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05 2013

Digging Out Leadership Facts

Syndicated from: balance-AND-results

Leadership clearly isn’t getting any simpler. The more one reads, the more it’s clear the flood of new ideas will exceed any effort to ‘keep up.’ But everyone sees ‘trends’ so presumably one might figure out where the best are going. Even that is mixed. Yet we can pick out a few pegs to hang our thinking on if we look. In this and next few posts I will try to pick out some. One ‘trends’ example shows a bunch in leadership development that seem at best just a hit and miss selection, yet they’re an interesting group emphasizing: uncertainty (definitely a fact), that people skills add 3 times more value than tech skills (shown in an increasing number of studies), leadership is becoming more collective (seen in virtually every study) and adding a new slant – one that they label ‘boot camp is out.’ Each new item someone raises adds a new idea or two. In this case ‘no boot camp’ points out that keeping everyone in a pressure cooker stresses people to the point where they can’t learn much of anything – and today continual learning and the resulting innovation are critical. People need reflection time probably more than any other item in the leadership sphere. Time is at a premium and how you choose to use it – jumping straight into action versus thinking and planning – is critical, as the brief Al-Banawi video clip linked in the last post focuses. But this is just one among many aspects. Experts like Gary Hamel are clear the environment in which we lead is becoming more complex in case we hadn’t noticed. He’s invented a new term: syndicating leadership – to describe spreading skills among more people, who need to be working together (syndicated – another stab at clarifying collaboration). He recommends pushing leadership down to lower levels throughout the organization, but adapted to it because the skill mix that works in one structure probably won’t in another (he points out Steve Jobs probably wouldn’t have succeeded in another industry, say, meat packing). Success is a complex mix of the right people in the right place, using the right skill set. And sub-skills like reflection are numerous, perhaps too much so as comments on the flaws of leadership competency models suggest. Each commentator seems to have things they promote and others they find fault with. Yes, we can come up with way too many competencies for anyone ever to manage. So are we wasting our time to try to pick out core skills or descriptions of what leaders do or need to succeed? I’m just not ready to give up yet. Simple observations lead to interesting thoughts. For instance, within the flood of work bubbling up from numerous research studies, no one seems to seriously suggest that command-and-control leadership is the most successful. Everyone promoted collaborative, positive, engaging approaches. Yet we have disbelievers every time we talk about engagement. Some of that confusion stems from overt salesmanship for competing products. One example was our HR association’s magazine offering a headline: Employee Engagement Studies are Unethical Junk Science. Once again I’m disappointed they didn’t seem to evaluate this claim critically rather than just publish it for its attention-getting inflammatory appeal. A quick check of the site it originates from shows a company that likes to debunk what others are doing to promote their own programs. Though quick to point out the weaknesses that plague most studies, they don’t entirely clarify what they suggest instead. All they’re really pointing out is just how complex (and therefore difficult to measure all of this topic is). Many versions of engagement scoring are poorly thought through, but trashing the entire concept in the face of mountains of data, anecdotes, examples, studies and thinking is a bit too sweeping to say the least. Such conflicting assertions complicate a complex subject further. It is helpful to explore the idea that no one is suggesting any longer that we train bosses to dish out commands and orders constantly and refuse to listen to subordinates (‘subordinate’ being the appropriate word to describe the all-too-common ‘boss’ attitude of the wrong sort of leader). That would seem to indicate support for the opposite idea that the opposite succeeds better – collaborative, listening, engaging leaders, right? Or am I wrong? We need to question easy assumptions. That caused me to take a look and perhaps amend this claim to ‘no one credible is suggesting absolute control leadership.’ Passing the bookstore a few days ago the title “Leadershift” caught my eye (I won’t dignify it with a link). I thought it would be about the shift toward cooperative leaders, but no, instead it’s about how all leaders in our society have failed (read bankers, brokers and politicians) and, they insist, it remains for entrepreneurs to show the rest of us the way – that is, the way back to what the book claims America’s founding fathers believed as interpreted in this book – a heavy dose of back to the future basics for sure. So there are competing opinions, though none I’ve found have much substance. Collaborative, engaging styles are here to stay. But how do you collaborate and still lead? That is the complex, contradictory question Hamel and other experts are starting to zero in on more and more. I believe there are answers and will try to make that case. 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