Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In the clear absence of leadership

Ok, just a warning here folks - /rant=on

I'm amazed.  Amazed at how some people manage to climb the corporate ladder without any real ability in the discipline they are supposed to be leading and without sound foundations in the concepts and core principles of leadership.  The latter half of this statement is what I am going to focus on in this rant post today.  And I know, maybe some of this is a bit naive in my thinking.  It is a big, bad world out there where people beg, borrow and steal to make it to the top.  But honestly some people need to stop keeping their jobs and actually start doing their jobs.  If they aren't qualified, move aside please.  Yes, very naive indeed.

Oh, and in an act of shameless promotion and to tie in something I submitted to Metatalks, here is a nice background for this piece that summarizes my state of mind.

So anyway, back to the rant...

I crave real leadership in those charged with providing me direction.  It is something that I feel I have been laboring on without in my career across my various engagements with different companies.  And when our appointed leaders are deficient of core leadership fundamentals they tend to cover up for that lack of ability with just about any excuse in the book that usually equates to nothing more than busy work and spinning your resources in circles without a clear sense of direction or purpose.  Now bear in mind, I do not profess to be some maven on management style or consider myself a Level 5 leader (read Good to Great by Jim Collins for the reference, superb book on leadership and the enduring qualities of a great company - link below).  But even without having the qualities of a L5 leader, I think I can understand what those qualities look like and how they can be manifest in the daily workplace.  And I can tell you without hesitation that there is a glorious absence of it in the workplace today.

Now you may ask for examples I might draw?  I point you back to your workplace and our current economic situation or even the housing market deterioration.  Do you sell a house for three times its actual value and convince some poor soul that a variable interest rate will give them long-term stability?  The counter-argument is obvious, but why allow someone to thrive to someone else's detriment with something so fundamental as a home - the building block for a family?  Ok, so yes the buyer should have known better and done their homework.  But I think the point is valid.  Don't allow your coffers to fill if you don't think about sustainability in the long run.

The get rich quick schemes are just that, schemes.  Create rather than being a parasite.  There is such a notion as mutual benefit where everyone wins and yes it usually is harder and involves more work but is ultimately more rewarding.  I get this isn't a perfect world and that power breeds corruption, but bear with me.  Good leadership includes a socio-economic conscience as well as fiscal and stakeholder responsibility.  Vision is the indelible ability to look beyond the short term gain to have lasting and enduring results.  And vision is a core tenet of strong leadership.

From the examples of good leadership that I feel I have observed, I have noticed that not every leader has strengths in each of the key disciplines we associate with good leadership - vision, drive, dedication, charisma, strategy, planning and communicating to name a few.  That notion is entirely realistic.  It takes a true superhero to be an expert in all areas of leadership.  But the good leader, or L5 leader if I can tip my hat back to Collins for a bit, understands where they are strong and where they are weak.  They focus on their core disciplines and strengths and then manage around their weaknesses by bringing people in who have those strengths.  The concepts of command and control in just about any company exemplify this.  Just look at the typical C-level positions that exist in large organizations and think about what they are good at and how they focus on core disciplines.  It is why finance people run finance, legal people run legal, etc.  This is why we have a division of labor.  Let those that excel in areas do the work they were put on this earth to do.  After all, they are the best candidates to deliver strong and consistent results.

This notion was really well covered in the book "Now, Discover Your Strengths" by Buckingham and Clifton (also a link below to Goodreads).  The irony of this fact is that we always tend to believe, and the traditional thought behind this is, to focus on strengthening our weaknesses.  But in actuality, this is counterintuitive in many cases.  If there are areas within which we are weak, there is likely a reason for it other than a practiced hand.  Natural ability and pure talent have a way of making themselves clear when you sit down and really think about the type of work you do.  How many times do you realize that you can whip through a certain type of task?  Is it because of repetition that beat the concepts into you or true, innate talent?  If it is a skilled task, I'm willing to bet on the latter.

With that rationale and to bring this long winded rant back to topic, if you appoint someone to a position of responsibility with decision making capabilities and approval limits, and that person proves themselves worthy of such mantle, why would you need to second guess it all the time?  That is what I see in modern leadership.  Maybe it is an innate lack of trust.  Perhaps if said leader is incapable of sound leadership fundamentals, it is bread of mistrust resultant from a fear of being discovered for what you really are.  Perhaps this is even further complicated by the compiling of a need to do far more with even less resources in a strained economy that our senior-most ranks are too distracted to notice.  And to me, this is sad and extravagantly unfortunate.

So there you have it.  I'll turn off the rant engine now.  But I do wonder what we could accomplish if those who are charged to lead us, be they business leaders, government leaders, educational leaders, social leaders, cause leaders or any other type, actually lead us.

Thanks for reading this post.  /rant=off

Link to "Good to Great" on

Link to "Now, Discovery Your Strengths" on