Leadership: the Missing Ingredient

Having been brought up in a family with a father who had been in the army (like many others of my generation) and having started work in traditional British companies I always thought that leadership was something that naturally conferred by position. In other words, I made the mistake of assuming that Boss = Leader.

I vividly remember the first time I encountered the radical idea that this was not so. It literally shook me to the core. I was further not only told, but shown, that leadership could come from anyone with the vision to see what needed doing and the energy & passion to try to do something about it.

Here then are two key ingredients of the Leadership function

  • Vision (an understanding that things can/should be different and better)
  • Passion (and the ability to inspire it in others)

However, things have changed in the last decade or so and managers are more sophisticated, so they are used to some of the ‘management speak’ around Leadership, but has that really changed things? I would venture to suggest that in most cases the answer is “No!” How many real leaders have you worked with?

Most people are too busy being busy, and just trying to get things done. For most managers, their days are filled with meetings and initiatives and reports, all of which are meant to make things better, but ask yourself, do they really?

Memos and meetings too often substitute for leadership (or even real management). How many times have companies decided to change things? They may even have brought in expensive external consultants who produce glossy reports explaining what is wrong and what needs doing. There are charts, presentations and maybe even training, but how often does what you get look like what you were promised?

So what is the problem then? There are two components missing. The first of these in sometimes called Adoption and sometimes Installation. This is the step beyond Implementation where the changes become a true and integral part of ‘how we do things’

The second is the focus of a true leader on results. If the change has not delivered the expected benefit, then it was either wrongly conceived in the first place; or not yet properly implemented and installed. You have to pick the right things to do, then ensure that they are done.

Imagine this scenario; there is a fire (and pretend for a moment that you can’t just dial 999 and pass off the problem to the Fire Brigade), what does a leader do? He (or she) certainly wouldn’t write a memo. He (or she) would probably go through the following sequence (albeit very quickly, and perhaps almost subconsciously):-

  • Analyse the problem
  • How big is it?
  • What are the dangers?
  • What are the likely consequences?
  • Review options
  • Assess resources available to deal with the situation
  • Communicate. This might involve asking for others opinions and knowledge
  • Decide what needs doing
  • Ensure that it is done (both to attack the cause and mitigate the consequences)
  • Make sure that it is working (is the fire actually out yet?)
  • Review; both the results of the actions and the damage done

Make more and longer term plans (and at this point the cycle begins again

This is a simple (and perhaps obvious) example, but it illustrates the difference between real leadership and what normally happens. Too often leaders’ decisions (even when they are right) are not implemented and adopted. They consume resources but deliver few benefits and this is used as an excuse for not bothering because ‘we all know there isn’t any point, nothing ever changes…’

Our Leaders are too often too busy, and 80% of their (usually long) days is consumed wading through things that can never deliver any real change or benefit. Leaders need the time to lead, and the wisdom to know when they aren’t doing so!

So if Leadership consists of seeing what needs doing, deciding the best person to do so and then ensuring it is done, shouldn’t a Leader perform this function for themselves? Who else can see what needs doing and focus the resources on that issue? Leadership can be shared, but never delegated. If you aren’t steering your ship…. Who is?

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” Rosalynn Carter

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” John C. Maxwell

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