Sunday, July 21, 2013

An Effective Leader

An effective leader can lead -- even when they’re following. Sometimes it requires command of a situation, while others to simply know when to get out of the way.

Just as there is a great divide between business theory and business practice, so too is there a great divide between dictatorship and leadership, and between leadership theory and leadership practicality. 

Should one command obedience or inspire greatness? Can they do both?

Business theory provides the blueprint to set up and run a business; it outlines the operations architecture one should create, the management hierarchy one should employ, all on the promise that this will lead to the land of milk and honey. 

However theory and practicality don’t always go hand-in-hand, as is humorously -- but accurately -- displayed in a scene from the film Back To School with Rodney Dangerfield (below).

Leadership theory and leadership practicality can also have a wide disconnect. There is a great misconception that leaders “command” people to do things, and their force-of-will causes people to comply. But if one follows simply out of fear of a bosses threat --  --of physical harm, financial ruin, loss of face and/or status --, is that leadership, or intimidation?

While fear can be a motivator that yields begrudging obedience, it also stifles motivation and creativity.   

One can lead by example, always working hard and gaining a certain respect from their workforce that then compels them to work equally hard. But leadership is more than that. 

The mark of a leader is that they motivate the people around them to be better, rise higher and achieve more than those people thought they could. They educate, mold, and inspire.  

In the Three Fundamentals of Effective Leadership, John Ryan sights Vision, Communication, and Judgement.

"Leadership success always starts with vision. Henry Ford dreamed of a car families could afford. Steve Jobs dreamed of an easy-to-use computer that would unleash creativity. Nelson Mandela dreamed of an integrated, prosperous South Africa. These were heady ideas, and they attracted more than a few sneers. But they weren't the daydreams of lazy people with too much time on their hands. They were deep-seated passions, magnetic enough to capture the minds of just a few devoted followers at first but ultimately the imaginations of millions of women and men."

FedEx became a world leader on one initial concept: on time, every time! and that edict echoed throughout the enterprise. To meet quality and delivery requirements, the enterprise needs to know what the vision of the company is, what it represents.

Even in a small company like mine, there is still a vision that we adhere to. Like many we focus on quality over quantity, professionalism over speed. Our ongoing agenda combines the expansion of wholesale fulfillment ( website, software, & mobile development, and online marketing) services to clients in the U.S.A., and the in-house development of proprietary SaaS subscription products that focus on fulfilling the needs of fragmented and under-served communities and demographics.

When I thought about Jon Ryan's mention of communication as a skill leaders have, I recalled a quote by Stephen Covey: "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply." 

Communication is a vital tool of good leaders. But a good leader not only can communicate a message outward, a leader also takes the time to interact, to listen, and to engage in Q and A; they understand that they can be decisive without being dismissive. 

Great leaders don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. They don't need to be the only voice heard. In fact, many -- such as Richard Brandson of Virgin -- seek out those with expertise beyond their own, and then allow those experts to thrive -- rather than conform. 

Judgement john Ryan called his third skill of great leaders. Judgement is derived from character. A leader has to know who they are, what they adhere to as their core values. Victor Hugo once said "Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots." 

It is in the rooted predefined principles that a leader has come to own, that they have the clarity to navigate through times of crisis. Their principles guide them like a fog-horn does the captain of a ship to emerge safely from the blinding midst.  

Through the above mentioned skills and interactions, leaders lay the groundwork to motivate, challenge and inspire those throughout the enterprise even as they maintain a firm and constant hold on the company's direction. .


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