Doing the Right Thing, Leadership Defined

Doing The Right Thing: Leadership Defined
Corporate White Paper
Published March 2014. Download

“Mangers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.”
Peter Drucker

We often confuse managers with leaders. Most, if not all of us, at some point have worked for a person who was considered by others as a “good manager.” It doesn’t take long to realize that, in most cases, someone who is considered a good manager does not know the first thing about leading or inspiring people.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what it takes to be a great leader. In particular, we will consider what qualities the next generation of leaders must possess in order to navigate the rapidly changing and frighteningly complex global economy.

How does Wikipedia define leadership?

“Process of social influence in which one person can enlist aid and support of other in the accomplishment of a certain task (vision).”

Leadership theory focuses on personality traits common in those consider to be great leaders. David McClellan, for example, suggested that leadership “takes strong personality with a well-developed, positive ego-to lead, high self-esteem and self-confidence are essential.”

The actionable word in this definition is “positive ego.” It does not take much to identify positive and negative ego qualities among those in leadership roles. Leaders with positive ego traits are not daunted by criticism and negative reviews and embrace failure as a process in the journey to achieving a stated vision. On the flips side, most people have worked for leaders with negative ego traits such as an inability to admit failure, a fear of delegation, jealousy, etc.

One of the biggest challenges facing today’s leaders is finding and keeping engaged, passionate employees. Consider:

  • The Corporate Executive Board revealed that nearly a quarter of all new hires leave their company within a year of their start date.
  • Gallop found that only 30% of American workers felt a strong connection to their company and worked for it with passion.
  • In the same study, 52% were classified as “not engaged” with their work.
  • Another 18% are considered “actively disengaged,” meaning they are apt to undermine their company and co-workers.

This last statistic should give every leader pause. Nearly one-in-five employees are sufficiently disengaged share trade secrets or sensitive data, simply to undermine the organization they have come to dislike. For those who have studies this group of disengaged employees, a central theme comes to light: these people have a deep distrust of those who are in leadership roles.

The importance of trust within an organization cannot be underestimated. Research over the years supports the fact that employee trust in corporate leaders influences productivity, turnover and most importantly, long-term profitability. A 2005 study by Wyatt Worldwide found that companies with high integrity-a measurement based on employee assessment of senior management’s consistency, communications and other trust determining behaviors-generate financial returns that are TWICE those of companies with low integrity levels.

So, what are the qualities a leader must possess to engender trust from employees?

  • Courage: It is imperative for leaders to have a clear picture of whom they are and where they are going. Employees will respond to a courageous leader because they know that, ultimately, that person will have their back.
  • Transparency. To the degree possible, maintain an open-door policy at all times. Employees need to know they have someone to whom they can vent and will have their back. Make sure you communicate often so that everyone feels as if they are in the loop.
  • Selflessness. It may be difficult for most executives to hear this, but: It isn’t about YOU! A selfless attitude goes a long way towards building trust and a sense of teamwork. Make sure everyone shares in the victories (remember the old saying: “there is no I in team”). Have your team’s back and they will respond in kind.
  • Conduct. Leaders today are under constant scrutiny and must be on their game at all times. Employees want to know they are working for someone who will conduct themselves professionally and in the best interest of the organization.
  • Consistency. Employees need to have a clear understanding of what leadership expects and these expectations must stay consistent over time. How often have we heard someone say: “I just don’t know what he/she wants?” Create a clear vision and stick with it.
  • Participate. Nothing instills a sense of trust like leaders who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. If your team is working the weekend, it will say much about your leadership style if you’re at their side. Such actions display humility and it’s simpler to trust someone who is humble.
  • Purpose. Show your appreciation for your team’s efforts. We know from research that public recognition is more important than compensation or benefits when it comes to employee morale.

To be sure, these qualities do not come easy for everyone and perhaps do more to define the difference between leaders and managers than anything else. But they can be developed if you are willing to practice self-awareness and are open to change.

The Baby Boomers are moving on!

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there were over 80 million Baby Boomers in the American workforce (those born between 1946-1964). The first wave of Boomers began retiring in 2011 and the trend will continue unabated for the next decade and a half. Inherent in the shift of Boomers out of the workforce is the loss of an entire generation of leaders responsible for creating an economic juggernaut that redefined the global economy.

So, what will be lost as these Boomer leaders move up and out? In a 2007 survey, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) asked more than 100 business leaders what is most likely to be lost when their tenure ends. The top four responses were:

  • Vision
  • Knowledge (content expertise)
  • External personal networks (relationships/partnerships)
  • Internal personal networks (relationships/partnerships)

To be sure, the next generation of leaders will need to create their own vision, build a necessary knowledge base and create networks. But one thing is for certain: technology has changed the speed and complexity by which the game is played. In a separate study, CCL learned that 92% of executives believe the “challenges their organizations face are more complex than they were just FIVE years ago.” These executives said that four factors were defining the challenges:

  • Evolving organizations (i.e. non-centralized, far-flung, diverse)
  • Rapidly changing market dynamics
  • Shortage of qualified talent
  • Globalization

In the same study, CCL identified a number of trends that will be essential for the next generation of leadership to embrace:

  • Innovation: every company is looking for the next big idea and the timeline for bringing big ideas has been compressed….in many cases, to months instead of years. Future leaders will need to create a culture that celebrates and rewards innovation at all levels. For example, in a Business Week article, Marissa Mayer, director of Google’s Consumer Web Products, outlined the company’s approach to creating a culture of innovation and collaboration:
    • Provide “office hours” where any employee can pitch new ideas
    • Create an “idea listerv” where anyone can suggest or comment on ideas
    • Take risks and launch products early and often

  • Virtual leadership: technology has removed most cultural, geographical and functional boundaries, thus necessitating leaders who understand the realities and demands of virtual communication. In a recent survey, 85% of leaders believe virtual leadership is essential to running a successful organization. Of this group, 92% believe that virtual leadership requires different skills than face-to-face leadership. According to CCL, some strategies to enhance virtual leadership include:
    • Creating guidelines for when and how to communicate
    • Designing ways for the team to document and store its knowledge
    • Utilizing a variety of collaborative technologies

  • Interruption: according to a 2005 article in The New York Times Magazine entitled “Meet the Life Hackers,” Clive Thompson concludes that the average worker is interrupted on the job every 11 minutes. More importantly, it takes as much as 25 minutes, on average, to return to the original task. As the level of chatter and interruptions grows in the future, leaders will need to establish strategies for staying focused and to maintain their priorities.

  • Collaboration: the increasingly complex, global business environment demands leaders who embrace a collaborative mind-set. Based on their research, CCL estimates that 97% of executives surveyed believe leaders in their organizations must collaborate to succeed. However, less than half of senior executives believe that the leaders within their organization are effective collaborators. It is imperative that future leaders focus on creating a culture in which collaboration is encouraged and practiced at every level.

Technology and the continued advance of globalization will place tremendous demands on the next generation of business leaders. But the truth is, the fundamentals of great leadership never change. Creating a culture of trust. Embracing and rewarding innovation. Encouraging collaboration. Great leaders understand these principles. Those who are willing to focus on and build these fundamentals will have no problem succeeding in the today’s global economy.

In this regard, it seems fitting to close with another quote from Peter Drucker:

“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

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