Leadership – Do You Know What It Is?

Four Pointers to Get You Started on Your Journey To Being A Leader
Researchers and authors have put in a lot to help define and understand “leadership”. Many researchers and authors have conducted extensive research on leadership traits, capabilities, behaviours, styles of leadership, skills, and other characteristics. Dave Ulrich (Ulrich D et al. Results Based Leadership Harvard Business Press Boston, 1999) categorized much of the research as:

– Who are leaders – values and motives

– What leaders are able to do – skills, knowledge and ability

What leaders do – Behaviours, styles, competencies, and habits

If one takes a look at the extensive research on leadership, one will notice that the majority of it is focused on: – the inputs to leadership and leaders, and not the outcomes – ie. What leaders accomplish.

Two factors are key to the confusion about leadership and its definition.

First, many authors incorrectly refer to “leadership” and “management” as though they were one thing.

Our experience in designing, developing and implementing management and leadership development programs, processes and interventions over the last twenty years has led to the development of The Leadership Benchmark(tm) ([http://www.nationallearning.com.au/index_files/LeadershipDevelopment.htm]), a 360 developmental tool for leaders and aspiring leaders. The majority of the research was done through focus groups with key stakeholders (participants as well as peers, managers, employees, customers, and others) that were conducted in the context of these development initiatives. Follow-up interviews, coaching sessions, and evaluations followed.

The Leadership Jason Hare Kingston, which we developed, clearly outlines that:

Leadership is distinct and different from management. It doesn’t necessarily have to occur in a formal management role.

Leadership is contextual. Therefore, it is important to consider outputs (what leader achieves) just as much as inputs (what leader is or does).

1. Leadership vs. Management

Mary Parker Follett described a manger as someone who helps people get things done almost 100 years back. This definition is still being used today by management researchers and educators. However, I think it should be changed as “one who gets the tasks done that are described in the role or position description of the organisation through the people they have been assigned.” My argument is that if a manager, you should:

Signing up for the job will make you a manager

– Leaders are only made when their people agree with them

So you are the “manager” of the organisation. People will do what you ask them to because they aren’t aware of who you really are. Only you and your team (the people you manage) have the right to give you the title of leader.

Or, in other words, your organisation gives you your “corporate”, manager’s hat. This lets everyone within the organisation know that it is you. Your team members will then present you with your leadership badge, your badge d’honneur, if they believe in your abilities.

Dennis Pratt (Pratt D., Aspiring for Greatness – Above & Beyond Total Quality Management, Sydney 1994) is my colleague and I am grateful to him for allowing us to distinguish between leadership and management. This distinction has been a key part of our research into The Leadership Benchmark. This distinction is described below:

* Leadership: It is possible to lead at all levels within an organization. To be a leader, you must create the conditions that inspire others to follow your example.

– A shared understanding and appreciation of the environment.

– A shared vision about where we are going.

– A shared set organisational values.

– A common feeling of power.

* Managing – While the leadership function is broader, the management function is narrower. Leavitt referred to leadership as “pathfinding”, and management as “pathminding”. Management is situational.

– Getting things done (task focused)

– Through people, relationship focus

2. Leadership is contextual.

The Leadership focuses solely on these four outputs by a leader in any given organizational context.

– A shared understanding and appreciation of the environment.

– A shared vision about where we are going.

– A set common organisational values.

– A common feeling of power.

Many other, legitimate, management 360 tools concentrate on the management function. Leaders are not satisfied with the feedback that they get from a standard 360 managerial profile.

3. What does this all mean if you’re a manager?

Everybody in the organisation can become “leader”, regardless of their official position. Even if you hold the title of manager, it does not necessarily make you a leader. If a fire breaksout in a building, for example, the brand-new young employee who just completed induction training and instructs people to follow evacuation procedures impecccably shows leadership just like the CEO who just announced new corporate strategies for everyone to follow.

Here’s a quick quiz to help you assess your leadership abilities. After being in your current role for about 9 to 12 month, ask yourself the following question: “Would my employees do the things I now ask of them even if they were not my manager?” If you answer “Yes”, then it is a good indicator that you are on the road to becoming a leader. Most of you will answer the question with a “Maybe”. But don’t be discouraged. While the journey to leadership is not an easy one, it can be very rewarding. You might be worried that it takes you forever to grow as a leader. However, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail waiting to prove his leadership abilities.

4. How to make yourself a leader

Our research shows that leaders become leaders when they do four things (at minimum) for us.

1. They aid us to understand and make sense out of our environment. When things don’t work out or are unclear for you, they will be able to explain the situation in terms we can understand.

2. They provide direction and help us to see the bigger picture. They help us to believe in our ability to achieve the things that we want.

3. They make us believe in the important values that we hold dear. By doing this, they help us to feel part in a group that shares these values and has the same goals.

4. They can empower us by giving us the power to make decisions about our work, life and future.

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