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November 2011 Archives

Leader or Follower

Published on: Nov 28, 2011 | Tags: General, Team Leadership

To be a leader implies you have followers and even though you may lead others, you probably follow a leader as well. Many who lead live in the middle space between leader and follower.  Once you are a leader however, you may not think too much about being a follower. You may be thankful for the person who leads you and supports you in fulfilling your responsibility to lead others.  Or you may experience frustration from a non-functional leader who is either not present or exerting so much control you have no freedom to lead. In either case, your experience defines what it means for you to be a follower and a leader.

 Leaders need followers. If you look around and no one is following are you really a leader? Before you answer the question you have to know what following looks like. The basic definition of a follower is someone who follows. Following involves an act of the will. It is a choice. You may think you are the boss and I have to follow, but if I have to follow am I really following? I have seen some who have subordinates that are not followers, haven’t you? To be honest, I have been a subordinate and not a follower.  I am equally certain that I have had subordinates that have not been followers. Leaders have followers because they understand following.

 Consider whether you are following your leader or not. If you are, why are you and if not, why not? This may provide insight into your followers and your leadership.

Thinking like a Leader

Published on: Nov 21, 2011 | Tags: General, Self Leadership, Team Leadership

In their 1985 book Leaders, Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus wrote, “Never have so many labored so long to say so little. Multiple interpretations of leadership exist, each providing a sliver of insight but each remaining an incomplete and wholly inadequate explanation.  Most of these definitions don’t agree with each other and many of them would seem quite remote to the leaders whose skills are being dissected.”  What was true in 1985 seems equally true today. Additional research has resulted in greater insight, but to date there is still no commonly accepted definition of leadership that encompasses every facet of being a great leader.

 Many types of leadership have been identified as reflected in this partial list. 

  • Visionary Leadership
  • Servant Leadership
  • Transformational Leadership
  • Transactional Leadership
  • Charismatic Leadership
  • Strengths Based Leadership
  • Situational Leadership

 Each of these leadership types has attributes that are exhibited in certain leaders and each has proven successful by leadership practitioners. It can be confusing though to determine which approach you might adopt. This may be one of the challenges you experience in determining how to become a leader. I would like to offer you a couple of suggestions that lay a foundation for you to think like a leader.

 First, lead out of who you are. Many of my clients believe that leadership requires them to become who they are not. Some avoid leadership roles because they do not see themselves as “Type A” personalities that are comfortable telling others what to do, making unilateral decisions, and leading the charge. The first step in leading is to understand yourself. Your strengths, weaknesses, preferences, personality, and belief system are a few areas you can examine. The better you understand you, the more effectively you can deploy yourself in a leadership role. Self-awareness is where leadership begins. A leader thinks about how he or she influences others.

 Second, lead others understanding who they are. If you believe leadership is the exercise of authority and control over others you may find the job frustrating and unrewarding. Effective leaders know who they are leading. If you are most effective when you lead out of who you are, then those you lead will be most successful when they work out of their individual strengths, passion, and skills.  Leaders think about how to engage people and work to understand what is important to them. Leaders integrate people into a shared vision, mission, or goal. While you may struggle to find a universal definition of leadership, you can think about how to bring who you are to those you lead in the way that results in a shared experience of success.

Thinking like a Manager

Published on: Nov 14, 2011 | Tags: General, Management, Empowerment, Organizations

The world we enjoy has been built largely through the practices of scientific management. They are not bad, nor or they wrong. The question is do they fit the needs of organizations and people today as well as they have historically. Ubiquitous discussions of change management and varying opinions of effective change process reflect the realities of organizational life today.

 How does thinking like a manager in today’s workplace impact both the one managing and those managed?  What does it mean to think like a manager? That is, someone trained to manage according to those principles that rely on narrowly defined roles for work which is planned and prescribed for the ones completing it. Measuring performance and ensuring results through coaching and counseling.  Ensuring order by exercising control though the application of policies and procedures that are canonized in the corporate handbook. As a result of generations of training and practice continuing to this day, this approach to getting work done is ingrained deep in the psyche of organizations. Many who, as an employee decry this approach, succumb to it when they become the one who is responsible to manage people.

 In many organizations thinking like a manager is as natural as breathing because it is the only air available.  The frustration I see in many who supervise others at all levels of organizations is that no matter what they try, the results they desire from their work group do not materialize. They may read a book on teamwork, take classes on leadership, and even engage a coach to help them, but in the end the result is the same. This may be because embedded deep within the mental models of those who have engaged in organizational life are management beliefs that override new concepts and application of practices. The influence of your mental model is easy to underestimate as you naturally resist, below the level of your conscious behavior, any challenge to change what you really believe about managing.  Changing your mental model creates instability and confusion we all want to avoid. This makes thinking like a manager difficult to both identify and change. To create a revolution in management requires both a significant departure from what you believe as well as alternatives you can use to change both your beliefs and practices.

 Start by examining what you believe about control. Managers typically exert control through the use of authority to achieve desired behavior. You may take responsibility to control how work is accomplished, results, motivation, and interpersonal relationships. What might change if you believe that people can exert self-control when you maintain the balance between empowerment and accountability

Does it matter to people whether you manage or lead?

Published on: Nov 07, 2011 | Tags: General, Self Leadership, Team Leadership, Management

It depends on your definition of management and leadership. Definitions matter. Definitions assign  meaning to words and meanings define actions. We have all been guilty of changing the word that we use to describe an action, but that action does not change. We talk about empowerment, but people still experience delegation. We talk about team but independence and silos remain. We write mission statements and develop visions but continue to rely on extrinsic motivation to engage people. There are many of us who use words related to leadership and management without careful consideration of how our actions define them.

 For more than ten years I have asked participants in sessions I have led why they follow leaders and the list had been consistent. While important, it is not technical skills or expertise, knowledge of the business, or position that influences people to follow. A representative list of the attributes I have heard over and over includes:

  • Trustworthy
  • Authentic
  • Open
  • Supportive
  • Fair
  • Listening
  • Consistency

 This is a reminder that what matters to people first are the personal qualities that you possess which position others to want to follow you. While you may understand your supervisory responsibility to deliver results as your primary focus it cannot be your only focus. You have to ask yourself, “What matters to the people I lead?” The primary definition that matters to people is how you, as a leader, define yourself. And while you may define yourself based on your intentions, those you lead read the definition of your action or inaction and its impact on their life at work.

 Adjusting how you define yourself can have a revolutionary effect on those you lead. Once your self-definition is clear you can return to the difference between management and leadership. Leadership is the ability to bring people together. At the workgroup level this is building those you are responsible to lead into a team.  Management by definition is not focused on the team but the individual. What do those you lead need most, someone who can lead them to come together to achieve goals and success, or someone who allows individuals to operate without consideration of how each one impacts the other? The attributes discussed above support the ability to bring people together to achieve success which is by definition,  great leadership.

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