I read with interest the article in HR Magazine by John Adair suggesting that organisations need to become more leadership centered and I just could not agree more and, in working with our clients can truly prove the truth of this. To become more successful I believe it to be critical and leaders need to be developed at every level – not just the top.
Why is that? Well, let me first suggest a definition between the two that works very well for me.
“Outstanding managers drive people to perform at the highest level they are capable of – and it is very much about control.
Outstanding leaders inspire them to do it for themselves – and it is more about freedom.”
This indicates that there are many extremely successful managers out there who have delivered great results, may have turned a division or a company around and considerably improved bottom line results. It may be that the company had lost direction and needed someone strong and very capable to come in and do some things that in the short term were painful – restructure, remove some of the costs, which could include people, and drive people to perform differently. Based on their own experience and track record of success they knew how to do it, what needed to be done to become more successful. This, based on the definition above, is very much about ‘management’ as it is based on me and my ideas and pushing them through the organisation. Great for this situation maybe!
However, to take it to the next stage it is almost certainly necessary to be very different as what is now needed is people to think for themselves – at every level. To come up with ideas that could continue to improve performance. Now it is leadership that is necessary so that each and every person is passionate about the company and always looking for ways to do even better. Think of the people serving the customer, be they an engineer, in the call centre or a sales person – you want them to always be thinking ‘how can I go the extra mile?’ If they are used to being told what to do then they have been educated into not thinking for themselves so are likely to wait until someone tells them to do it differently or the processes and systems structure them in how to behave and they dare not step outside them.
So what, in very practical terms, needs to change to make this transition? Very simply, the majority of the change needs to be in how we communicate. Most of us want to be helpful and, when someone comes to us for advice about how to do something or what decision they should make we leap into helping by telling them our thoughts and ideas. The message we have just sent, albeit inadvertently, is ‘you are not up to doing this without me’. I am quite sure that this is not the message we wanted to send but regretfully that is what we have just done, all by being ‘helpful’. I absolutely know that I learnt this the hard way because when bringing up my six children I did this all the time and did my very best to unknowingly educate them into not thinking for themselves – I was truly addicted to giving advice, albeit lovingly! Our communicating style needs to change from ‘this is what I think’, to ‘what do you think?’
I truly believe that leadership is actually quite easy once we ‘get it’ – it is about doing some very simple things consistently. It is more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’, more about ‘listening’ than ‘telling’, more about ‘giving’ than ‘getting’ and is always about recognising that leadership is about changing me and not about changing others.