It shouldn’t be lonely at the top

Teaching others to step forward a core part of leadership

How many leaders does it take to change a light bulb? Nobody knows — they don’t do implementation. It sounds like a silly joke, but it could be a serious insight. Organizations had better find out which it is if they hope to keep corporate leaders relevant in a changing world.

Most HR practitioners have some leadership development responsibility in empowered organizations. But in support of empowerment, many have made the mistake of trying to separate leadership from management.

“Leaders lead with vision and charisma while managers manage with measurement and control,” is a common mantra that can be heard on day one of many leadership development programs. And then, just to add to the fun, empowerment training tells managers and staff that they are now to be proactive leaders. This confusing message has served to isolate the true organization leaders from their teams and from the real task of organizational achievement.

Solving this dilemma starts with a clear definition of corporate leadership as helping an organization understand itself so well that its members proactively align with, and pursue, a desired common goal. This approach works for most groups, from a global supply chain to a temporary workshop improvement team.

The next step is to define leadership development activities that support this definition.

“Leadership development’s real focus must be on creating a learning environment that supports leadership at all levels,” said Susan Flynn of Tidewatch Consulting in Toronto. “Some of our most important work in developing constructive cultures involves helping managers learn to manage working conditions to encourage all employees to exhibit more leadership. The result is that leadership broadens, encompassing many different personalities and experience levels, not just a few exceptional individuals.”

Not to discredit the world’s exceptional, charismatic, visionary leaders who get much deserved exposure in the media, but they are not leading most of the companies. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani recently promoting his new book entitled Leadership, has stated that most leaders are made, through training and experience, and not born with exceptional traits. This means the typical organization toiling away in its search for excellence has ordinary leaders who very much need to use the basic tools of management to get the job done. Let’s look at some of the most important ones.

Strategy development: The typical leader needs the help of all corporate management talent, key staff and a few outsiders to create and implement a vision that resonates with everyone.

Organizational communication: Communicating commitment means being in the right place, at the right time, with the right message, for the right people, using the right words and actions, through the right processes using the right communication technology. To say this never-ending challenge doesn’t require ongoing management of people, process and technology is to totally misunderstand the task.

Performance measurement: Many leaders learn the hard way that even when they effectively communicate a vision, the parade behind them will mysteriously dissipate without carefully managed measures to sustain it. These cannot be delegated to the management ranks alone. Top-level leadership involvement is required in critical, enterprise-wide measures and incentives.

Change management: It’s amazing how few leaders fully understand that change is an ongoing management task they themselves must direct, not just an event. Change expert Peter de Jager recently pointed out on his torontotalks.org change forum that most employee “resistance” to change comes in the form of two perfectly legitimate questions: “Why should I change?” and “What’s in it for me?” They don’t know because the vision, communication, performance incentives and change initiatives haven’t been managed by the leaders expecting the change. Change management should be a core element of every leadership development program.

Randal Heide, a sales and marketing director at CN and an active participant in the Strategic Leadership Forum, a public think tank, warns that “leadership development professionals have a critical role to play in helping senior leaders understand that their management skills may have to be updated to be relevant in an empowered culture. Cutting-edge leadership practices can be completely ineffective for leaders who still use pre-empowerment management techniques with an empowered workforce. This can actually undo any progress made to date.”

Leaders must avoid the leadership and management dichotomy and stay up-to-date in both areas or they risk becoming separated from their organizations and will find they have no followers (a rather necessary condition for leadership). Putting the tools of management back into leadership development will help leaders regain their positions as “masters of their domain.”

Bob Wheatley, president of Robert Wheatley Associates, is a change coach and professional speaker. He may be reached at (905) 471-3929 or [email protected]

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