Monday, December 20, 2010

Fundamentals - Six Essential Elements

The means to lead, to build followers, is to motivate them, to connect your goals to their goals, to - in the end – convince them to adopt your goal as their goal. But the question is How? What steps and tools are needed by any and every leader if he is to do just that? We will briefly discuss that below, but to begin, it is worth remembering that this is a learned process. There are any number of people who will tell you that leaders are born, not made, that this or that figure is or was a ‘natural leader.’ In fact, I would submit that, with the exception of those endowed with certain athletic skills – and therefore ‘fall’ into a narrowly defined leadership role in sports – there is no such thing as a natural leader.*

Those in the past born into royal families, or those today born into rich or politically powerful families, benefit from the reality of their position – if you are the prince you are de facto a leader; but whether good or bad, effective or ineffective remains to be seen. Those in rich or powerful families will certainly benefit from the education that their parents can provide them, as well as the position provided by their wealth. At the same time, the history of poor, even completely ineffective leaders - despite the fortunes of birth - is long and tortured. Whether it is the history of royal families that failed to develop competent leaders, or political families that withered or industrial families that ran out of business acumen, it is probable that more people fail with the benefit of a fortuitous birth then those who succeed. Nevertheless, they all may benefit from the experiences of growing up exposed to a wide range of leadership and leadership-related events from which they will develop their leadership skills. They may also benefit from developing, early in life, the confidence to act on their experience and intellect, when others of similar age, intellect and experience might not.

But, in the end, the underlying characteristics remain the same, whether or not they have been developed over long periods of time, with or without the benefit of a fortuitous birth. Whether a good and great leader or an evil one, there are certain traits that all had that aided them in building followers. Here they are:

The Goal
Morals and Character

Let’s examine each briefly. Each will be discussed in great detail in future articles.

The Goal
The Goal is the clear statement of where the organization is headed. It can be grand or simple, but to be successful it must first of all be clear. Two examples of well stated goals are: President Kennedy’s ‘We intend to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade,’ and General Marshall’s order to General Eisenhower ‘You will enter the continent of Europe and destroy Germany’s war-making capability.’

Both goals are clear, concise, leave little room for ambiguity and yet a wide range for exactly how each is accomplished. Note also that very large and very complex goals can be stated in a single, simple sentence.

Note also that there was no confusion with a ‘vision’ statement. Vision is a subset of the organization’s Goal and reflects more the ‘how’ of getting someplace then the actual goal. When the ‘how’ is simplified it usually results in confusing and conflicting statements. Thus the manic posting of Goals and Vision statements around countless thousands of organizations during the past several decades was usually counter-productive. The Goal is the concrete aim of the organization; the Vision becomes an emotional statement of the ethos and behavior of the organization as it strives to reach that goal. The two are inextricably wound together. If they are not, both will unravel with exceptional speed. But, in the end, the greatest clarity for the people of any organization is a clear and simply stated goal, tied to a comprehensive series of communications from the leadership that will lay out the precepts and ethos of the organization in a comprehensive manner. If that is done properly, the goal will remain clear, and the vision for the organization will become clear to every member of the organization in his own words. This is much more difficult then drafting a simplistic ‘vision’ statement that is usually both confusing and at cross-purposes to the goal.

We have all walked into some company and read a goal statement to the effect that XYZ Corporation will become the #1 Widget manufacturer world wide in 5 years. Then we read a vision statement that XYZ Corporation wants: ‘an empowered work force that is a positive force in its community, and the manufacturers of the finest widgets in the world.’ This leads to a simple question: what is the real goal? Being the manufacturer of the most widgets in the world may actually preclude XYZ from making the best (Rolls Royce and Mercedes-Maybach are never going to be the producers of the most vehicles in a year; Toyota, Honda or GM will never make the best cars on the road.) How is an empowered work force consistent with the goal? It may be, but it may not be. That would be a function of the specific manufacturing process, as well as the nature of widgets: Is it a very precise device that must be manufactured to very high tolerances, or it is a low rate of production device that is tailored for each consumer? Is it a service that is unique to each customer or a simple, low cost service provided to millions? Each of those would suggest different levels of empowerment in the work force. This is true in virtually every type of situation: a military force may be trained for both strict obedience and for innovation, improvisation and decision-making; knowing when one is required and not the other is a complex issue not easily communicated with two sentences posted on the wall.

It isn’t necessary that every leader be an Einstein, but it important that the leader is smart enough to understand the ‘business’ they are in and the environment within which they are operating. This is true in even the simplest sense: sports figures who lead on the field always have a better understanding of the game they are playing – specifically and generally – then do their teammates.

And even though they may not have superb verbal communication skills, their ability to communicate with, and hence lead their teammates through other, non-verbal means is usually superb. Great sports figures often ‘see’ the game they are playing in a different way then their teammates, they have a deeper understanding of the game.

Communication is everything. Remember those words. If you can’t communicate your ideas you have no hope of succeeding in anything that takes more than one person acting alone. Whether you are trying to get a date for the prom, buy a car, manage a McDonalds or lead the invasion of Europe, if you cannot communicate effectively – accurately and in a timely manner – you will not succeed. The specifics of this skill will vary from job to job, from task to task, but the essence is the same: you must know how to communicate effectively.

Character and Moral Courage
You have to believe that your goal is worthy: if you don’t, no one else will. And you must have the intestinal fortitude, the ‘spine,’ to stand up and say so. For some, even some of history’s great leaders, this is something that they constantly worked on, they constantly ‘screwed themselves up’ before every appeal for support. But you must have this belief. If you don’t you will be found out and your goal will vanish.

Mediocre leaders are separated from good and great leaders by their decision-making ability. No one is born with the ability to make good decisions. This is a purely learned skill. And the learning involves three pieces: actually making decisions, reviewing those decisions, and drawing conclusions from the review for use in future decisions. Many people have the first piece: experience in making decisions; few review their decisions; even fewer engage in detailed deconstruction to figure out what worked, what didn’t and why. The great leaders all do these three things.

If we define a geek as someone who is interested in only one thing, joyously, fanatically interested in that one thing, then all great leaders are all geeks. The difference of course is what that one thing might be: Bobby Orr loves hockey, Michael Jordan loves basketball. One suspects they could sit and talk about their game from dawn to dusk without losing their energy about the game. That energy, that emotion, that passion is infectious. Great leaders all have passion for their ‘game,’ and they communicate their passion in everything they do. One might even say that the great leaders never work, because they are only doing what their passion calls them to do. For those people getting up in the morning and getting back ‘in the ring’ is the love of their life. When they communicate that to their followers - that is charisma.

* Great sports figures in fact are constant testimony to the idea that no one is simply born a great anything. Great sports figure - Bobby Orr, Michael Jordan, Manny Pacquiao, David Backham, and a hundred more – these are invariably the hardest working athletes in their sport. The great athletes don’t assume a natural ability and rest on it, the great athletes recognize a natural ability and then work twice as hard as everyone else to develop that ability. The same is true of other great performers: Perlman, Nureyev, Pavarotti, etc.


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