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Our Definitions Of Leadership Are Mostly Wrong
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ANON1236801031582
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ANON1236801031582,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/3/2014 | 10:28:13 AM
New age motivational thinking....
If everyone is a leader, who will follow?
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/3/2014 | 11:57:58 AM
Re: New age motivational thinking....
@anon- Well, a few thoughts on that question. 

1) I don't need everyone to be a leader. I just think we're short on them.

2) Leading isn't an absolute state. It is actually possible to be a leader on one project and a follower on another. Ask a CIO. they lead their IT department but they follow the strategy approved by the CEO. Even if they help craft the strategy, ultimately, the final version is not their call, but that makes them no less of a leader.

3) Leading isn't commanding. It is entirely possible for a room of leaders to craft a vision together and continue to execute that vision together leading their portion of the vision. Nearly every successful company relies on many leaders working together.

I think the leader/follower dynamic is part of the problem with our definition of leadership.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
7/3/2014 | 9:06:16 PM
Re: New age motivational thinking....
Interesting discussion on the topic of Leadership.  I agree that the definition of Leadership is in a constant state of flux.  And I think it is subjective as well, but I also think there are a few traits that all Leaders have. For instance:   

1.  The ability to harness the efforts of others to achieve an aim often outside themselves.

2.  The ability to influence individuals and groups.

3. Some sort of Integrity/ Charisma.  If a person is shallow,duplicitous and aloof - not many will follow and the those who do will not for long.


There is certainly more to it but I think you have to have at least have these traits as a foundation in order to ever be considered a Leader.

And last but not lest, I agree with you David, we don't have many of them.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 12:28:57 PM
Re: New age motivational thinking....
@technocrati- It is interesting you mention charisma and integrity in the same point. Are you saying charisma will disguise lack of integrity? Ar eyou saying that integrity will make up for a lack of charisma? Is integrity charismatic?

I don't think we normally link the two, but I find it very worth talking about.
BenSimonton
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BenSimonton,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/4/2014 | 6:49:41 AM
Why are they wrong?
Great subject, David.

Leadership is wildly misunderstood. Mainly because the leadership industry studies what leaders do and not what followers follow and why they follow.

I managed people for over 30 years. I started by using the traditional command and control model giving lots of orders for the first 12 years thus making all the mistakes one can make. But during that time I was considered to be one of the very best and was given responsibilities well beyond my years and promoted fast.

Then I started listening to my people and responding as best I could to what I heard. Their performance started to rise. The more I did it the more performance rose becoming in 18 months at least twice higher than I had thought humanly possible. I did not need to give orders any more as they were proactively doing what needed to be done.

Years of listening taught me that leadership is simply the transmission of value standards to people which about 95% of them then use as how to do their work - how industriously, honestly, respectfully, openly, cooperatively, fairly, etc., etc.

Leadership is transmitted through the support management provides to its workforce - training, tools, coaching, direction, discipline, material, parts, information, planning, and the like.

Eventually, I became able to raise performance to a level four times higher than I had thought humanly possible because I learned how to convert followers into non-followers.

Hope this helps, Ben Simonton

www.bensimonton.com

 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 12:40:54 PM
Re: Why are they wrong?
Thanks, Ben. That's a really interesting response.

So this brings up an interesting issue for me. My first response was "he's not talking about leadership. He's talking about managing. He's talking about boosting productivity."

Then I realized that basically there's no other measure of leadership in business than talking about boosting production so of course the two are conflated. It isn't like you ever need to lead a team of supply chain managers into battle against the typhoon that's going to delay a shipment.

So here's my broader question- Is the reason we're not good at talking about leadership in an enterprise setting because we're too busy trying to separate management from leadership?
BenSimonton
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BenSimonton,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/8/2014 | 3:02:52 PM
Re: Why are they wrong?

David,

Thanks for the thanks. As to your question "Is the reason we're not good at talking about leadership in an enterprise setting because we're too busy trying to separate management from leadership?"

For managing any resource, there are right actions and wrong actions. As concerns managing people, the only way to manage them is to lead them. People cannot be directed to be highly motivated or to have high morale. But they can he "led" to be highly motivated and have high morale. People have feelings, emotions, and needs. If you treat them with disrespect by giving them orders, not listening to them, or not giving them the information they want, those actions will "lead" them to treat their work, their customers, each other, and their bosses with the same level of disrespect.

In my previous post, I stated that leadership is simply the transmission of value standards because value standards are what the ~95% of us follow. Most of the value standards in a workplace emanate from the support or lack thereof provided by management - tools, material, training, coaching, direction, discipline, information, planning, etc.

So leadership is what dictates the performance of employees, whether they are productive, innovative, and creative or not. The possible performance gain from superior leadership is about 500%, not 5% or 50% but 500%. That was written by Stephen Covey in 1992, but my own experience as an executive bears that out.

 

David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 3:55:13 PM
Re: Why are they wrong?
Thanks, Ben. I think you are right, but let me ask you a question about value standards. Do our values come from leaders at work or are they our personal values? Can a leader change my values or am I a fully formed person?

I get, for instance, how a leader can inspire me to be more or less innovative be empowering me and defining what failure means in an organization (less fear of failure usually equals more innovation). 

But i've been in organizations where I felt the leaders was very effective at communicating his desire to run a moral, respectful, collaborative environment where it was clear that value had not been transferred to about a third of the team. 

Was that failure on the leader's part? Was that simply failure on the part of those people not to realize they were in the wrong organization for them? Or are there always going to be people who don't pick up 100% of the values the leader puts out there?
zerox203
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zerox203,
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7/3/2014 | 1:47:38 PM
Re: Our Definitions Of Leadership Are Mostly Wrong
This is a discussion that has been going on forever, and when you lay it out like this, Dave, it's easy to see why. "Leader" is probably something we were looking to define before we even had a spoken language, way back in the caveman days, and yet it remains a hot topic for discussion to this day. Maybe a lot of that has to do with the fact that the duties of a 'leader' change as history moves forward - you mention collaboration of multiple leaders in companies, which is true. It was not so long ago, though, that a 'rule with an iron fist' policy was popular among CEOs. Maybe the definition of 'leader' changes somewhat with the times?

Then again, the definition of lots of things has changed with the advent of the internet. Collaboration is a must, and the speed of technology mandates that we change how we do just about everything. Nevertheless, we still feel comfortable using the same definition for many things (most things, actually) - for example, we use 'e-mail' when it actually has very little in common with mail. So why is 'leader' so hard to define? Maybe there is no one definition. Maybe it's something we made up to pretend we have an explanation for the way we organize ourselves.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/3/2014 | 1:55:14 PM
Re: Our Definitions Of Leadership Are Mostly Wrong
@zerox203- I think you are right that certain aspects of leadership change over time. Others stay the same. For isntance, I can't imagine in a pre-technological world, a king or any other kind of leader could have kept their job if they didn't know how to produce a vision and inspire people to defend that vision. Some of that vision, even for a CIO, is larger than the leader (the brand, the nation, the team, etc), but some of it is personally created. 

One way I know our definition of leadership was changed and continues to change in the business world comes from the influence of the military on leadership literature. Post World War II, especially, an influx of military leaders re-entered both the business world and academia. those leaders, whether they were sergents in fox holes who went back to a machine shop or academics or business leaders turned into staff officers, took much of what they learned about military leadership and applied it to their new jobs and their academic work.

So for decades, enterprise leadership was at least partially compared to military leadership (see your comment about ruling with an iron fist). Some of these elements are great. the army values team work and getitng the job done above all else. Some of it (a clear and constant chain of command) was misinterpreted or misused to create top down leadership that sapped innovation.

So not only does our definition of leadership change with technology but other influeces. I guess this was a long way of saying "you're right."
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
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7/3/2014 | 9:14:37 PM
Re: Our Definitions Of Leadership Are Mostly Wrong
So why is 'leader' so hard to define? Maybe there is no one definition. Maybe it's something we made up to pretend we have an explanation for the way we organize ourselves.

@zerox203    Well said,  An important aspect that I certainly didn't consider.   A truly macro view of the possible reason for this concept.

 

This Act of Nature if you will.  Mass Pyschology and group dynamics are tricky subjects, but play a large role in what is considered a Leader or Leadership.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 12:33:33 PM
Re: Our Definitions Of Leadership Are Mostly Wrong
Maybe it's something we made up to pretend we have an explanation for the way we organize ourselves.


Hrm...so Zerox203, are you saying that we make up the word leader to make up for the mental guilt we have for being a follower?

Here's an interesting thing that sort of goes with that. A study came out last week that repeated some experiments done in the 60's (with some refinements) trying to determine why people collaborate with groups like the Nazis.

In the experiment, they had people demand that subjects push a button that they were told would send electrical shocks through a patient. And some were told the pateint would even die. They discovered that the people most likely to push the button (rather than refuse) were the ones who were most likely to be described as "nice" or "agreeable" in their regular lives. Those that were consider not nice, were far more liekly to refuse to hurt someone.

No one wants to draw too large a conclusion from this, but perhaps the issue of following is a bigger deal than that of leading.
LUFU
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LUFU,
User Rank: Strategist
7/4/2014 | 3:56:33 PM
A Leader Needs Adjectives
What Drucker leaves out are adjectives when describing a leader as someon with followers. Are they good? Are they bad? Are they inspiring? Are they clueless?

Then again, a good leader with bad followers won't succeed very easily either.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 12:42:47 PM
Re: A Leader Needs Adjectives
@lufu- that's an interesting point. I suspect Drucker would say a good leader has good followers.

But this is part of the problem with our definition of leadership, right? We're always assuming leadership means quality. Leadership implies control, not quality.

We often conflate leadership and "good leadership." This is fine, but it makes it harder for us to know what we're talking about.
LUFU
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LUFU,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 4:24:28 PM
Re: A Leader Needs Adjectives
Spotting a good leader is somewhat like how a Supreme Court judge (Potter Stewart) commented on obscenity in Jacobellis vs Ohio, "..I know it when I see it."
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 3:58:24 PM
Re: A Leader Needs Adjectives
@lufu- I get that you are being entertaining with your quote. But I think there is a real problem if we settle on that. If that's the way we do it, then we can't teach it. And I believe leadership can be taught. If not literally from the ground up, at least it can be honed. 

If we settle on "we know it when we see it" it becomes much more difficult to teach. And if we can't teach it then we're stuck with the number of leaders we have which is not enough in my opinion. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 3:59:02 PM
Re: A Leader Needs Adjectives
And clearly there are organizaitons who think they can teach leadership and have a track record for doing so-- the military and GE come immediately to mind.
LUFU
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LUFU,
User Rank: Strategist
7/10/2014 | 6:10:09 PM
Re: A Leader Needs Adjectives
@David - This is a bit related to the age-old "nature vs nurture" discourse. I believe that facets of leadership can be taught and can make some people effective leaders or managers. If not, then many of the Executive Leadership-type extension programs offered at the Stanfords, the Whartons, and Harvards would be invalidated. Leaders are not necessarily born that way but may have the inclination that can be honed by experience and training.
Rich Krajewski
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Rich Krajewski,
User Rank: Moderator
7/8/2014 | 1:00:54 AM
Words are not enough
"We don't have enough strong leaders. No wonder. We can't even define the term."

That is because you are looking for the definition in words. For this, we need pictures:

SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/8/2014 | 7:18:54 AM
Re: Words are not enough
@Rich, I'm laughing but it's true.  He's not in the position he is because he lacks the skills to lead.  We may not agree with everything he does but even if you have no idea what he's up to politically there is no doubt who Putin is and his image is out there doing all kinds of things that make you say, "hmmm, that's actually pretty cool, I want to do that".  All that being said I did like the quote David included from Teddy Roosevelt The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.

This is how I try to lead, I pick people who are capable of doing the job then I give them the tools they need to get the job done and I manage resources and teams not individuals.  
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 12:48:39 PM
Re: Words are not enough
@SaneIT- I like the Roosevelt quote, too. But just as a rhetorical question-- does that mean the HR director is the most important leader in any company?
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/9/2014 | 7:11:26 AM
Re: Words are not enough
How much hiring does the HR director really do?  Where does the HR director get their orders from?  I can say for sure that I've never met an HR director that actually did the hiring.  They bring bodies through the door but department managers do the actual hiring.  I haven't met an HR director who drives the professional policies either, all of the ones I've worked with consolidate what other parts of management pass on to them as requirements.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 3:56:18 PM
Re: Words are not enough
@SaneIT- A fair question, but I've interviewed at organizations where I never met a hiring manager until i was in the last 3 people or so. that seems rather powerful. 
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/10/2014 | 7:21:41 AM
Re: Words are not enough
@David, that sounds horrible.  Even at the biggest companies I've worked for it only took one HR interview, usually over the phone before I met with the hiring manager.  I wonder how the hiring managers feel about having HR only delivering them the "top 3".  I do have HR drop some candidates before they get to me through knockout questions but if they only gave me a top 3 I'd be a bit upset.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/10/2014 | 1:10:09 PM
Re: Words are not enough
@SaneIT- I don't feel like it is right to say who one of the companies were, but let's just say it was one of the top 5 tech companies in the world. I can't say if it was universal for the whole company or just my potential poistion. I can tell you that while i think the interview went really well, they told me that the hiring folks were split and they wanted HR to give them more people to look at and keep me on the list. I politely passed for another job.

If that is stanadrd at this giant company, clealry it works for them on a macro level. But it definitely didn't work on a microlevel. 
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/11/2014 | 7:45:26 AM
Re: Words are not enough
I guess every company has their own methods.  I've worked for two very very large companies and turned down a position with another where I had an interview with a panel of IT folks two days after submitting my application.  With those companies I didn't spend much time talking to HR, just one call to verify information answer a few knockout questions and schedule the next interview.  I'm not saying that in some cases having HR more involved in the process is bad, I'm just wondering how a department head feels about filtered results. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 12:47:14 PM
Re: Words are not enough
@Rich- Ha! That's a fantastic pictiure and we should use it more often in all comments. :)

But seriously, this gets to the heart of something I don't think we know the answer to. Is Putin a good leader or is he an autocrat?

Leaders get their power from a combination of skills and position and autocrats just get it from position. I think we often assume to become an autocrat in a non-royal setting, you have to have leadership skills to rise to that point. But it is entirely possible, I suppose to weild other kinds of power to get into one's position-- violence, intimidation, nepotism, luck, etc.

Business, at least, seems to be trying to divide dictating and use of raw power from leadership for more soft skills leadership-- collaboration, persuasion, etc. Is that what we should be doing or is Putin an example a CEO should take?


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