September 18, 2013

The Fifteen Habits of a Connected Leader

The Italian town of Pisa is an interesting place full of contrasts. The tower, of course, has been leaning amongst a sea of straight buildings in the Piazza del Duomo that includes tall Tuscan evergreens as well as columns that have adorned the Duomo, Baptistery and Campo Santo for several hundred years.

Fine art in the various buildings is starkly opposed a gaggle of immigrants trying to make a buck by hocking souvenir trinkets of miniature ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’ replicas, Holy rosaries, fake leather bags and sunglasses. It really is beauty and the beast.

Tourists themselves parade mightily with cameras in hand amongst the old Romanesque walls gazing at this architectural wonderment whereas local Italians look on rather ambivalently to the surroundings, barely noticing the beatific stone marvels nestled amongst them.

It’s this recognition of contrast in Pisa where we must take pause and articulate a set of leadership attributes that embody contrast. I suggest there are fifteen Connected Leader Attributes necessary to invoke ‘Flat Army’ across a team and organization; where there is rigidity there must be flexibility and where there is give there must be take. Where there is the need to drive business there is the need to understand and work with people.

The Connected Leader in the Flat Army model can be thought of as an individual encompassing behaviours that invoke business harmony in their team or organization. Lowe’s Chairman and CEO Robert Niblock once said, “To be successful, we must win trust with our customers, and that means enabling and empowering our employees to earn that trust. To make that happen, we must ensure that our management team has everything it needs to earn the trust of employees.”

In other words, to earn the trust of customers we need to set up a leadership paradigm that ensures employees trust the organization. For employees to trust the organization, and its leaders, the Connected Leader Attributes within the Flat Army model are the strands of DNA that just might allow that to happen.

The Connected Leader is made up of a set of contrasts like the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, Italy full of business exactitude and unconditional humanity. But let us introduce another metaphor to help distinguish what a Connected Leader actually is in the Flat Army model.

Giant Sequoias are one of nature’s finest gifts. In terms of volume, they are the world’s largest trees and the biggest is none other than 2,300 year-old-ish General Sherman, a tree weighing over 5,400 metric tons, spanning 83 meters in height and 1,486 m³ in volume. Its roots reach out some 60 meters influencing roughly four square acres of the Sierra Nevada, California land it inhabits in beautiful Sequoia National Park.

Leaders could learn a lesson from our friend General Sherman. In fact, a connected leader might try to emulate this magnificent natural spectacle, analogously of course.

To become such a giving tree, full of life and offering for those in the vicinity, General Sherman is made up of three key elements: the roots, the trunk and the branches. The roots are the foundation for General Sherman to grow and to live. Without the roots, he would easily stagnate and possibly fall victim to various obstacles.

The trunk provides the strength in which to lead and to cast both depth and breadth. The branches are its real beauty; the green foliage and stems that flow from its trunk ensure shade, nutrients and life to others.

Let us now try to utilize General Sherman as a model and classify the Connected Leader into three distinct categories:

  • Becoming
  • Being
  • Beyond

Becoming attributes are the 5 default leadership behaviours that set the tone to act as a connected leader. Think of these as the attributes that must be in place before a leader can even begin thinking about leading in a connected and Flat Army manner. They are non-negotiable yet harmonious attributes that ensure a top-down, command and control leadership style isn’t utilized as the default way in which to lead.

The becoming attributes drive a sense of overarching relationship building and understanding between a leader and his/her team regardless of size. These attributes are the foundation; without them, no leader will ever be able to connect with their team or organization. Without them, it is also difficult to nurture either the being or beyond attributes.

Like General Sherman, the core of the tree provide the nutrients and foundation that helps one to grow and to reach new heights. Without it, stunted growth is assured and a mediocre if not futile leadership model will manifest. Becoming attributes are the installation of humanity into a leader.

Therefore, the becoming attributes are the roots of General Sherman.

Becoming a Connected Leader Attributes

  • Trusting
  • Involving
  • Empathizing
  • Developing
  • Communicating

Being attributes are the 5 leadership behaviours that ensure the leader can effectively work with the team to accomplish goals in a manner that is precise yet coupled by collective participation. It’s a way in which the leader can also create a fun and creative environment in which to operate. It is through the long and strong tree body of our General Sherman analogy where leaders help their people (and themselves) turn ideas into action.

It is the ability to help execute on the chosen path, and it comes with a responsibility to ensure the leader continues to be open and harmonious yet capable of getting things done. It is the difference between becoming a connected leader in ‘Flat Army‘ to actually being one.

Being a Connected Leader Attributes

  • Analyzing
  • Deciding
  • Delivering
  • Cooperating
  • Clowning

Beyond attributes are the 5 leadership behaviours where the connected leader becomes a rare specimen; one that is capable of not only inclusion (becoming) and open execution (being) but one that is magnanimous and panoptic. Simply put, this final stage ensures a leader is seeing the big picture in his or her team, 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, and by no coincidence, this is the beauty of our analogy.

By moving beyond, the connected 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 perfects the connected leader attributes trilogy with the General Sherman analogy.

Going Beyond a Connected Leader Attributes

  • Coaching
  • Measuring
  • Adapting
  • Exploring
  • Bettering

These 15 attributes make up the DNA of a connected leader; without them, it’s unlikely one can be truly collaborative or connected or even successful in their organization.

Originally posted to and adapted from the book “Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization”

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