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Leadership as Learning

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am, and hope to always be, a leader-in-learning.

I work hard every day to be open to new opportunities to grow and to remember that no matter how much I know, I could never possibly hope to know it all (despite my behaviour to the contrary sometimes :))

Some of the most charismatic and accomplished leaders I have worked with, continue to act like they are on their way up, rather than having made it. Some are CEOs of Global organizations and yet they remain humble and open to what they can learn from others. They are the first to admit when they don’t know something, and the first to invite others to offer suggestions. They don’t ask questions to demonstrate how clever they are or to catch people out for having missed something. They are genuinely curious about how other people think and in exploring alternatives to their own perspective.It is really important for true leaders to maintain this spirit of leadership as learning, creating an environment ripe for innovation and engagement.

But some people, once they have achieved a certain level of career success, start inadvertently closing themselves off to new ideas and fresh thinking.

They stop trying new things, stop investing in development, stop spending time on ‘trying’ things out, stop asking stupid questions…

This is an understandable and natural consequence of becoming better and more sophisticated in what you do. But it can also be a fast way to becoming obsolete.

Indicators that you may be resistant to learning:

  • You like the plug and go features of that new piece of software that IT just rolled out, but you don’t have time for the advanced training. As long as the old shortcuts work, it’s all good
  • The report that you created in 2009 continues to be an excellent template for your client work
  • You wish the business administration would stop coming up with new processes and procedures to follow
  • When new projects and ideas are discussed, you can easily recall when they have been tried before and you are sceptical that they will work this time
  • The networking events you attend are filled with people from a similar education and professional background
  • Your friends are the same friends you have known for the last 10 years
  • Your reading list is dominated by genres and publications that you know you like
  • You have largely ignored social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook as not relevant for business life – after all, there’s no measureable ROI from social media right?
  • When new people join your organization, you patiently school them on the culture and how things are done, to help them integrate…

Why does this happen?

Early in our career, we knew there was a ton of stuff we didn’t know.

We were consciously incompetent, and there was absolutely no risk to admitting it.  Always ready to volunteer for a new project and not afraid to ask ‘dumb’ questions.

But as you progress further in your career, and you begin to get promoted to realms of ever increasing seniority, it is harder and harder to maintain that inquisitive edge. Right around the time your career hits the murky middle, you run the risk of being afraid to fail.

What you know can hold you back from being open to what you don’t know. Leadership and other senior roles carry a baggage load of expectations and beliefs – yours and other peoples – which can create a barrier to learning and change. Worse still, the things you did to become successful can start to edge towards complacency.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Think about driving for a moment. Something that many of us do on a daily basis while barely thinking about what we are doing and how we are doing it. When we are first learning to drive, our conscious incompetence is a good thing.  It teaches us patience and humility.  We are so focused on learning we may even have to have the window closed and the radio off to allow us to concentrate. Then gradually we become increasingly confident, until we no longer have to think about the collection of activities involved. That is when driving can become complacent and dangerous.

Similarly, becoming a leader in a state of unconscious competence can be career suicide.

How can you remain immune to this natural progression?

There are many examples where, in our private lives, we try new things and remain open to new experiences. We learn to play music, travel, try new foods. We need to remember to take this openness and willingness to experiment back into the workplace on a daily basis. Create immunity by purposefully placing yourself in situations where you are NOT the expert and where you are forced to rely on someone else for direction and insights. Force yourself back into a state of conscious incompetence.

A few years ago I decided to take up speed skating (or speed falling as my husband affectionately called my attempts to skate).

My son had been skating competitively for a couple of years and I decided it was time to get out of the stands and have a go. Bearing in mind that I grew up in England, where strapping on a pair of skates is at best an annual event, I was consciously placing myself in a very precarious position where I knew nothing about the technicalities of skating (finding my edges was a revelation !).  Being a typical A type personality, having the other beginners (who were mostly 20 years younger than me) literally skating rings around me was disconcerting but also liberating. I was not the best. I was not the fastest. Heck, I could barely stand upright for the first few weeks. But I was wide open to learning.

I have had similar experiences with learning to play the piano from scratch as an adult beginner, or taking up road-cycling (a new exploit). I consciously translate the essence of these situations to my work, where I freely admit the areas where I am less than comfortable. I ask members of my team for their ideas and their approaches to doing things I have sometimes been doing for years. I ask for additional ideas and methods even in areas where I feel confident. I never fail to be amazed by the ingenuity and proficiency of others.

  • What do you do to stay open to the ideas and different approaches presented by the people around you?
  • How does something you do in your personal life translate to making you a better leader at work?

I’d love to hear your experiences.

This post was inspired by an interview with Steve Cunningham – president and founder of curated learning tool Readitfor.me and CEO of Polar Unlimited Digital Marketing. Click here to listen to the interview on the Read it for me Blog. Thanks to Steve for a great conversation…

Leadership in action – be true to who you are

Leadership in ActionI’m no political pundit, but I am a keen observer of people, especially leaders in action.

Earlier this morning I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast discussion with Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democrats at a time when her party has been wielding the balance of power and working to support the Province’s minority Liberal government.  Far from being a dry presentation of platform issues, this discussion was specifically geared to address the topic of leadership through change and how to maximize opportunities as they are presented.

As she took the podium and addressed the audience, I was struck by Ms Horwath’s nature as a leader and began to understand why she appears to be gaining significant traction in the current political and economic landscape.

Whatever your beliefs (and mine is not to question or persuade either way) there were some great leadership lessons to be learned from simply watching this very eloquent and charming woman handle the room.

To begin, she set the scene and explained some of the thinking behind recent decisions to collaborate with the Liberals over an unpopular budget rather than force an election.  Effective leadership is not about making the easy choice (which in this case would have been to simply follow the lead set by the third leg and oppose the budget). Rather, negotiating a resolution required a far more thoughtful approach.

She went on to express her ideas and address the questions of the audience in a confident and engaging style. What follows are some key leadership lessons I was able to observe in action.

Acknowledge your critics

One of the most disarming things Ms Horwath did for the audience this morning was to acknowledge where many of them may be holding different views and perspectives on the best form of government.  Not only was this a very humble way to approach the potentially antagonistic crowd, but it was extremely charming and immediately reset the tone of the discussion to more open exploration of ideas.

Anticipate questions and answer candidly

As you might expect, Ms Horwath was well prepared to address the kinds of questions that would arise. While her position for each area was clearly prepared in advance, her answers appeared to come very naturally and unscripted.  The ability to be clear on your position frees you up to be authentic in your response.

Be clear on your role, and your priorities

Like any good leader, there was no doubt in Ms Horwath’s mind what she was there to do this morning. When an opportunity arose, she reinforced her approach and the value proposition offered by her party. But she did so while paying close attention to the needs and interests of the audience. She didn’t dominate the discussion with political mantra but she did adhere to her priorities to shine a positive light on the choices being made and the strong alternative offered by her approach.

Ask for what you want

While much of the discussion this morning was about supporting others and working within the boundaries and limitations set, I heard Ms Horwath explicitly ask the audience for their vote – twice!  She made it clear that she will continue to work with the current structure for as long as required, but would much prefer to lead from the front. Her willingness to ask outright for what she wants, and to not obscure her ambition, impressed the heck out of me.  Too many women are hesitant to state their ambitions and far too shy about asking for what they want.

Demonstrate your openness to fresh ideas

As a leader – there are always moments when you have to confront statements of opinion presented as a question, or unsolicited ideas on how to do a better job.  Not only did Ms Horwath welcome such moments, she was incredibly gracious with her response and actively demonstrated that she would take action on the ideas presented.

Be true to who you are

One final observation I would make is that Ms Horwath is an example of a strong, confident and emotionally intelligent woman doing an excellent job in leadership.  While her gender does not appear to have been a limitation in her advancement, she has a integrative style and subtle approach which I can’t imagine being delivered effectively by anyone other than a woman.

Ten Ways to Engage Your Employees

It’s no secret that having a highly-motivated workforce is good for business. But can small and medium-sized businesses really compete with the employee engagement programs offered by larger competitors? The answer is yes. By following these ten tips, even organizations with a minimal budget can create an open, accountable and enriching environment for their staff:

1. Awards only go so far. ‘Employer of the year’ award programs are great ways to show that the organization is committed to the concept of engagement, but they do not guarantee an engaged workforce. Ineffective management can undermine even the most innovative employee incentive programs. Likewise, just because an organization has not submitted to external validation does not necessarily mean they are any less of an employer of choice for their staff.

2. If you want them to care, you have to care. This one is pretty straightforward. If you want people to commit their time, energy and commitment to things that matter to your organization, it pays to show an interest in your employees and their work. Remembering names and paying attention to the things they tell you about their families, special events, holidays, hobbies and interests is critical. This type of behaviour proves to your staff they are more than just a ‘resource’ for you. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Undercover Boss, you can see this very clearly. Sometimes, the best motivation comes from someone simply paying attention and listening.

3. Demand excellence and hold people accountable. While you may not condone his brutal leadership style, those who work with Gordon Ramsey seem to be highly engaged. A small compliment from Ramsey over a well-executed risotto can wash away the devastating critique he dished out only moments prior. And whatever you might think of Ramsey, he is a perfectionist who holds people accountable and expects them to live up to their potential. While you may not wish to be quite so aggressive in the workplace, it certainly pays to be real when it comes to performance. A tough critic who gives compliments sparingly and asks people to redo work that is not up to par can certainly drive engagement.

4. What you choose not to do is just as important. As a leader, your every action is being closely monitored by others. If someone is underperforming, the team expects you to deal with it. If you turn a blind eye, or worse yet, delegate an increased share of work to others to compensate for this weak link, your stronger performers will start questioning why they should work as hard as they do. Without the proper feedback, a weaker performer loses the opportunity to step up or find a better fit for their skills elsewhere.

5. Don’t let your lack of planning become someone else’s emergency. Putting something at the bottom of your pile until you get around to it, or until a creeping deadline makes it urgent, is a clear indication that the project is not important to you or the organization. Imagine how motivating it is then to be the one who has to deal with that last-minute emergency due to your procrastination or lack of planning. If it wasn’t important to you to do it sooner, then its not important enough for someone else to have to drop everything they are working on to make it happen, perhaps causing them to fall behind on other projects.

6. Help them discover their strengths. All employees want to see personal progression. For some that might mean promotion and financial reward, for others it could mean something more personal. It’s worth asking your employees what would make today, this week, this month or this year a worthwhile use of their time and then show them how to achieve their goals.

7. Ask for feedback. Find out what your employees consider the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and ask people what they would tell a new potential hire when asked “what does it mean to work here?” But be warned: Asking for feedback can be hazardous, especially if you try to make excuses or try justifying any shortfalls rather than seeking ways to fill the gaps.

8. Be open and transparent with your results. I’m always amazed by how many corporate workers are removed from the reality of the business results. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to generate an entrepreneurial level of engagement if your workers are not exposed to the financial information needed to make sound business decisions. Show them how to read a balance sheet. Teach them why certain business metrics and key indicators matter in your business and how their role contributes to the bottom line. Even if they are not in sales, they can make a proactive impact by reducing costs, eliminating redundancy and improving efficiency to increase profits.

9. Give people the space and time they need to explore new ideas. Being able to influence the future direction of the business can be very motivating. Often, front line workers who engage with customers or interact with your products genearlly have great ideas for improving your business. Unfortunately, those with the most direct access to improvement opportunities are also the people who have the least time and authority to think about solutions. Give junior members of the team the opportunity to explore beyond their job description. Minds not yet entrenched in organizational patterns are a prime breeding ground for new connections. But be careful to avoid not-invented-here syndrome and its close cousin “we’ve tried it before and it didn’t work.” Fresh ideas plus new timing plus new champions may just be the combination needed to make it work and can be very motivating for those involved.

10. An engaged workplace is not a conflict-free zone. Constructive disagreement and collaborative debate amongst respected colleagues can be the source of great inspiration and engagement. On the other hand, conflicts that are buried can fester, creating dysfunction and disengagement. The important difference is a level of mutual respect, appreciation of diverse perspectives and a willingness to operate as if your answer is not the only way. Your role as a leader is to foster healthy debate. Encourage your people to explore alternatives to their own ideas and enable them to be honest with their differences.

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail Small Business – The Top Tens feature. Click here for the original

fingerprint

The new character witness – Social Media in the C-suite

Over the last several months I’ve been asked many times, and had cause to ponder, the pro’s and cons of jumping into social media in order to facilitate business growth.

If you’ve been anywhere near Twitter, Google or the blogosphere at any time in the last 12 months you will have heard many of the same questions – What’s the value? Where’s the return on investment? How do you measure effectiveness? How do you manage the risks? Who owns the social channel? etc. The list goes on. There are so many questions, and the answer for most of them is “it depends…” as in “it depends what your objectives are, who your customers are, what your business model is…”. Not that the use of social media is a temporary phenomenon. I truly believe that the socialization of business is here to stay. Its more that the choices of how to use these tools, who to have as the primary representatives of your organization and what sort of content to publish and share is dependent on your overall business goals.

So what role if any, should C-level executives, senior leaders and owners of businesses be taking in the adoption of these tools? Should they leave the discovery and leverage of communications technology to their marketing and PR professionals, or should they be leading by example?

One of the most interesting things I have witnessed in my own journey of discovery (revealing my bias that leaders should be wielding the machete when it comes to exploring new possibilities and models of doing business) is just how revealing a collection of 140 character statements can be, over time. Like watching the gradual build of an impressionistic painting, you can learn a lot from watching how people craft a quick tweet, reply to a follower, offer a point of view in a chat and generally interact.

One of the most delightful leaders I have had the pleasure to meet and chat with online and later offline (Sam Parrotto @qstreet) made the observation that she learns as much from how a tweeter interacts with others as she does from her own engagement with that same person. I’ve also seen how this same impression of someone’s intelligence, political persuasion, influence, and credibility translates to a real life setting, with offline meet-ups skipping easily over the mutual sniffing rituals and heading straight into the realm of warm reunions.

I’ve said before, social media doesn’t make you social, it amplifies personality traits and raises my awareness of those I want to interact with and those I admire. In that regard, social media IS the new character witness. The uncensored interactions that people have online, accelerate the opinions we form (the good, the bad and the ugly). Self-servitude, arrogance, deafness and egotistical behaviour can be amazingly evident if you watch, look and listen to how people approach their online community. While warmth, generosity, engagement and sincere responsiveness just exude from others. Just look at the amazing list of 60 men and 60 women on twitter that the wonderful Margie Clayman has put together and you’ll see exactly what I mean. While I most certainly agree with her choices, having the pleasure to ‘know’ many of these men and women from my own travels through the stream, Margie’s personal notes about why she admires each of the people on her lists and how she first met them is clear evidence of her world view. Margie is a maven extraordinaire. I love her authenticity and contribution to collaborative learning. A leader in her field, undoubtedly.

Just as I am forming impressions of individuals from the way they interact online, I am also forming impressions of businesses and their level of involvement with their communities. As the war for professional talent has heated up and continues to be a hot topic for 2011, I’m sure I’m not alone in weighing up judgements about an organization’s innovation culture by who it is heading up their social media efforts. If I see a company engaging in social media through their marketing or PR team, that’s okay, but it’s all too clearly a tactic. When I see real leaders engaging authentically through the social media channels, responding in a human way to the comments, questions and interests of others, and leading by example, I see them and the businesses they represent as more interesting and real. I know which I would rather do business with…

What do you think! Can you really get to ‘know’ someone by watching the way they behave online? Do you admire CEO’s and other execs who jump ‘naked’ into the fray? Does a social media presence manned by a C-level executive provide you with a different impression of a company? Maybe you think the CEO has better things to do than tweet. Would love your thoughts on this.

booksmart

Mastering Leadership – Essential Lessons you won’t learn in school…

For me, leadership is not linked to position or accreditation. By that I mean that I have met many non-titled leaders who inspire and influence others without any formal authority over them, and many excellent leaders who got their MBA the ‘hard-knocks’ way. I have met an equally large number of people who hold a leadership position but dramatically fail to lead. They may direct, govern, preside and authorize… but lead? They are missing that particular chromosome.

For me the major difference is personal agenda. The leadership I aspire to is one which motivates others to give willingly of their best. One that believes in driving people to live to their full potential. These are qualities that are not developed in a business school or from the pages of a book but rather in real-time connections with the people and organizations you spend your career days with. Being naturally curious about people and figuring out how to unleash their creativity and determination to resolve new business challenges is the true work of leaders.

So, what are some of the most important and essential lessons I have learned so far in my journey towards mastering this kind of leadership?

1 – All business is personal:

While I fully support a focus on goals and results, I am equally conscious of the manner in which we get there. People; not business models, frameworks or processes; run organizations. People decide whether to lend their knowledge, skills and resources to help execute a plan. Those same people can be stubborn, resistant to change and counterproductive towards an end game they don’t believe in or don’t feel part of.  My years of working with Partners and Business Owners have shown me that leaders must have a grand vision but must also make goals individually significant. If the new direction is going to take effort – you’d better make the net result meaningful for each person at an individual level.

2 – Its about them, not you…

A couple of years ago, at the peak of the credit crisis, I witnessed many senior executives burying themselves in emergency cabinet meetings and planning sessions, trying to figure out how to ‘lead’ their business through. Being so focused on how they would help the business to survive, they effectively withdrew from the very people they were leading and closed off the opportunity for everyone to be part of the solution. Furthermore, employees lost valuable work time worrying about what might happen.

Even in positive times, great leaders need to ask their people what they need to find a way through. How they can remove barriers and provide the tools and resources people need to get the job done. Thinking about what your team needs from you (rather than what you need from your team) can help inspire innovation and accelerate change even when a solution seems impossible.

3 – Don’t try so hard

When I got my first shot at a true leadership position, I dutifully adapted to the role. All the books and ‘how to’ guides on effective leadership walked me through those first 90 days and how I needed to set goals and go for the ‘quick wins’. I was excited to finally get the chance to put all my great ideas into action. That is when I discovered that what looks great on paper, often falls apart when you factor in the human element! Somehow my great ideas and mental rehearsals didn’t translate into the inspiring roar of action that I was aiming for! My colleagues wondered what had happened to me. The person who had been a creative and inspirational team member was confusing and awkward as a new leader. Looking back, I was trying so DAMN hard, I forgot that what got me to that point was my instinctive interest in people and their needs. I didn’t need to suddenly develop new methods for engaging people and communicating with them. I’d like to say they came around, and that I managed to get over that initial leadership hiccup, but unfortunately not. It was a lesson learned from failure!

4 – Take care of number 1

It might sound counter-intuitive but this is the toughest lesson most leaders have to learn. Think of it as the oxygen mask lesson. You are not invincible! If you have ever suffered from health issues as a result of working too hard and not taking time to take care of yourself you know all about this lesson. Enough said.

5 – The learning never stops

No matter how successful you become as a leader, the learning should never end. This lesson is harder to apply the more successful you become. Its easy to absorb new ideas and recognize learning opportunities when you are starting out, but the more successful you are, the harder it is to let go of what you ‘know’ and remain open to what might be ‘possible’ or even ‘imaginable’. I see many incredibly successful people close themselves off to new learning because they know better, they’ve tried it that way before and it never works or simply they don’t have time to learn a new approach. Make it a rule to learn something new every year, from languages, to music, to a new software program.

While there are certainly excellent examples to learn from in the field of books and business schools, leadership is truly a personal journey of discovery. You can learn as much from your mistakes as from your successes.What do you think? What are some of the most important lessons leaders must learn outside the classroom or pages of a book?

fear

Go Fast, Turn Left…

The topic for this weekend’s #USBlogs post “What are you afraid of, and (more importantly), what are you doing about it?” was suggested by @donfperkins

Like many, I share a few traditional and customary fears:

  • I have a healthy interest in keeping my feet on the floor (rather than attached to the end of a fully stretched bungee cord or beneath a billowing piece of silk)
  • I am mildly arachnophobic, which I reportedly share with up to 55% of western women and 18% of western men.
  • I prefer not to walk in unlit areas late at night
  • I have to look the other way when being punctured by a hypodermic

But none of those things really interfere with my day to day or professional life.

The number one thing I am afraid of is that when all is said and done, what I have done won’t make a lasting difference.

As a parent, I worry about the impact I have on my kids, and how I can make sure that they become all that they can be. We are all doing it (parenting that is) for the first time, without a backup plan. To counteract my fear, I long ago wrote myself a guideline for the kinds of adults I hope my kids will become : caring, nurturing, intelligent, questioning, hard working etc. It made me realise the values I wanted to instill in my kids and the personality traits I would most admire in them as adults. The minor arguments and challenges over things that don’t really matter; like finishing all the food on their plate, drinking another can of pop or what clothes they wear, now get weighed against how that particular battle will contribute to the kind of adult they will become. Having a goal-plan allows me to focus on the bigger picture and not get drawn into every little scrap. From a professional standpoint, and as leaders, we all need to learn to do the same. Focus on the bigger picture and allow the noise and distractions that happen around us every day to colour our actions only to the extent they have an impact on our future.

The other thing I am afraid of is getting too comfortable and set in my ways.

The more success we achieve professionally, the more vital it is to acknowledge the enormous value of learning and stretching in areas where you are least comfortable. Paradoxically, it is also when we feel most pressure to be infallible. As a Director, VP or even a C-Level executive, you still cannot afford to stop learning and growing from those around you. That said, you do need to maintain a presence with your followers which inspires their confidence and loyal commitment. Over the last few years I have done a few things to ensure that I don’t fall prey to the silencing pressure of my own accomplishments. I have worked with external mentors to candidly explore areas where I could stretch and grow. My mentors have ranged from those I have worked with in the past to those I have actively sought out to purposefully chart unmapped areas of expertise. I have placed myself in relationships of trust to openly discuss where inexperience and hesitancy might be holding me back. The value of a third party perspective to the learning opportunities you might find yourself in enable you to extrapolate to general rules and methods to use again and again.

My Son, skating recently in Toronto

Some of the best learning opportunities come from facing fear and pushing yourself all the way to the point of failure! Only then do you know just how far you can go. That is why many of us put ourselves in extreme situations, to see just how capable we really are. I do this in my life by taking on new skills outside of my professional capacity, to stay grounded to the need to learn and grow. The skill I took on this year was speed-skating. My son took up the sport in 2009 and I decided it was time for mum to stop sitting in the stands and start taking a more active interest. Our club has members from age 6 to 78 and one of our older skaters only started speed skating at age 70 and went on to win a slew of medals! Having barely strapped on a pair of skates before, I took to the ice last September. I cannot profess to be record-breaking fast, but a few months later I am proudly traversing the ice in crouched position with smooth sideways strokes and cross-overs, accomplished only because I learned to let go and push myself to beyond the point of failure (with several bruises to show for it)! Next year I may even quell my fears long enough to enter a race or two!  I find learning new skills where I have to fail in order to succeed a great lesson in humility and a constant reminder to stay fresh in my thinking at work. How can I push past the point of comfort to unveil new methods. What’s my workplace equivalent of Go Fast, Turn Left…?

In her famous book “Feel the fear and do it anyway” Susan Jeffers shared 5 Truths about fear:

  • Truth 1. The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow
  • Truth 2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.
  • Truth 3. The only way to feel better about myself is to go out and do it.
  • Truth 4. Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I’m on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else.
  • Truth 5. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

I am proud to fear… It inspires me to keep learning. How do your fears push you?

This post is part of the #usblogs: Week 5 Round-Up Topic of the week: “What Are You Afraid Of? More Importantly, What Are You Doing about It?”

Check out these other blogs in the network series:

The End of the Visionary? Leadership in 21st Century

It wasn’t that long ago that being a leader meant being the most assertive, driven, autocratic and demanding person in the room. Exemplary leaders of the last few centuries have been innovators, thought leaders and icons with unshakably confidence in the direction they were leading their business. One can only imagine how intimidating and exhilarating it must have been to have the opportunity for an ‘audience’ with such a Chief. Indeed, who needed Klout, in a time when reportedly the likes of Jack Welch and Steve Jobs could cast their vote on your future success within seconds of meeting you, and watch lists of the Top 40 under 40 either made or broke your career aspirations.

In fact, many tomes still espouse the ideal scenario of the leader who sets a clear vision for the future and then works with his/her team to steer all efforts in that singular direction. Many discussions on change management continue to perpetuate the myth that all it takes to motivate people is to paint such a compelling and aspirational image of the future that people are eager to jump on board and do whatever it takes to get there.

Then Jim Collins set a ball rolling with the epic “Good to Great” suggestion that charismatic, celebrity leaders may not provide the greatest return on investment for their organizations. The humbler, more humanistic level 5 leader become an interesting dichotomy for those who aspired to the corner office enough to read Collin’s book. People started to question if unwavering (some might call dogmatic) determination to set a strategic direction and then continue to pursue the vision come hell or high water was the most appropriate model for business success.

Along with the shift introduced by Collins, has come a not-to-be-ignored groundswell of people looking for more purpose in their work.  Gen Y’s demands to be heard, the Linchpin’s drum beat of contribution, the Free-Agent and Drive nation stating that if their leaders wont recognize their talents they will up sticks and move elsewhere. All have crescendoed into the emergence of a new type of leader – The Leader as Facilitator.

The current batch of leaders to inspire a generation are clearly still assertive and confident in their own intellect and creativity. But there is space in their hearts and their egos for the contributions of others. They collaborate. They recognize and admit the areas where they are not strong and seek openly to complement their absence of strengths by working with others. They seek input, take direction and listen and support the ideas of others, sometimes in preference to their own. When they have a clear idea of what they’d like to do – they share it. When they are missing pieces of information, they state clearly what they know and where the gaps are and they ASK for help.

So, are you a 21st Century Leader?

  • When you are working with others, do you openly admit what you don’t know and seek help?
  • Do you appreciate and value the contributions of others, even when their views and approaches may be diametrically opposed to your own.
  • Do you welcome diversity of thinking and behaviour and see it as an opportunity to learn a new perspective?
  • Do you take accountability for your actions, and the impact you have on others around you? (intended or otherwise)
  • Do you promote and encourage others to think for themselves, try new things, experiment and even fail – without stepping in and trying to ‘correct’ them?
  • If people try, and stumble, do you support the learning they have accomplished?
  • Are you open to learning from those who are younger, less experienced or less educated than you are?
  • Are you willing to show your vulnerability, and your lack of knowledge, in order to open the door for new possibilities?

I know which kind of leader I aspire to be. And like the best role models I have had the pleasure to work with, I admit… I am a work in progress.  Long may I continue to learn and collaborate!

p.s. THANKS #UsGuys for the #UsBlogs challenge which inspires this post!  I look forward to reading the other posts & attaching their links as an update.

(Updated with the extended Roundup, Thanks Tom!)