Defining Leadership

Leadership Skill: Leaving A Leadership Legacy

Harvey Robbins asked:

Take a look at all the leaders who have left a positive legacy of organizational effectiveness, and what do you find. Breadth, depth, and talent. But what do they actually do? They develop themselves, they develop others, they develop big ideas, and they develop high performance cultures. They leave a legacy by leveraging their natural personality gifts to guide choices about acquiring skills and developing their organization’s culture. One in which people have clearly defined goals, continuous feedback, and career alignment all within a culture driven by the excitement of achievement and the vision of destiny.

After a combined 45 years of experience in the field of leadership development, my wife, Nancy, and I have concluded that much of what is currently written about leadership is both confusing and misleading. It’s mostly descriptive, not prescriptive. First of all, leaders are being encouraged to think “outside the box;” attempting feats of magic and leaps of faith that go well beyond what most normal people can do (baring some major life-changing experience like a near death experience or getting married). They are told to think like Queen Elizabeth, Buddha, Attila, Zen, Tao, Jack, Al Jesus. As a result, people start popping their heads out of their comfort zones, start looking around, grasping at straws, and ignoring what’s under their noses. This is unreasonable, unnecessary, and contrary to human nature. Besides, thinking and acting are two different things.

Second, there are just too many leadership dimensions discussed (over 50) for any reasonable leader to master. Yet try they do. I’ve coached senior leaders responding to their organization’s leadership competency model trying to perfect all dimensions in the model. It’s hogwash! To invest across the board in development can result at best in mediocrity on many fronts. Average, no matter in how many arenas does not produce above average results.

Successful leaders don’t waste their time acquiring skills they don’t need. And since your brain is only so big and can only hold so much stuff, it becomes critical to optimize your capabilities. You don’t need to master the 50 dimensions required to be the perfect leader, just those that you need to be successful right now.

Finally, not only are there too many leadership dimensions, but the words and adjectives used to define leadership overlap to the point of creating confusion, both in literature and practice. A recent factor analysis performed on a 360 degree feedback instrument (a questionnaire with self, boss, peer and subordinate ratings) found only two major factors underlying the 50 leadership dimensions: “smart” and “nice.” The “smart” factor is action and thinking skills and the “nice” factor is people skills and character.

Becoming a legendary leader and creating a high performance culture is not that difficult if you are willing to follow a few rules.

1. Be outcome oriented

2. Be feedback rich

3. Create a balanced approach that gives people the motivation to move forward and a vision (and a pathway) to achieve success.

4. Know yourself

5. Coach others

6. Push for those ideas that will change the way you operate.

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