“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.”
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