Leadership Is ...
Visionary. It is sensing possibility, “creating the worlds to which other people will want to belong” and then holding that focus, keeping the boundaries clear about what’s inside that world and what’s outside. The ability to clearly delineate the boundaries, to say and do based on clarity about priorities ensures that energy is not siphoned off by extraneous details, and that people understand and are free to concentrate on what really matters. In other words, leaders make time and space for work to get done.
Accountable. It is the willingness to stand up and say “I want this to happen and I will make it so.” And then doing it, becoming a commitment to achieving the vision. Part of that responsibility includes being willing to contain anxiety. The leader’s confidence in his or herself, the people on the team and the importance of the project or shared outcome create a kind of boundary that keeps fear and anxiety – work crippling emotions – at bay. In bearing responsibility, the leader protects the team from personal doubts and anxieties, as well as those of others. And makes the moral choices that keeps the team’s ethical compass pointing towards “true north.”
Connected. It is engaging in dialogue and deep listening, and then ensuring that the right conversations happen with the right people, so that action is coordinated and results achieved. Initially, this is focused internally as people go through the stages of team development, so that people can commit to clear outcomes and learn to manage the boundaries themselves. Then the leader’s focus shifts to the external world, to creating the connections that enhance the project or organization’s success in the bigger scheme of things, as well as recognizing how it impacts the greater ecosystem.
Leadership Does ...
Leadership sets and manages moods. It understands that there are moods that are productive, moods that are passive, moods that prevent work from being done. And it especially understands that the most corrosive mood its organization can have is cynicism. A cynical organization, while it may be extremely competent, cannot do great work. And cynicsm destroys innovation and vitality as surely as night follows day.
Leadership tells stories. Specifically, it tells the organization’s story, embedding its strategy and long-range vision into a comprehensive hero’s journey that everyone in the organization wants to be part of. This Living Story, in turn, tells people how to act and what choices to make as they proceed with business. It sets the organization’s compass for “true north,” so that, whatever the current economic terrain, people know the right direction to head, how to behave and what constitutes taking care of the tribe. At the same time, this Living Story identifies the monsters that must be faced, the dragons that have to be conquered in order to return home triumphant. And in doing so, it makes meaning of the work people have done, assigns values to their efforts and recognizes their contributions to a greater good.
Leadership manages itself. It is sensitive to context, and capable of deep listening, both inside and outside the organization. It balances what it hears from its customers (and its customer’s customer) with what it hears from its organization about capability and competency. And it walks its talk, so that there is consistency between words and actions, between organizational intention and structure, between what is measured and what is desired. It holds the boundaries and manages the context so that people are allowed to focus on what is important.
Leadership Knows ...
How to learn. In whatever sector one is leading, what earns you the right to lead is the ability to see possibilities within that domain. We usually think of it as "she really knows the business," but if she can't learn as the business (its models, its markets and the environment in which it operates) changes, then she won't "know" the business for very long. Great leaders are great learners.
People. Leaders know that they get their work done through other people, and that people need dignity - to feel that their opinions are respected, their integrity kept whole and their contributions valued. This isn't about being nice, it's about being kind - telling the truth so that people honestly know where they stand, giving the hard feedback that helps people grow, and holding people accountable for their commitments. People thrive in disciplined environments where much is expected and much is delivered.
Themselves. Leaders know that if they're not careful, their moods and feelings can "leak," or spread to the rest of the organization. They know themselves well enough to be deliberate about their moods as well as their actions, understanding that the leadership role means living under the microscope, where all your actions are observed and analyzed (just as you're observing and analyzing your leaders' actions.)
At the end of the day, people follow hearts as much as heads: they follow passion, commitment and a true sense of powerful possibility when it is aligned to sound analysis and models. Only when story and behavior sync up, when form, function and behavior align, do you get a truly galvanized, electric organization that can complete its hero's journey and make its story one of triumph.
Our View of Leadership
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