The Missing Link
For the past three years, the lead article in this monthly newsletter has appeared under
the banner "Strategy Matters," reflecting my intention to focus on strategy as an aspect of leadership. Increasingly, though, my interest has been captured by all attributes of leadership in a desire to understand its essence, and so I'm rechristening this column as "Leadership Matters." If the comment I get from you, my readers, is any guide, leadership in all its facets is what fascinates you, too. And that got me to wondering
why: Why is there such demand for books, articles, courses, experiences having to do with leadership? And why now?
The answer, I think, lies in one of those powerful coaching questions: What's missing? Surely we live in the most prosperous, the most educated, the most technologically advanced society ever, and yet there's evidence all around that we are continually seeking something more. Much has been said about the current crisis of meaning,
both in society and in the workplace, and I agree with those who argue that prosperity without meaning and purpose is hollow and ultimately corrosive to those who enjoy it. And as we are looking for meaning in our lives and our work, we naturally turn to our leaders to provide answers, or at least to point the way to them. There is a hunger for the kind of leadership that can help us make sense of so much that is new and ever-changing in our world.
And it's precisely at this time that leadership of that sort is apparently in short supply, especially at the top. The corporate ethics scandals of the past few years are still fresh in our memory. Political operatives and spin doctors hold sway over leaders' decisions in both the public and private sectors. Near-term considerations edge out longer-term consequences and a view of the whole. What we're left with is not really leadership at
all, but rather the managing of situations as they arise, more or less skillfully exercised. No wonder we aren't satisfied, no wonder we feel something's missing.
Leadership is one of those things that's both very simple and tremendously complex at the same time. You know it when you see it, but you can't always describe it. What makes a good leader? People have been thinking and writing about that for hundreds,
really thousands of years. You can read about it in the classic works of the Greeks and the Romans, and explore it on the big screen in classic movies like the Star Wars epics. The skill set changes, but the underlying way of being stays basically the same.
Warren Bennis, surely one of the leadership gurus in the business world these days, has been speaking and writing lately about the curious contradiction that millions -
probably billions - are spent on developing leaders in business and organizations, yet we still have no solid research data to tell us what works and what doesn't. Obviously people believe that leadership can be learned, or they wouldn't, presumably, be continuing to send their leaders-in-waiting to the many executive leadership development programs out there.
I do think that many aspects of leadership can be learned, especially those that make
for effective performance in the leadership role. I also believe that most of the finer points aren't learned in the usual way - by attending classes or seminars, by participating in group simulations and case studies, or by sitting at the feet of the great and mighty. Leadership development is a deeply personal journey inward, and the path is not always the same from one person to another. Life is the great teacher of leaders,
and of course, each life is a different one.
I invite you to join me in this continuing exploration of what it is to be a leader, and how they get that way, especially at this time. I expect we'll take many side trips and pause to examine some things in greater depth, including some that are in plain sight all the time. Although I can't tell you where we'll end up, one thing remains clear: leadership matters.
Coaching is a proven way of getting started on your own personal leadership journey. If
you're intrigued by the possibilities, let's talk about how coaching can work for you. Call (410)626-6008, or email email@example.com.
One of the best ways to practice your own style of leadership is to make it your practice to observe other leaders you respect and admire. Keep a journal or a learning log and at least several times a week make notes of
the behaviors and ways of speaking you see and hear from these leaders. Choose some from within your own organization or industry, and some from the public arena.
After a few weeks, take a look back over your notes and reflect on these questions in your journal:
- What patterns and similarities do you notice in the leaders you've been observing? What differences do you notice among them?
- What insights do their words and actions give you into their
deeply-held beliefs and values? Where do you see consistency or inconsistency between values and deeds?
A recent survey found that 34% of all employees check in with the office so frequently while on vacation that they come back to work "either more stressed than, or just as
stressed as, when they left." The percentage among managers, the poll found, is even higher-39%.
Another survey concluded that about 33% of managers and executives do not have the required skills to manage properly, and another 27% are shaky in their skills.The most valued skills for managers to possess, according to the survey, were communication, a sense of purpose, and honesty.
About two-thirds of adults (67%) surveyed by Parenting magazine said they think their
mothers could run their company better than their bosses.
Female entrepreneurs who are also mothers are a distinct class of working women, says Pat Cobe, co-author of the book Mompreneurs: A Mother's Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Work-at-Home Success. According to Cobe, mompreneuers differ from mothers who juggle work and family in that they have to handle networking, client meetings, sales calls and other business owner demands with family demands, such as school schedules and nap time. The coiners of the term founded a web site MompreneursOnline.com for working women whose lives fit that definition.
On the High Wire: How to Survive Being Promoted, by Robert W. Gunn and Betsy Raskin Gullickson. What I like about it: Sooner or later, you're going to hit a career challenge that really scares you because your prior experience doesn't tell you what to do. The authors start from the premise
that leadership is more of a mindset than a set of skills or techniques. Amen!
Executive Coach, Strategy Consultant
Principal, Bloomfield Associates
Office Space, directed by Mike Judge. What I like about it: In this 1999
movie, the "true reality" of corporate America emerges as one individual breaks the mold in order to define his own priorities.
Retired executive, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab
Best Wishes for a speedy recovery, John!
Share what you're into - books, articles, movies, music, websites - with others on the list! Send us the title and author or other pertinent information, along with a sentence or two on what you like about it, and if we use it in A Different Optic we'll not only quote you, we'll provide a link to you or your website.
"Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
- George Bernard Shaw
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Coaches, take note! Beth Bloomfield is offering another running her popular teleclinic "Build Your Executive Coaching Practice," beginning in mid-to-late September. Look for a series of announcements in the next few weeks. If you think you may want to participate, or if you know others who might be interested, please
contact Beth at (505) 992-2675.