on, remembering that there is still plenty of time to win but never
enough time to lose. Attack the problem and never the people.
Roger Fisher and William Ury in Getting to Yes join the
unanimous chorus of success experts in emphasizing the importance of people
skills. Fisher and Ury give their attention to negotiating; but their main
points could equally apply to almost any success opportunity. Focus on
interests, not on positions. Invent options that benefit both sides. Use
objective criteria, not opinions or emotions.
Mary Heideman joins the chorus when she counsels winners to take
responsibility for people processes. For example, in Winning Over Stress
Heideman says, "Do not be a stress sponge, absorbing the stress of others,
thinking you should fix their stress." Being a stress spreader and
participating in pity parties and gripe sessions also are not the ways of winners.
In Coping With Difficult People, Robert M. Bramson extends the
repertoire of people skills for winners. Do not automatically respond by trying
to solve difficult people’s problems. Do not automatically agree with difficult
people even if you think they are right. Never argue with difficult people.
Always feed back the difficult person’s main points before you do anything
else. Be calmly assertive and do not let the difficult person run over you.
The range of people tips and techniques emanating from the
success chorus is impressive. They extend to every detail of your personal and
business life. A tidbit or so more will suffice for now, though.
1. People do not want to know what you cannot do for them; they
want to know what you can do for them. From Developing a Powerful Telephone
Image; Dave Winter.
2. Start by asking the person what’s the problem? They will
likely tell you. From Turning Marginal Employees Into Productive Employees;
3. Know what you want, who can give it to you and how to get it.
From How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less;
If you always judge new experiences based on past experiences,
you will never have any new experiences. Kevin J. Murphy in Effective Listening
may have found the ultimate secret of success. Implicit in Murphy’s pithy
insight is the kernel from which all other success secrets may have grown. Make
up your mind to win and nothing else. It’s a new game. The score is tied:
zero/zero. It does not matter how you did before; today you succeed, today you
Stinking thinking leads to hardening of the attitudes. It’s past
thinking, worn attitudes and dated approaches that smell so rotten. Dump the
garbage and start afresh. Success requires new thinking, new attitudes, new
approaches. To paraphrase LeBoeuf, if you look, think and behave like you
always have, you will look, think and behave like you always have. Here is the
problem. It’s a new game, things are changing, the world moves on. You either
develop a new look, new ways of thinking, new ways of dealing with events or
you will fall back, be forced back with the other losers.
You have committed to success, you
have dumped the mental garbage, you have new ideas and approaches. What is the
problem? What is getting in your way? The answer to this question is the last
key to your door of opportunity. Separate the people from the problem. The only
person in your way is you. Get out of your way so you can attack the real
problem, realize the success you deserve.