The art of leadership-ing
Early in my career, I worked in a business unit inside a division of a large conglomerate family business.
This was back in the early 1980s. I was excited to work at a global company – and as a newly married man, I appreciated the salary and benefits. I felt like I’d hit the jackpot as far as jobs go.
I soon realized that it was a very autocratic organization. There were a lot of political fiefdoms in the company. Managers managed through fear and intimidation.
Having recently left the Army as a young officer, I assumed that perhaps the standard in large corporate America was like the military.
As time went on, I noticed that people were resigning at all levels of the organization. I had heard that “people don’t leave organizations, they leave their bosses” – and what I saw backed that up. I knew deep down something was wrong, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
About two years after I started working there, we had a change of leaders at the very top of the organization.
The new CEO came into my little business unit and because we were primarily a blue-collar organization, we met in this dusty old warehouse.
I’ll never forget the sight – he showed up in his three-piece suit and wingtip shoes.
Then he took his jacket off, sat down with us, and started asking questions. LOTS of questions. I had never met the former CEO – and here was the new guy, in his first week on the job, talking to hundreds of employees. It really made an impression on me.
I later learned that he didn’t just talk to employees. He also talked to customers, suppliers, community leaders – every stakeholder he could find.
Following those conversations, he focused tirelessly on one thing: culture.
As part of that initiative, he invited me to a week-long offsite retreat.
We spent the entire week writing our value and vision statements. It was amazing. Engaging. I was the youngest person in the room and I was thrilled to be there and to be part of it.
When I got back to my job, I noticed something different right away. Employees were more engaged. I was more engaged. I was excited to go to work every day.
Our quality was improving. Our employee retention was at a record high. Our new leader inspired us all to stretch, and improve, and to think like an owner.
While we didn’t turn a profit that first year, we did break even, which was an improvement over past years where we ran at a loss.
Over the next 24 years, we did make profits. Big profits. The highest in our industry.
This leader was a master of the art of leadership-ing.
Organizational Strength (the second pillar of our Prosperity Plan model) starts with catalytic leadership.
Catalytic leaders are agile. They bring the future forward and inspire everyone around them to greatness.
They do this by practicing something I call “leadership-ing.” Notice how I changed the noun to a verb. That’s because leadership is active; it’s something you DO.
This model is something I once sketched out on a bar napkin. At the time, I was a CEO myself and I was mentoring a new leader on my executive team. I drew this diagram to explain how I saw the role of a leader in an organization. The lightbulb went on for my young executive and he kept the drawing as a reference.
It has since become a core part of the consulting work we do here at the Alliance.
As leaders in our companies, we recognize that we are here today – and we have a point we want to get to in the future. In an ideal world, we hope that everyone would just line up behind us and march in a straight line. And maybe a few will do that.
But not everybody does that.
You may have some employees that actively resist the direction you’re going in. Others may have a different idea of the direction you should go. And maybe you have others who want to follow but are unsure of what their role should be.
Our job as leaders is to lead – by bringing the future to the present.
We do that by providing Alignment and Clarity
Leaders lead by example. They set the tone and the pace of the company.
They do this through:
- Organizational structure
- Policies & process
- Budgets & plans
These are all tools for moving the organization forward.
Clarifying is about bringing the future to the present. Helping everyone really understand the destination – where are we headed?
This means being clear – and clearly communicating – these:
- Vision & Purpose
- Mission & Strategy
- Shared Values
Alignment and clarity are the roles and activities of leadership.
This is what leaders should be doing daily.
Constantly reminding people of the north star purpose, vision, mission, the organization’s policies and processes – and their role within it.
Great leaders are made, not born
For over ten years, we’ve been working behind the scenes with C.E.O.s, business owners, and their executive leadership teams to teach them leadership best practices.
With very few exceptions, there are no “born leaders”
All the great leaders have learned and earned their roles.
They’ve mastered the art of leadership-ing.
If you’d like to develop better leaders in your organization, consider bringing us in to conduct some leadership training.
Your leaders may realize greater potential than you (or they) may have thought possible.
Free Video: Leadership
Get your company into the prosperity zone by inspiring your team to be the best
John Maxwell said it well:
"Everything rises and falls on leadership."
The quality of your leadership impacts everything in your organization.
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- How to develop catalytic leadership in your organization
- The power of "leadership-ing"
- The traits of highly effective leaders
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