Let me kick off with a bold statement... Leadership is a verb. Not a noun. It's a series of considered actions and behaviours which have the intent of garnering willing followership For over 15 years I've been banging on about my belief that the purpose of leadership is, ultimately, to create a culture of leadership where a critical mass of the folks in the organisation commit autonomous acts of leadership. regardless of whether they have a leader's title and they consistently work toward realising their full potential. Because they know it's the right thing to do. Because they want to. Because the environment in which they find themselves ensures that they feel comfortable and supported to do so.
You see, leadership is human. You can't lead an inventory. You can't lead a spreadsheet. You can't lead a brand. They're all inanimate objects and they won't follow you anywhere. You can (and should) manage those things. But you can't lead them. To lead is to win the hearts and minds of those that would follow - to garner trust in them. And that means that leadership is all about building and maintaining relationships - with human beings. I'm not sure I've ever seen a relationship last where either party didn't 'have their heart in it'.
For lots of folks that I've worked with as a leadership coach - this notion of leadership as a relationship where there is a need to earn people's trust - has been problematic. I'd love a dollar for every manager/executive I've heard utter the words "When they come to work, they should leave their personal sh*t at home." Sure. Absolutely. Maybe they should turn off the limbic system in their brain and firewall the neurons in the hippocampus so they don't have any emotional responses between the hours of 9 and 5. Morons.
A good many years ago I spent some time in San Francisco being coached on how to coach executives by Rich Hagberg and Art Resnikoff at consulting firm HCG. Rich and his team had undertaken a study of some 511 CEOs which revealed "intriguing insights into why so many fail to inspire loyalty in their troops". In an article that subsequently appeared in Fortune magazine entitled "Rambos In Pinstripes", it was revealed "Based on CEO personality tests and evaluations from thousands of their co-workers, Hagberg's research shows that many who stumble are impatient, impulsive, manipulative, dominating, self- important, and critical of others." Yowza! I really want to work for one of those!
As many of you will have read before (and a number of you enjoyed/endured in reality) in a former life my then team and I used to run simulated Special Forces missions over 4 very long and trying days as a vehicle for learning the art of leadership - particularly in very trying circumstances. If ever there was a situation where the "Rambos" of the corporate world were likely to show themselves, this was it. For many folks embarking on this programme there was a belief (for many, a fear) that the key to success over these 4 days was going to be lots of testosterone and the kind of leadership generally referred to as "command and control". As the hours ground on however, participants found that nothing could be further from the truth. The key to success in this situation, they subsequently learned, was to consistently undertake what we would describe as "the 14 inch journey"... the journey between head and heart.
What we were teaching was that in order to truly have people step up, give discretionary effort and have a crack at realising their full potential in their role (and ideally as a human being) those providing leadership had to have a heart for their people. Genuinely care for them. Actually want them to be successes as people rather than being an automaton that just demands results. Almost anybody can thump a desk, or their chest, and create an atmosphere of "You better, or else..." That's not leadership. What was required was Transformational Leadership. In their classic text, Transformational Leadership, authors Bass and Riggio explained:
"Transformational leaders...are those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. Transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers' needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organization."
As I tend to write in most of my posts, don't get me wrong... I'm not suggesting that today's leader needs to play the role of welfare worker, tending to every life problem that a team-member is coming to terms with (or not). What I am saying though is great leaders today acknowledge that not only did nobody come to work today with an intent to fail as spectacularly as possible, in fact each and every one of us is full of untapped and unrealised potential. And if you will lead with both your head AND your heart, caring to help me be the best I can be, then odds are I'm going to give you my all.
In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge elegantly sums up the holistic approach: “People with high levels of personal mastery…cannot afford to choose between reason and intuition, or head and heart, any more than they would choose to walk on one leg or see with one eye.” Take the 14-inch journey managers. You'll be amazed at what you get in return.
(To European and younger readers, my apologies for the use of the Imperial measurement. "The 35.56 centimetre" journey just doesn't have the same ring to it!)