the blog of dan pontefract | The Real Beauty In Leadership Happens By Going Above And Beyond
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The Real Beauty In Leadership Happens By Going Above And Beyond

“Compassion leaves an indelible blueprint of the recognition that life so sorely needs between one individual and another; one nation and another; one culture and another. It is also valid for the road which our spirit should be building now for crossing the historical abyss that still separates us from a truly contemporary vision of life, and the increase of life and meaning that awaits us in the future.”

– Laurens van der Post

gs1This is the final post in a three-part series that aims to define new and improved leadership attributes using a tree as a metaphor. Recall the roots of a tree were the “becoming” leadership attributes and the trunk of the tree were the “being” leadership attributes. This final post outlines the real beauty of a tree – the branches and foliage – as the “going beyond” leadership attributes.

A leader capable of demonstrating the three components to a tree is one that is proficient not only in terms of inclusion (becoming) and open execution (being), but one that is magnanimous and panoptic. Simply put, this final stage to the metaphor ensures a leader is seeing the big picture in his or her team. The leader is looking out for the goals and objectives both for today, and the future. It is the ability to nurture the team to greater heights coupled by an acknowledgment that we grow through the development of one another.

It is the branches and foliage of General Sherman (our tree hero example) that creates the beauty of our metaphor. By moving beyond, the leader shifts to a third level that drives the entire team and/or organization to incredible new heights. It is the sense of green and foliage that creates a leader who is much more than a tactical leader for they are truly a leader of humanity. This “going beyond” leader is a navigator of the human condition.

The five attributes that I believe make up the “going beyond” leadership attributes are as follows:

  • Coaching
  • Measuring
  • Adapting
  • Exploring
  • Bettering

Coaching

Coaching is an ongoing informal conversation with the employee that focuses on providing the following:

  • counsel on current objectives and actions to categorically improve the result;
  • feedback concerning their progress or improvements on Flat Army habits; and
  • advice on personal and/or career advancement or opportunities.

In summary, to demonstrate the attribute of coaching is to assist your team member — and to help them improve — with issues going on at work, on the personal development front and with respect to career development. That’s it! It’s an ongoing and informal discussion with your team members, albeit individually, to help them get better. The problem is too many human resources professionals, consulting shops and accrediting institutions have whipped organizations into a frenzy just by the mention of coaching. We must demystify the term in order to bring some sanity back into the definition of leadership and to the definition of coaching.

Measuring

Leaders are wise to begin measuring their various actions (personal, team, unit, organization) if they want to go beyond a standard level of leadership. It’s not simply about quantity but also of quality. But how? Financial and other quantitative measures are pervasive in today’s organizations. That’s not a bad thing. But, we must add another component to the attribute of measuring, and that is to ensure qualitative measurement is on an equal footing with quantitative business metrics. To measure is to take into consideration the soul of the employee. Measuring is not new, but the equal weighting of both quantitative business metrics and qualitative humanistic metrics might be for leaders to go beyond. In describing the African humanist philosophy known as Ubuntu — a philosophy focusing on people’s allegiances and relations with each other — Nelson Mandela said: “[Ubuntu is] the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others.” If only we could measure it.

Some questions to consider include:

  • Are people in your organization working more collaboratively together, communicating more efficiently and feeling as though more cooperation is happening?
  • Are your employees satisfied with senior leadership, company direction and strategy, corporate social responsibility and community efforts?
  • Are team members being asked about concepts like life-work balance, career development opportunities, their feelings on the state of compensation, work processes or organizational learning opportunities?

Exploring

Exploring is the ability of an individual to deviate from the norm, to look outside the box, and to play devil’s advocate in any given situation. It’s to be a well-rounded leader, thinker and person. Exploring encourages leaders to be a contrarian. If looking at situations or problems the same way, time and time again, you’re simply not exploring the options from different angles well enough to make a discernible difference for anyone.

Henry Mintzberg uses the expression “Worldly Mindset” to depict a leader who takes advantage of external environments to further one’s leadership competence. He writes:

Should we not, therefore, be encouraging our managers to become more worldly, defined earlier as experienced in life, in both a sophisticated and practical way?

Leadership (and going beyond) is about exploring with the employee what’s going on in his or her role, in an effort to help both sides of the newly formed relationship. By exploring, you are imparting your wisdom, understanding and insight with respect to your role and how it impacts their role. And conversely, you are there to explore the intricacies of their role so as to learn and bring back that value to your own role and responsibilities. It’s a way in which to break down the organizational silos while simultaneously building culture, engagement and competence.

Adapting

What is evident in the business world is steadfastly simple to some and eerily overlooked by others. A failure to adapt, to anticipate or to possess continual flexibility in previous decisions will be the unnerving undoing of an organization. The company formerly known as Research in Motion (RIM) and makers of the Blackberry smart phone line is a classic example. Former co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis were innovation machines, producing technology products that were snapped up in droves by their customers. But an unwillingness to adapt or to look ahead and predict what was going to happen in the smart phone market ultimately led to their resignations in early 2012. The company is currently trying to pull off a corporate rescue for the ages. It’s a rather desperate quest of adapting, but only time will tell if it’s too late.

How does a leader better adapt?

  • The future happens every day, get used to it: leaders need to be continually uncomfortable with the status quo.
  • No road is ever smooth: anticipate bumps and barriers so others can succeed in changing business conditions.
  • Uncertainty is not a negative: explore options, dig into possibilities, get creative and be relentless to improve.
  • Do not stay on the white line: shift priorities or approaches to address needs of today and the future.
  • Perfection is not the goal: adapting to change and progressing forward is how to be perfect.
  • Others don’t own the future: be accountable to yourself. No one will adapt for you.

The words of Alexander Graham Bell nicely summarize the adapting attribute for a leader aiming to go beyond: “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

Bettering

In the 2012 Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte, North Carolina, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech, some argue, for the ages. It painted her husband, President Barack Obama not as the President of the United States, but as a true leader of the people. She depicted a graceful, loving and empathetic man who clearly possessed the entire suite of attributes we have been describing in our tree metaphor: becomingbeing and beyond. One line in particular stuck out for me:

“Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”

We might take some creative license with her words and suggest the attribute of bettering in our framework is as follows:

“Success isn’t about how many direct reports you have; it’s about how well you are bettering your team and the organization whatever the situation.”

Who cares how big your team is or your organizational girth. The goal is not a larger team, it is making that team — whatever the size — the best it can be. It is the leaders responsibility to assist team members to hit their professional or career pursuits. And the truly connected leader will take interest and provide counsel on personal endeavours as well as we discussed in the coaching attribute. Likewise, it is incumbent upon connected leaders to refrain from invoking a culture of status quo. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, said, “Good is the enemy of great,” and it is this phrase leaders should tattoo onto their foreheads. Bettering is improving. This is the essence of moving beyond status quo leadership.

In summary, and to conclude this 3-post exploration, I truly believe that to be a better leader, one ought to look at a tree and think of the three main parts as key levels of leadership:

The roots (becoming attributes – read more here)

  • Trusting
  • Involving
  • Empathizing
  • Developing
  • Communicating

Trunk (being attributes – read more here)

  • Analyzing
  • Deciding
  • Delivering
  • Cooperating
  • Bantering

Branches & foliage (going beyond attributes)

  • Coaching
  • Measuring
  • Adapting
  • Exploring
  • Bettering

If the leader were to hone his or her skill in the attributes where he/she believes they are deficient, I’m certain the horrid state of employee engagement would begin to inch upwards.

Note: originally posted to Forbes

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