Leadership without the HYPE

leadership-without-the-hypeIt seems that many of the leaders whose virtues we extol do not exhibit too many of the so-called essential competencies that leadership schools and consultants are so fond of promoting.  While the competency approach helps fill classrooms and online forums as well as sell consulting gigs it probably does little to improve leadership in the workplace.

“More leaders have been made by accident, circumstance, sheer grit, or will than have been made by all the leadership courses put together.”      Warren G. Bennis

The fact is leadership is a natural part of your development as a human, or as Warren Bennis (widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of Leadership Studies) put it so succinctly; “Let me state a personal bias that Leadership is really a matter of character.  The process of becoming a Leader is no different than the process of becoming a fully integrated, healthy human being. Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.

The key message is simple: the answers you seek about leadership lie within and are unlikely to be achieved with an outside-in (competency) approach.

So let’s put leadership into perspective.

The Principles of Leadership
  • We have known for some time that leadership is the difference that makes the difference. Even as far back as Alexander the Great. His quote “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion” says it all. The extensive research carried out since that time backs up the central role of leadership.
  • What makes leaders so valuable lies is in their ability to get results through others. They do this by:
    – Providing direction
    – Engaging people in that direction
    This is the essence of leadership and is what all leaders have in common.

“Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”.           Dwight D. Eisenhower

  • There are numerous ways leaders engage people (leadership styles). Daniel Goleman, the ‘father’ of emotional intelligence (EQ), identified six leadership styles indicating that four of these styles are effective styles. He asserted that the ability to move smoothly between these four effective styles, depending on the situation, is the most successful approach. Such flexibility requires higher levels of EQ.What we can conclude from this is that there is no one right style of leadership because leadership depends on the context. Different styles will be required in different situations. And therefore the ability to be flexible will assist you in becoming a more effective leader.
  • The evidence of leadership is the presence of followers, for without followers who is a leader leading?
    The measure of leadership is in its ability to achieve superior results through others.
    Therefore, the key attribute of a leader lies in their ability to influence others.
  • As a leader you only have two ‘processes’ by which to influence – your conversations and your behaviours – and it is how you use these processes, in any given context, that will determine your effectiveness as a leader, in that context.

High Performance Spaces

How can we use our conversations and behaviours most effectively?

We recommend that you use your conversations and behaviours to create High Performance Spaces. But, what are ‘spaces’? Spaces are opened every time you communicate, whether that be in person, by phone, by email, by text, online etc.

If you make every space, you operate in, a high performance space – one where people can perform to their optimum – you will be going a long way to becoming a more effective leader.

But what makes a space a high performance space?

We believe there are five key elements to a high performance space. The space needs to be:

1. Safe Physically and psychologically safe where people can be honest and open without fear of reprisal or attack. Where people and their different views are respected. It’s safe to be vulnerable.
 2. Accessible Physically and psychologically accessible where people are able to participate. No jargon, in jokes, crudities, pace/tempo, enable people to prepare for a meeting (e.g. agenda) etc.

Safe and accessible spaces build higher levels of trust and rapport. With higher levels of trust you can have challenging conversations. Without trust challenging conversations become threatening. You will accept comments from a close friend that you would not accept from others simply because you trust they have your best interests at heart. This now opens up the space so we can be…

3. Challenging Honest and open, naming the elephants in the room. Dealing with the real issues in a safe accessible manner. Addressing the sacred cows.
 4. Productive While it’s great to have a challenging and stimulating conversation, it is worth little if nothing productive comes of it. This element of high performance spaces is therefore about actions, results, responsibilities, follow-up mechanisms etc.
 5. Connected Finally, ‘connected’ is the communication piece and is about connecting this immediate space to the broader spaces in the organisation. How does the broader organisation need to inform what is occurring in this space and how does what came out of this space need to inform the broader organisation?

Although these five elements seem to flow in a linear fashion, in reality, it is an iterative process, not linear. It is also worth noting that different situations will require different approaches to make the space a high performance space.

When any of these elements are missing it will not be a high performance space and, as a result, it is not likely you will achieve the outcomes you are looking for.

Some leaders and managers struggle with ‘safe’ and ‘accessible’ and want to go straight to challenging and productive – “they just need to do what I tell them I don’t have time to engage them –  it’s unnecessary”. As a result, these ‘leaders’ fail to develop their people. They then blame this on the Millennials or the fact that there are no quality people in this region. They wonder why they have people with so little initiative and why they, themselves, have to do so much of the work. What these ‘leaders’ don’t seem to understand is that their processes – their failure to create High Performance Spaces – lead to these outcomes.

Others are very good at building ‘safe’ and ‘accessible’ spaces but they don’t achieve much – they do not make it a ‘challenging’ and ‘productive’ space.

While still others achieve a lot in the space they fail to ensure that there is good communication into and out of the space – this reduces the effectiveness of the space and regularly causes misinformation and confusion.

Your challenge is to…

…make the very next space you enter or open a high performance space. Then back that up with the next space and so on – build a high performance organisation one space at a time.

  • How could you make your next team meeting a high performance space?
  • How could you make the difficult staff appraisal you have to give a high performance space?
  • How could you make your next client meeting a high performance space?
  • How could you make that difficult phone call, you have been putting off, a high performance space?

As you learn how to do this, in every space you open or participate in, you will be developing flexibility and the other essential attributes of a leader needed for the situation you find yourself in. Leadership occurs and is developed in daily interactions, not in text books and classrooms. It comes from within. Start now!

And remember as you embark on this journey, the measure of whether you have been successful is in the results you have been able to achieve through others.

 “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” 

Lao Tzu

Author: ATL Network