12 Observations on Leading

I had a mentor that strongly encouraged all of his front line managers to consciously develop and formulate a personal philosophy of leadership. He saw it as his mission to teach and develop; and he would provide book excerpts, quotes, and lessons learned that he used to develop his own philosophy. One of the lists that I ultimately adopted as my own was from Gordon Sullivan & Michael Harper.  What I love most about the list is the focus on the difficult task of leading individuals and forming a strong team.

  1. There are no universal truths. Each person you work with is unique. Each organization is unique. The leader, today and tomorrow, must be aware of that and must continually tailor his or her behavior to the situation at hand within a consistent framework of values.
  2. Leading means understanding that “we” are “they”. This is the beginning of accepting responsibility for your own actions and for the team.
  3. Be yourself! The best leaders act out of their own set of values and their own intellectual construct, and with their own style.
  4. Leaders respect people. The hardest decisions involve people – people who have family and friends affected by the things that happen to them. Treating people with dignity and respect is the only acceptable framework in which to make the hard decisions.
  5. Good leaders have a sense of humor, a healthy respect for the lighter side of life. The best leaders are unambiguous about what they are serious about, but they do not try to be serious about everything.
  6. Good leaders make time for themselves, family, and other interests. You need to sustain broad focus, keep the personal needs of your team members in perspective, and sustain your own personal renewal. Read more of this post

Top 10 “Must-Do’s” for a Front Line Leader

This is a checklist that has served me well as the front line leader of many organizational turnarounds .

  1. Must be the Leader and set the example for the organization
  2. Must re-shape the work environment and the organizational culture
  3. Must formulate concrete strategy and long-term objectives
  4. Must develop and execute annual operating plans
  5. Must establish and enforce standards of performance
  6. Must make tough decisions and address the real issues faced by the organization
  7. Must allocate resources to achieve your strategy
  8. Must teach and develop direct reports
  9. Must build an organizational identity
  10. Must take responsibility to execute the agenda

Whether or not your turnaround succeeds ultimately depends on employees embracing new strategies and tactics. And that won’t happen without a non-stop employee engagement campaign that requires your complete commitment and involvement. So, starting on Day 1 you have to communicate how you are going to operate and what it will be like to work in this new organization. Constant communication is really inseparable from the act of leadership itself.

You must also remember that while you are establishing a strong foundation for the future,  you have to deliver some early wins to ensure that you are able to stick around for the long-term. Once you show a commitment to the organization and start breaking them from a habit of losing, your turnaround is well on its way to success.

Top 8 Distinctions between Manager and Leader

Warren Bennis once created a whole list of distinctions between manager and leader, some of the following may be helpful.

  1. The manager administers, the leader innovates
  2. The manager is a copy, the leader is an original
  3. The manager maintains, the leader develops
  4. The manager focuses on systems and structure, the leader focuses on people
  5. The manager relies on control, the leader inspires trust
  6. The manager has a short term view, the leader has a long term view
  7. The manager asks why and how, the leader asks what and why
  8. The manager has her eye on the bottom line, the leader has her eye on the horizon

Leaders focus on employee engagement – inspiring trust, developing people, and creating an organization that is innovative and looking at the horizon. Another way to summarize the list is that managers “do things right” and leaders do the “right thing”.

How good was your last hire / promotion?

“One reason the Roman Empire grew so large and survived so long – a prodigious feat of management – is that there was no railway, car, airplane, radio, paper, or telephone. And therefore you could not maintain any illusion of direct control over a general or a provincial governor. You could not feel at the back of your mind that you could ring him up, or he could ring you, if  a situation cropped up which was too much for him, or that you could fly over and sort things out if they started to get into a mess. You appointed him, you watched his chariot and baggage train disappear over the hill in a cloud of dust, and that was that. There was therefore, no question of appointing a man who was not fully trained, or quite up to the job; you knew that everything depended on his being the best man for the job before he set off.”

Anthony Jay

Hiring, training, and developing leaders has to be a core competence of any organization. Unfortunately, the current economic environment has made this a bit of a lost art. People are seen as being easily replaceable and poor hires and untrained managers can set your efforts back months, if not years. Before your next hire or next promotion, think about them disappearing over the hill in a cloud of dust.

5 Realities of Leadership

  1. “He who wishes to be obeyed must first know how to command” – Niccolo Machiavelli
  2. “No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and hearts of his men” – The Infantry Journal, 1954
  3. “The most important quality in a leader is that of being acknowledged as such” – Andre Maurois
  4. “Rank is an appointed position. Authority is an earned condition. Rank is decreed from above. Authority is conferred from below. Authority vanishes the moment those who bestowed it stop believing, and trusting the appointed boss” – Ted Levitt
  5. “A leader must believe in teamwork through participation. He can never close the gap between himself and the group. He must walk as it were, a tightrope between the consent he must win and the control he must exert.” – Vince Lombardi

You may have been given a title by the organization, but ultimately it is the people who will determine if you are a leader. If the time comes that you no longer command their respect, your usefulness comes to an end and your authority to lead is gone.

Leadership: Defining Moments

Everyday Leaders make decisions. The most important and difficult decisions occur when someone has to choose between “Right” and “Right”. These are  what Joseph Badaracco calls “Defining Moments”. While either decision can be viewed as the right decision, the one you choose defines who you are and what you stand for.

A Simple Example

A 9-year-old child tells an administrator that she is to go home on another bus with a friend but doesn’t have a note, you could either:

1)      Follow the standard procedure and tell her that she should have submitted a note at 8:30 am. Since it is 3:00 and since she didn’t provide a note, she must go home on her regular bus. If no one is home, she can go back to the bus depot and wait until someone picks her up. OR

2)      The office can call the emergency contact numbers to verify which bus the child was to go home on. Once verified, she leaves school as planned on the other bus with her friend.

Now, either choice can be viewed as right. You have a procedure to follow to protect the welfare of the child and if you had to call home every time it would be unmanageable. On the other hand, the child is trustworthy and these new arrangements, confirmed by the friend, were made because no one was home to greet the child.

Choice 1 defines you as someone who prides discipline and strict adherence to the rules in order to protect the child.

Choice 2 defines you as someone who cares about the child and recognizes that a call to confirm can avoid a stay in the bus depot.

Which would you choose  and why?

Leadership and Results Orientation

“It’s not enough that you do your best; sometimes you have to do what is required”

Winston Churchill

Early in my career, whenever we communicated a probable miss in the production schedule and told our manager that we were “doing our best”, he would pull out this quote (we never missed a single unit!). “Failure is not an option“, made famous in the Apollo 13 movie, is another way to put it.

As a leader, setting the right tone is critical to create an entrepreneurial and innovative organization. People can achieve great things when you focus them on the goal and encourage them to stretch beyond what they believe is possible.

Leadership Cornerstone: Integrity of Character

“The final proof of the sincerity and seriousness of management is an uncompromising emphasis on integrity of character. For it is character through which leadership is exercised; it is character that sets the example and is imitated. Character is not something a man can acquire. If he does not bring it to the job, he will never have it.”

Peter Drucker

An organization is always watching, analyzing, and assessing a leader’s actions with one question in mind –  is this manager worthy of my following?

Accept the Challenges Inherent in a Leadership Role

“It’s not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

One of my most cherished possessions is a plaque enscribed with this quote. It was given to me at a going away party by my manager as I prepared to take on my first general manager role. It serves as a reminder that leaders must lead.

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