Monday, September 12, 2005

The Essence of Leadership

The latest Working Knowledge has an article on leadership by Jonathan Byrnes. I'm always a fan of insights into leadership. I am always on the never-ending quest for the best definition of leadership I can find. This presents problems when someone asks me to define a leader versus a manager. This article attempts to bridge the gap a little.

Byrnes talks about a few things: ambidextrous leadership; leading paradigmatic change; (this is Harrr-vahhhhd people, it just can't be called "change", we must use "paradigmatic" in front of it at all times); the 8 essential characteristics of paradigmatic change and then asks the age old question of are leaders born or created.

Ambidextrous leadership involves the capacity to execute within the current business model (in the article he used "business paradigm") or "the way we do business" [today] while reflecting on the model and finding ways to improve it and manage that change process to a beneficial outcome.

In order to implement change, especially wholesale changes in the way you do business, not, for example, changing the brand of copier paper you use, you need eight characterisitics according to Byrnes:
  • Capacity for passion. You must WANT to make things better. You need passion to get you through the grinder that is change management.
  • Perspective. You have to be able to detach and view what you are doing while you are doing it. I think Jim Collins refers to this as the balcony and the dancefloor. You have to be able to step off the floor and view things from above (the balcony) every once in awhile.
  • Creativity. You need innovation and creativity to visualize new and more effective ways of doing things. Assuming you have achieved enlightenment while sitting in the balcony.
  • Organization skills. You must be able to translate your vision into a step-by-step PLAN. No plan means you are just wandering around. Your people will not let go of the old on their own. You have to GUIDE them.
  • Teamwork. duh.
  • Persistence. Passion gets you started. Persistence gets you through.
  • Open-mindedness. A good leader needs a high level of tolerance for ambiguity. Sometimes you have to make it up as you go. But if you have a good plan, this is OK.
  • Integrity. Being genuine. Being motivated by your deeply held values to make your company and your team better off. This is where passion, persistence and teamwork come from.

Byrnes closes with the born or bred question. He does make a good point earlier on:

Can you be a good leader without being a good manager? In my experience, the best leaders are also great managers, and the best managers have strong leadership capabilities. To be successful, you must have both a passion for improving your organization and the capability to drive your efforts through to completion.

Byrnes takes the safe way out, which is good and is what I believe. Natural leaders have important CORE abilities. But Caesar just didn't wake up one day as Caesar. He trained. He studied. He learned. He developed. Most likely he learned how to convert his vision into an action plan.

The rank and file CAN develop their leadership skills by working at it as well. They have to learn to be ambidextrous. They have to be excellent at the day-to-day. They have to go beyond that and determine if they have the heart and the desire to be uncomfortable for prolonged periods of time while conceptualizing and leading the change.

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