The Extraordinary Leader, Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders, The Complexity Of Defining And Describing Leadership Or Why The Mystery Exists, Part 3


“16. Language has an impact.  Is the lack of adequate language partly responsible for the mystery that surrounds leadership?  Inuit, the indigenous people of northern Canada, have some 23 words to describe snow.  They can describe its hardness, texture, moisture content, color, age, and crystalline structure with their richer vocabulary.  We, on the other hand, have roughly three words at best, as we talk about powder, slush and corn snow.  It is possible that if our vocabulary were more precise and robust, we could better succeed in describing what leadership is, and how to more effectively develop it?  Given our current condition, leadership is still nearly impossible to define or describe in detail or specificity.”

Personal comments:

I would guess that everyone who reads this blog has at one time or another wondered why we do not have richer vocabulary to discuss important, or even not-so-important issues.  Some can see leadership when it is present,  and write about it,  and talk about it,  but I’m not able to define it generally, accurately or simply.  This blog has attempted to convey characteristics of leadership with real-life examples, and I hope I have succeeded in in some measure.

Remember that leadership is not always identified by a title.  There are many examples of leadership behavior, not always with good intent, by some who seemed to have a “sixth sense” about what was required.  It’s not easy to determine how that happens, but these folks were influenced by some thing or someone.  Too many, on the other side of the equation, wander through life without getting beyond “me, myself and I”.  They miss the “world” of successful people interaction, communication, with the resulting benefits.  Changing their focus would have opened their hearts and minds to the greater need; helping others succeed, cope, or survive.  Life has been difficult for some, and a word, look, or a helping hand may have been what was needed to give them a feeling of hope.  This is leadership at its best.

Next: The Extraordinary Leader

Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders


The Extraordinary Leader Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders, The Complexity Of Defining And Describing Leadership Or Why The Mystery Exists, Part 2, continuation of leadership variables


Authors quotes:

“9. There has been no way to define the different constituencies of the leader.  Thus, if a leader is in charge of ‘baby boomers’ this would call for some different values, motives, and skills than if the leader was responsible for a group of ‘Gen-Xers’.

10. Still another variable is whether the leaders is operating alone versus acting as part of a leadership team. There are organizations in which one person plays a dominant part and exercises control and influence over the big issues.  Other organizations have a leadership team that acts in concert.

11. A further dimension is the impact of technology.  Effectiveness in some organizations would demand a high level of comfort with the latest computer and information technology, while others would tolerate a leader who could neither send nor receive email.

12. Another dimension of leadership is one of geography.  Some interact with virtual teams, while others have their staff all under the same roof. Further complicated by time zones.

13. Another variable is the wide variety of leadership styles used within different organizations to motivate and inspire the frontline.  Jon Katzenbach in his book Peak Performance describes very different approaches used to get high performance from people within.  Five of these he describes:

-Mission, values, and pride.  Immerse everyone in the traditions, the spirit, the core values, and the mission of the organization.  The Marine Corps is a good example.

-Recognition and celebration.  Practice extensive recognition for their people.  Southwest Airlines is a classic example.

-Process metrics.  Many organizations post charts showing productivity and quality metrics.  People are trained to understand them, and the organization’s success are measured and rewarded by performance against these metrics.

-Individual achievement.  Other organizations excel by allowing individuals to accomplish extraordinary things

-Entrepreneurial spirit.  Still another approach is to let people enjoy a huge financial stake in the potential success of the firm.

This is a good example of the complexity of leadership.  All five approaches work well.

14. Who decides those who are good leaders?  We have been unclear regarding who is in the best to evaluate leadership effectiveness.  We have studies showing no correlation between performance appraisals yet the research has shown that subordinates were in the best position to appraise any leader’s effectiveness.

15. Several ‘companions’ of leadership effectiveness have clouded the issue.  For example, all of the following have been shown to have some correlation to leadership effectiveness:

-Intelligence, as measured by IQ scores

-Physical characteristics, such as height

-Emotional or personality characteristics, such as assertiveness and outgoingness

-Biochemical characteristics, such as testosterone levels in men”

Personal comments:

Brief comments on 10, 11, 14, and 15:

The key to #10 is that the leader surrounds themselves with competent, motivated individuals fully supporting mission, vision, goals and strategies.  Another key element is that those, the leader chooses, be cautioned against back-biting (example, demeaning others in the group).  Not working as a team member eliminates that individual from the group.

My experience with #11 is that a leader who can’t do basic tasks is not tolerated for long.  That person should be coached to be able to perform at least at a minimum level. Then maybe, dependent on others for more complex task work.  Leaders should not be given a pass concerning ignorance on simple tasks at the expense of other employees’ responsibilities, and tasks.  It’s demeaning.

#14 requires significant training for subordinates if they are expected to appraise their bosses performance.  This process is full of land mines which, if not dealt with (explanation and training), will lead to incalculable results, some of which may destroy a potentially successful leader.

Next: The Extraordinary Leader

Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders

The Complexity Of Defining And Describing Leadership Or Why The Mystery Exists, Part 3

The Extraordinary Leader, Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders, The Complexity Of Defining And Describing Leadership Or Why The Mystery Exists


Authors quotes:

“Everyone recognizes the challenge of trying to solve any problem that has multiple unknowns in it.  The is precisely the problem in trying to solve the leadership dilemma.  There are at once a significant number of unknowns, and many of them are constantly changing.  Sixteen of those variables are described below.

1. There are differences in the leadership behaviors and practices required at different levels of the organization.  What we need from the CEO is different than the leadership requirements of a night-shift supervisor.

2. Leadership occurs in extremely diverse environments.  Some leadership produces prescribed results in a relatively defined and established organization.  Such leadership may speed a product to market, but is not conceiving new directions or strategies for the organization.  Other leadership is exhibited in a start-up organization where there is no structure or form.

3. Different skills are required at different stages in a person’s career.  The research on career stages shows that people’s careers go through very predictable stages.  Some start as apprentices, learning a new discipline then move to more independent work. Then some move into management positions.  A handful of people become pathfinders and visionaries who lead broad-scale organization change.  Career stages are easily confused with organizational levels, but they are not identical.  Those promoted into managerial positions often continue to function as professional, individual contributors.

4. Leadership is driven by major events.  Mayor Giuliani of New York was catapulted into the national limelight as a result of the 9-11 terrorist attack.  Churchill had sought several leadership positions, but it was not until the events of Dunkirk (WWII) that his talents were recognized.

5. The activities of leadership are not all the same.  For example, not all leaders are required to ‘lead change’.  Some leaders spend a great deal of time on people development activities, while others are riveted to operational or production elements.

6. We confuse success and effectiveness as the general benchmark of leadership.  If success is measured by dollars and titles, that is clearly not the same thing as effectiveness, or truly producing the results that the organization needs.

7. We lack agreed-upon measures, so it has been frustratingly difficult to get agreement on who is a good leader and who is not.  We lack robust measures of leadership effectiveness, and especially have no comprehensive measures that track the leader’s impact on customers, employees, organizations, and shareholders.

8. We have not taken into account the evolving nature of leadership.  That is, we have analyzed leadership around the characteristics that are required for success or effectiveness today, but have not given much attention to the competencies that will be required for the future.”

Personal comments:

Variables 6, 7,  and 8  should be the responsibilities of organizations’ boards, but aren’t, for various reasons.  I attended one company’s board meetings, regularly,  and it was clear the focus was not on 6, 7, and 8.  One board member attended just for lunch and cookies.

I also believe that many organizations are not equipped to think at this level, or even consider it important.  There is though, more of the, “lets go along, to get along mentality”, which fosters, as examples, mediocrity, loss of good people, less-than-stellar results.

Next: The Extraordinary Leader

Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders

The Complexity Of Defining And Describing Leadership Or Why The Mystery Exists, Part 2

The Extraordinary Leader, Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders


Personal comments:

Jack Zenger’s and Joseph Folkman’s book was published in 2002.  It focuses on methods to develop leaders from within an organization’s own ranks, key competencies (the ability to do something successfully or efficiently) that leaders must have, and practical steps in developing leadership skills.

Posts related will cover significant portions, but not the entire book.  It is a lengthy, and  would take a significant amount of time to cover in its entirety.  Those interested, in that much detail, will buy it.

The first post will cover, “The Complexity Of Defining And Describing Leadership Or Why The Mystery Exists”, but it will take several posts to cover the sixteen reasons given.

The next series of posts will cover, “The Leadership Tent” which addresses the book’s key competencies; Character, Focus on Results, Interpersonal Skills, Personal Capability, and Leading Organizational Change.

Some discussions are lengthy so sections will be brief to retain interest.  This book is an excellent resource for succession planning; large or small organizations.

Next: The Extraordinary Leader

Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders

The Complexity Of Defining And Describing Leadership Or Why The Mystery Exists