Sunday, August 2, 2015

Why Do We Make Leadership So Complicated?

If you’ve worked for different bosses or moved jobs in your career to date, then it’s likely you’ll have your own idea what defines a good (and bad) leader for you, as well as all the categories in between. Then if you talk to friends and colleagues about what defines a great leader for them you’re likely to get similar responses;
They motivate me;
They listen to me;
They set the example;
They inspire me;
They have empathy;
They are fair;
They communicate well (and often);
They are transparent and trustworthy;
They’ll be other key attributes as well – but the list is pretty consistent across all demographic groups.
So, if the list of attributes is easy to collate and not that difficult to interpret; why is there a problem in finding and developing effective leaders?
It seems that our own individual desire to commercialize all elements of business is also our worst enemy for simplifying business and making positive progress in many areas, including leadership development. If you Google ‘Leadership Development’ you’ll get 107 million results – yep that’s 107,000,000. If you Google ‘Leadership Courses’ you’ll get 325,000,000 results and if you Google ‘What is Leadership’ you’ll be presented with 477,000,000 results.
You’d like to think that the 477 million results answering the basic question ‘What is Leadership’ would simply be ‘one answer/definition’ repeated 477 million times – but it’s not. So if we can’t decide what leadership actually is anymore, how can we hope to develop consistent, effective leadership? And what message are we giving to the up and coming generations who are our future leaders, who aren’t even in their career cycle yet – but are influenced by what they see and hear as they look for inspiration and direction.
If you look at the contents of many leadership programs offered by some of the top academic institutions around the world, you’ll find them offering modules that no longer focus on the core elements of leadership – motivating and inspiring people – but are more around peripheral business issues like negotiation skills; or aligning strategy and sales (a module in the leadership best practices course at Harvard).
It’s not that these peripheral modules don’t have a place in a leadership program for people in sales for example – it’s that these programs no longer look at the ‘people’ element and how to inspire and motivate them; or good communication skills; or empathy; or any of the key attributes people mention when talking about a great leader.
So if were not teaching or talking about the people side of leadership anymore, is it any wonder that there is this widening and confusing lack of a single definition as to what leadership actually is – and worse still, any wonder that leaders do not know how to inspire and motivate their people?
In fact it appears that all the things that leadership isn’t about – power, position, and hypocrisy – are being practiced more and more – and worse still, this is being accepted as effective leadership as long as the results are there.
This negative impact on effective leadership is heightened by the fact that ‘we’ seem to forget both history and the basics so quickly. History has shown that power will get results, but it also shows that power won’t get the best sustainable results for your organization.
Two of the major blocks as to why leadership won’t change for the better in many organizations any time soon are because;
Bad leaders will always develop and promote further bad leadership, regardless of results and their exposure to ‘effective leadership’ development programs – because they are addicted to the power that comes with the role;
And in the large multi-national organizations, bad leadership exists in the ranks because these people know how to play the corporate game and create a protective structure around themselves, very similar to a ‘mafia’ set-up – where anyone who poses a threat to their power base, is dealt with swiftly and mercilessly.
The failure to develop great leaders rests firmly with corporate boards and major stakeholders. Boards that genuinely want to improve their leadership, first of all need to identify where the poor and bad leadership exists; and that isn’t going to be achieved by asking the leaders themselves; it’s only going to be achieved through managing by walking around. It will require patience as they build trust with their employees at all levels in the organization – and once the trust is built, they will quickly learn where their leadership problems are. Then as they quickly find the source of poor leadership, their response should be swift and firm, giving a clear message to the organization what kind of leadership is acceptable.
They then need to go back to basics and have a leadership development program from cradle to grave – that ensures a constant pool of excellent leaders at all levels within the organization.
The danger with the dilution and uncertainty around what effective leadership is really all about, is that ‘people’ lose sight of what the ‘rule’ should be and start to accept poor leadership as the ‘norm’ – once this becomes embedded in organizational cultures then the likelihood of genuine effective leadership on the job becomes nothing more than a ‘dream’ – and the disillusionment becomes the new reality.
It requires all of us that care about effective leadership to stop ‘fighting’ amongst ourselves with respect to things like what ‘effective leadership’ should be called or how it is defined – and just become ‘visible’ examples of what great leadership is all about.
The world is changing fast and we need to be careful that we don’t sit by as genuine effective leadership is diluted before our eyes effecting and impacting generations to come. Political leadership no longer sets an example of effective leadership and has become nothing more than media controlled entertainment; academic leadership has become so profit focused that it’s now business first and being an effective learning establishment second; and business leadership is sliding down the slope to create a new norm for accepting, what should be unacceptable poor leadership behavior that will take generations to reverse, if we don’t act soon.
Effective leadership is not difficult – it’s about inspiring and motivating people to achieve specific goals and in the process optimize their own potential. It requires the recruitment of the right people at the outset, the development of the right culture and then consistently being a role model of an effective leader, accepting that different situations require different leadership styles to optimize the inspiration and motivation of the employee.