February 19, 2011

New Leadership Model: An Exercise in Bifurcation


p style=”text-align: left;”>My thinking, learning, and writing tends to fall into the theoretical camps that propose how technology, leadership and learning can (or should) converge to improve the health, productivity and culture of an organization.
Isolating any of them does none of us any good.

Recently, however, I’ve been spending more time thinking about the traits of an individual leader – specifically in the context of technology, leadership and learning.

Last year I wrote about “The Anatomical Dissection of a Healthy Organization”. Compared to other posts in 2010, it was one of the lesser read and lesser ‘tweeted’ posts, which in turn, puzzled me. (and not for vanity sake)

  • Perhaps it was overly complex.
  • Perhaps the title wasn’t attractive enough.
  • Perhaps people are simply bored of my musings. (probably this one)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve ploughed through several books including Tribal Leadership, The Carrot Principle, The Invisible Employee and 42 Rules for Successful Collaboration.

Between the post mentioned above, my learning and synthesis from other reading, tweets, blogs and the aforementioned books highlighted above, I’m now thinking a successful leader in today’s ‘continuous partial attention’ society needs to be split right down the middle.

Simply put, a leader needs to simultaneously execute and engage.

Ok, that may not sound like rocket science stuff, but let me explain.

The main function of a leader, arguably, is to achieve a stated goal. That goal, however it is established, will more often than not require the assistance of team members (directly or indirectly) in order to be successful.

That is, a leader must be able to execute on the goal whilst providing a nurturing, collaborative, supportive and open environment with all involved such that it’s done on time, on budget, and so on.

These two disciplines often may run into competition with one another. Perhaps the leader is overly zealous on the execution plane, and forgets to treat team members with dignity, with openness to ideas or feedback, with transparency, and with empathy or compassion. On the other hand, perhaps the leader is too far removed from the execution plane itself, focusing not enough time on the actions, deliverables, processes and techniques that help the goal to actually be achieved.

We all know leaders who have been coined ‘too soft’. Equally so, there is a laundry bag full of leaders who ruled through a ‘culture of fear’ focusing only on execution practices and not on the people.

What’s a leader to do?

  • Be both transformational and transactional
  • Employ formal processes but invest in informal and social techniques as well
  • Involve teammates and others in the decision making process; make the decision when it’s necessary and be clear as to why you have made the decision
  • Collaborate but corroborate too
  • Engage the team in the vision; empower all to execute, but reinforce scope, purpose, intent and progress at meaningful stages of a goal
  • Praise and recognize; provide constructive feedback as well and do not shy away from doing so
  • Use your heart, and your head

In summary, holistic leaders of today and tomorrow need to sort out how to both execute and engage with equal vigour. One can’t spend their entire time in a command and control environment. Conversely, one can’t spend all of their time simply being a kind hearted friend.

Leadership bifurcation is going to set apart good managers from great leaders.

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