The Leadership Shop

A Leadership Tidbit

“Remember the difference between a boss and a leader; a boss says “Go!” – a leader says “Let’s go!” — E.M. Kelly

Unlike Kelly, Henry Miller is inclined to point the way instead of accompanying people; but both authors are clearly suggesting that there is somewhere to go. Miller said, “The real leader has no need to lead – he is content to point the way.” The message of interest here is that there is somewhere to go, a mission; and the leader needs to know where that is. Leadership literature generally stresses the importance of having a vision, a clear sense of where the leader is headed. This vision takes the form of a mission, a destination that is pursued with energy and passion. You are “here” and are going “there.” Of course, “there” is a good place to be, better than “here.” Leadership, then, implies movement, a shift in the situation or circumstances. Leadership success is reaching the destination, achieving the mission, getting the job done.

It’s interesting to consider alternative paradigms to explain the phenomenon of leadership and leaders. At a minimum, the current paradigm is directional and future oriented. Leadership moves from “here,” the present and less desired condition, to “there,” the more desired future condition. The leader has the knowledge, skills, and ability to “cause” the movement, the change in conditions. The current paradigm is action and change oriented. Action leads to change and that change is attributable, in part, to the leader. What if leadership were alternatively understood as a protective phenomenon? Instead of leading people anywhere, leaders simply help people avoid screwing up and prevent failure.

First, the would-be leader affiliates with people who are interested in benefits and opportunities similar to those of interest to the would be leader. You can call this the what’s-in-it-for-me” (WIIFM) principle. It may be more money, freedom, winning the Super Bowl, safer streets, greener grass, happy children, or whatever works for a particular group of people.

Next, if the WIIFM principle is operational in the group, leadership turns on the Pooling Principle. Here, group members pool or converge their talents, skills, abilities, resources, and whatever else they can bring to the task of actualizing the collective WIIFM. To maximize the shared benefit of the Pooling Principle, one or more group members are usually designated to manage the In/Out Principle. If an individual adds to the Pooling Principle, he is In and if not, he is Out. New group members are recruited and ineffective group members are eliminated, to the end of maximizing the Pooling Principle.

Here comes the leader. He/she is not necessarily someone with more to add to the Pooling Principle than anyone else. Rather, the leader has special skills and abilities that enable him (or her) to recognize whatever jeopardizes the WIIFM Principle. Success is a product of group action. The group will be however successful it can be, assuming it does not screw up or fail. Preventing that is the job of the leader; and as you know, some people are very good at protecting others from their own inattention or incompetence.

Is this a good alternative leadership paradigm? It may or may not be. The cool thing is that it shows that an alternative paradigm is possible. If one is possible, more are likely at hand.

The Gurus Say

lanchard, Ken, John P. Carlos, and Alan Randolph. The 3 Keys to Empowerment: Release the Power Within People for Astonishing Results. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2001.

To create a culture of empowerment, people must behave in different ways than would commonly occur in a hierarchical culture. In many ways, this change of behavior involves a movement from dependence on the leadership of others to independence from, or interdependence with, external leadership. This requires a shift in the traditional leadership paradigm. Rather than seeing leaders as directing, controlling, and supervising the behavior of others or even supporting, encouraging, and facilitating their efforts, the desired situation is one where the necessary direction and support come from individual and team initiatives.

People with information concerns don’t want to be sold on the change; they want to be told about it. They don’t want to know if the change is good or bad until they understand it.

…morale, which is the team’s motivation, confidence, and cohesion.

This first stage of the process of changing to empowerment is filled with excitement combined with anxiety and a lack of knowledge of what empowerment means for the behaviors of everyone involved. According to Situational Leadership II, this stage is a time for providing clear direction to focus people’s natural but naive enthusiasm.

Boundaries that exist within a hierarchy and with which most people are familiar tell people what they cannot do.

Now contrast this with boundaries of empowerment that clarify for people the range of actions and decisions that they can make.

Essentially there are two categories of decisions to focus on at first: strategic decisions and operational decisions. It needs to be made clear that strategic decisions will continue to be made by senior leadership. What team members will decide are operational matters, focusing initially on less complex and involved decisions but gradually moving toward more complex and involved decisions.

What good is accomplished if an individual succeeds and the team fails? By tying team responsibility to organizational performance, the systems of the organization begin to support the empowered efforts of the teams–indeed, to demand empowerment from the teams.

It is natural for people to begin having serious doubts about the veracity of empowerment. Team members doubt the leadership’s sincerity, and the leadership doubts the people’s ability to ever take responsibility for their actions, with team leaders caught somewhere in the middle.

Especially with regard to a new person, time must be spent providing that person with the direction and clarity of how this team operates and how this person must adapt to the team. But the team must also reorient itself on how to work with this new member instead of the departed member. If the two people are quite different in style and skills, the team will have more trouble with this integration process, but nevertheless, it must occur if the team is to stay empowered.

Why not be the best you can be and help others around you to be magnificent as well?

A Success Tidbit

Failure Is Merely An Event

“A man may fall many times, but he won’t be
a failure until he says that someone pushed him.” — Elmer G. Letterman

The psychology of success and failure is complex but not
particularly hard to understand. It starts with personal responsibility. Unless
you accept the responsibility for failure, you can’t take the credit for
success. Either you are the agent of your life outcomes or the victim of people
who are pushing you down. What Letterman didn’t say is that, if you blame
others for pushing you down, people other than you deserve the praise for
pushing you ahead.

Separating yourself from what you do comes next. As William D.
Brown put it, “Failure is an event, never a person.” Your success and failure
aren’t who you are. They are merely what you do. S.I. Hayakawa expanded on the
same theme, “Notice the difference between what happens when a man says to
himself, ‘I have failed three times,’ and what happens when he says, ‘I am a
failure.’" The key is in how you manage life’s events, not in the events
themselves. Robert Allen expressed it like this, “There is no failure. Only
feedback.”

Now consider what you do with the feedback life provides.
Napoleon Hill observed, “The majority of men meet with failure because of their
lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which
fail." It’s not enough to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and climb
back on that horse that threw you. You need a better plan for staying in the
saddle. Sure, getting up and starting over is tough. Yes, that damn horse may
throw you again. Indeed, your new plan may not work any better than the old
one; but it’s like Beverly Sills said, “You may be disappointed if you fail,
but you are doomed if you don’t try."

Thomas Edison managed the disappointment this way, “I have not
failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work;” and Samuel Beckett had a
similar persistent optimism, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” With role
models like Edison and Beckett, you can hardly go wrong, so long as you keep
trying. As Charles F. Kettering put it, “One fails forward toward success.”

George E. Woodberry knew the essence
of success, “Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true
failure." Continuing effort is seldom elegant or easy; but Elbert
Hubbard’s simple point may be all you actually need to know, “There is no
failure except in no longer trying.” With that said, Mary Pickford gets the
last word on the psychology of success and failure, “Supposing you have tried
and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose,
for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying
down.”