Friday, January 26, 2007

Why Most Leadership Sucks and What You Can Do About It - Part III

Last week, I ended with the invitation to send in your definition of leadership. I didn’t get many takers on that one. Levy made some interesting comments about "truth" that made me think about how I need to be more cognizant of how I use language. For my purposes, I’m inclined to use accept the 'rational-thought' definition of truth.

With that said, let’s get right to the point, our definition.

Leadership is an active relationship based on trust that improves the chance of success while mitigating the risk of failure for both the individual participants and the group as a whole.

If you find yourself thinking, "What is he talking about?" don’t feel bad; that is the typical reaction. However, if you just let go of what you 'know' about leadership and work through this definition, it will make sense.

First, 'Leadership is an active relationship…' period, end of story; do not pass go; do not collect $200. Without a relationship between followers and a leader, there is nothing to bind them together. Further, unless the relationship is active, all you have is an association of people, i.e. there is no followership so there can be no leadership. When you accept that leadership is a relationship, your focus will change and your life will become much easier.

Second, the relationship is '…based on trust...' Both followers and leaders enter this relationship because they believe their situation is or will be better inside the relationship. In other words, each member of the relationship places a part of their success in the hands of the others.

Third, the relationship '…improves the chance of success while mitigating the risk of failure…' By allowing individuals to focus on their strengths, the relationship improves the possibility for greater success for the group than the collective success of each member working as an individual. Additionally, the relationship reduces the impact of failure by providing a safety-in-numbers buffer. While people enter into leader-follower relationships because they trust it will improve their success and provide greater safety; neither is guaranteed. Nonetheless, you must recognize that this is the purpose, the 'why' of the relationship.

Finally, it is a two-way relationship that applies to '…both the individual participants and the group as a whole.'

Please note, nowhere does the definition say that leaders and followers have to be buddies, friends, pals or even like each other. Additionally, nowhere does the definition say that the relationship guarantees success. Finally, the definition doesn’t say that leaders must be clean-living, unblemished saints. It is entirely possible to make your life better by following a scoundrel who you would not trust to return your wallet if she found it on the street. The participants may not like the relationship, but they must see it as an improvement; paradoxical but true.

With that, I’ll leave you to think about why the definition is important when addressing observation three:

The skill set that brought you to the leadership table is not the same skill set that will enable you to succeed.

Put some thought into it, leave me a comment or send me an e-mail.  We'll talk more next time.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Why Most Leadership Sucks and What You Can Do About It - Part II

In Part I, I closed with three observations:

  1. You are part of the reason why most leadership sucks at your organization.
  2. When it comes to leadership, you are not and may never be a great leader.
  3. The skill set that brought you to the leadership table is not the same skill set that will enable you to succeed.

Before we get into addressing observation number three, I need to address some of the e-mail comments that I received last week regarding these observations.

First, some house keeping. In my mind, when people e-mail me, they are saying that they would like to maintain a certain level of privacy with the communication at hand, so I do not post e-mails I receive to the Blog. If you would like to make your comments public, please feel free to use the comment link at the bottom of the post.

I believe the reason I received so many e-mails and as of today, no comments, on last-week’s entry is that 100% of the e-mails were negative. The nicer e-mails went something along the lines that my observations were a bit too cynical for the sender’s taste or were divergent from their views. As for the less-nice ones, let’s just say that some people are rather creative in how they express an opposing opinion.

Now, I could say I was sorry for offending the sensibilities of some of my readers, but I have to be honest, I’m not and here is why.

First, regardless of what the Leadership Industrial Complex (LIC) has been selling you, great leadership ability is not the be-all and end-all attribute of a successful organization, project or career. Contrary to the Conventional Leadership Wisdom, great leadership is not king. In reality, adequate leadership that meets certain minimal essential requirements (MER) is sufficient, often times more than sufficient, to generate exceptional outcomes.

Second, unless you are willing to become dedicated to the truth, to accept the truth, regardless of how distasteful you find the truth, you will never fully accept the responsibility required to make the necessary changes you will have to make to become a competent leader.

Finally, if you found your sensibilities offended by last week’s observations than you’re not ready to take on real leadership challenges and this Blog may not be your cup of tea; consider coming back when you are ready to face the real world.

For the rest of you, those of you who are ready to begin addressing the shortfalls in your ability to meet real-world leadership challenges, let’s get back to observation number three, “The skill set that brought you to the leadership table is not the same skill set that will enable you to succeed.”

To understand why the skill set that brought you to the leadership table won’t enable you to succeed we need to tackle one of the most difficult questions every leader must eventually face, “What is leadership?”

Think about your definition, send me a comment and I will share my answer in the next entry.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Why Most Leadership Sucks and What You Can Do About It - Part I

Face it, leadership isn’t your strong suit. The sooner you recognize that you are in the Long Tail of leadership acumen, the sooner you accept your reality, the sooner you can do something about it.

If you don’t believe me, take a minute to think about your boss’s leadership acumen…

If you were honest and really thought your boss’s leadership ability, I’ll bet you came to the conclusion that leadership isn’t your boss’s strong suit. Did it take the full minute for you to come to that conclusion?

Still don’t believe me? Try this. Make a mental list of the top ten leaders you would love to work for, you are free to chose anyone in the whole world.

I’ll bet your boss didn’t make the list. The reality is you wouldn’t follow him/her anywhere if he/she wasn’t you boss. What makes you think you are any different?

Is it possible that your subordinates think the same about you? Is it likely that your peers think about you that way? Worse yet, does your boss and maybe even her boss think of you that way?

Take another minute and think about your subordinates…

When was the last time you thought about their leadership ability? When was the last time you worried about or worked on their professional development and advancement? When was the last time you were certain that you had developed their ability to such an extent that you had enough leadership ability under your span of control that you could disappear forever and things would keep on rolling without you?

Not forever? How about two weeks? When was the last time you felt that your people, your leaders, were so good that it was safe to take a two-week vacation fly fishing in the Alaskan outback with no Internet, no E-mail, no TV, no Cell Phone, no connection what so ever with the outside world?

Get the picture? This is how your boss views you and your peers or maybe I mean how they “don’t” view you. Either way, chance are, they’re not overly confident.

Then again, this could be a blessing in disguise; if your boss isn’t thinking about you than you don’t need to worry too much about being fired for being a poor leader.

PLEASE NOTE: If this is how you view the world, you’re reading the wrong Blog.

So, what is my point?

I have several. First, if the leadership in your organization sucks, chances are you are part of the problem so you can do something about it. Second, if you want half a chance of becoming a better leader, you must recognize that leadership is not and may never be your strong suit. Third, and finally, my hidden point, the things that you do so well, the work that got you recognized, the skills that enabled you to move into a leadership position are not going to contribute much to your success as a leader.

I’ll talk more about that last point in my next entry.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How Not to Lead - Failed Trust

The Z-list is the #1 lens on Squidoo not because of the quality of its content as much as the sources of its origin, an opportunity.

For Seth Godin, it was an opportunity to demonstrate the power of Squidoo when combined with the wisdom of the crowds through the use of Plexo. For many bloggers, it was the opportunity to tap into Seth Godin's ability to draw attention, i.e. generate a crowd. Because so many people trust Seth Godin, it was an opportunity for many readers to get some value by tapping into his take on blogs.

Things didn't go as planned: the list when viral, the voting went sour and Seth jumped ship. What started under the moniker of Seth Godin is now under the management of Ray Edwards.

This is not to say that Ray can't or won't do a great job, but you have to ask yourself, "Who is Ray Edwards? Why do I care about his recommendations?" If you signed up for Seth Godin's take on the world of blogging, this move made a less than relevant list less relevant still.

Herein lies the point in my spending so much time on the Z-List. The Z-List is a perfect illustration of the number-one mistake that most leaders make; they violate their follower's trust.

I'm not sure how much of Seth Godin went into the Z-List. I suspect his participation amounted to little more than putting his name behind the list and making a few posts on his blog.

Unfortunately, the appearance was that he was at the helm. The appearance was that bloggers could submit their blog, Seth would moderate and voting would put them in their place. The appearance was that this was an opportunity for bloggers to get a thumbs-up and for reads to get a good referral from Seth Godin himself.

Perhaps it was an unrealistic expectation, but it was the story that many bloggers/readers heard, or at least the one they wanted to hear.

In many ways, this is understandable. If you go to the Plexodex site, you'll see that moderation by a "responsible party" is the argument intended to alleviate concerns that Squidoo might become like those other voting sites.

Which brings me to the issue at hand, violating the trust of those that follow you.

If you define leadership as a relationship of trust that mitigates risk by providing direction and measure, then by placing his name behind the Z-List, Seth Godin has taken a leadership position; the same can be said of all Lens Masters.

In placing his name behind this list, he is telling bloggers that he will apply some form of measure, i.e. moderation to the list. If their site makes the cut, then a visit to their site is a good risk. Additionally, he is telling readers that he has found a good direction and if they follow him, he will help mitigate the risks of finding information about the topic at hand.

At first glance, this appears to be a fool-proof demonstration of the power of Squidoo and Plexo.

The problem is the "responsible party" did not take responsibility. When the voting started turning ugly, Seth started looking for an exit. Rather than take responsibility to contribute the time and effort required to fixing the lens, he dumped it in Rays lap.

While I agree with the tack that Ray is taking, keep out the spam and let the chips fall where they may, his actions beg the real point of the list, an opportunity to find and share a trusted opinion.

In short, Seth Godin violated everyone's trust. Fortunately, the Z-List stakes are low, but this failure on Seth Godin's part is a perfect illustration of how not to lead.

What are your thoughts?

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Take care...