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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Oldude59 said...

Over the years I've thought some about leadership and I concur with the definition you outlined I suggest that leaders come in a couple different flavors.

Dwight Eisenhower, once said that the essence of leadership is to make people do what
you want them to with as much will, determination and enthusiasm as if they had decided for themselves.

Another perspective describes the relationship between the leader and the led as a framework of exchange relations. Leadership in this view is expressed in the leader’s ability to make his or her people aware of a link between effort and reward…. In essence he/she is a sensitive psychological diagnostician who accurately discerns subordinates’ needs and expectations and responds to them accordingly.

There are several other views I've come across, but I've defined for myself my role as leader that you might take a look at Authentic Leadership

As always I'm interested in your reflections.

James said...

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

I don't think that this statement would apply to all types of leadership. I'm thinking in terms of Charles Lindburgh. His skill and daring lead to the inspiration of many people to take up flying and continue to pinoeer the frontiers of flight.