Last week I had the good ‘misfortune’ to attend a breakfast presentation on leadership development.
Why the misfortune? While making ample use of the term ‘leadership’ our speaker talked just about senior management – the territory he told us he has successfully occupied for a good part of his career journey.
For me the ‘good’ was that his presentation prompted some introspection and a refresh of my understanding of what ‘leadership’ really is.
Our speaker saved himself some inconvenience by stating early on that he would not define the term or ‘leadership development’. He then talked mainly about what senior managers do to get ‘their people’ to deliver what the organization requires, presenting a solo leader model as the way forward.
Our own inconvenience is that - in the age of big data and instant and universal access to almost any information - there is a revolution going on in the understanding of what is effective leadership – and it doesn’t build on the solo leader approach.
Our performance models are rapidly moving away from ones that rely mainly on the performance of a single person to point the way to ones that share the leadership role – thus drawing on the diverse talents and perspectives that come together in any work group.
So how can we define leadership in this world where many different factors impact on decisions and behavior?
Try ‘Leadership is the action within a group that creates the will or way to achieve a common goal’
With that understanding you open up the opportunity to draw on the talents of all in the group to lift performance.
Leadership can come from anywhere in the group – the accounts clerk who speaks up as she is uncomfortable about the time assigned to the upcoming budget review, the quiet technician who puts forward an idea for a time saving IT work around, the senior manager who reminds the team of a looming deadline – all are leadership actions.
However, it can be a challenge as it requires high levels of interpersonal skill across all members.
Individuals need to know when they are best to step forward and have the confidence to do so.
They also need to know when to step back and let the spotlight fall on someone else.
There needs to be willingness amongst all to acknowledge others’ talents and to draw these out.
It requires a clear understanding by all within the group as to what its common goal is.
Time needs to be given to allow for these interactions
Time also needs to be allocated to developing these skills – perhaps a more effective definition of leadership development than our speaker worked to.
Or forget it all? It’s much easier as manager in charge in a busy organization to speak with confidence, wave the arms, quote your own experience and find quick solutions.
That might work in a crisis but certainly not in day to day operations.
Sure, senior managers are leaders - and important ones - who carry the responsibility of maintaining the organizations forward momentum but they are not the only ones. They miss out on a lot of assistance and limit the organizations performance when they see it as their role alone to provide the ‘leadership’.
It is understandable that this solo leader model still has currency in many organizations and, help us, in leadership development consultancies. There is a revolution going on right across our work world.
Think of the internet, team based learning methodology, work dress codes, social media marketing, job sharing, lifelong company pension schemes....
In rapidly changing situations first reactions are typically to hold on to what we know and what has worked for us so far. It is time and education that help us develop new frameworks and ways of behaving.
Effective leadership is changing its shape as we move away from the well established solo model to one that draws more fully and effectively on the rich variety of talent and experience that come together in any group. While we may not all be managers we can all be leaders.
It takes time and money to grow the skills and attributes that underpin this emerging style. But in performance terms it is a very effective investment.
So where are you, where is your organization at right now?
At your next weekly meeting, project review or away day take some time to record how the talking ‘air time’ is shared and who asks the questions. An effective manager who appreciates the abilities of the team around her will give talking space to all team members and draw out ideas and actions plans by asking lots of questions.
And have your questions ready at the next breakfast presentation.