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Editorial - Essentials of Leadership


The question of who and what is a leader has vexed most people, as a leader can mean many different things, to many different people.  It also has cultural implications as well. Another aspect not considered, is the environment that the leader has to operate within, which also determines the style and form of leadership required.  Leadership has also changed over a period of time as well.
 
If you look in most management books on sale today, as well as those no longer in print, they all have their own their definition of leadership.
 
Tom Peters is the management guru’s, management guru and in his book, “In Search of Excellence” stated that; “ Leadership is about discovering the passion, persistence and imagination to get results, to be able to find the Wow factor and to be able to think the weird thoughts necessary to learn and thrive in a disruptive age”.
 
Peter Druker does give the simplified version, "someone who has followers", but defines leadership as a means to an end and he details the foundations and requirements of effective leadership.  Effective leadership for Drucker is thinking through the organisation's mission and defining it. Then, establishing the mission and visibly though effective communication.  It is the leader who sets the goals and priorities with total clarity. Likewise it is up to the leader to define and maintain standards.
 
Welch is probably the best known "big-businessman" of his generation (CEO and Chairman of General Electric for over 20 years). The Welch leadership way is typified by clarity of thought and forthrightness of direction. For Welch, business leaders who treat change as an enemy will fail. They need to be aware that the very survival of their corporation rests with their ability to adapt - this is the reality they are working in - and to prepare their workers for change. The faster this can be accomplished the better.  Welch believes leadership is about Vision not supervision! The Leaders should set a general framework for their team, the vision should be congruent with the overall goals of the organisation but they should avoid too detailed (and therefore restrictive) plans; this can stifle the ability to change. Trying to keep tabs on detailed plans is not the best use of time: Control slows you down! If an employee can't live up to the values - get rid of them.
 
John Adair was a Senior Lecturer and Leadership Training Advisor at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.  He believes that leadership matters deeply, that good leadership is good leadership irrespective of whether it is within a business, charity, sports team, political party or army regiment.   He also believes that good leadership can be learnt and that everyone can improve their leadership ability.  Great leaders exemplify the qualities that they expect from others. They do not have to be "experts" in their subordinate roles rather that they should personify the qualities desired.  He highlights a core list: enthusiastic, energetic, calm in a crisis, warm and tough yet fair.  For Adair, leadership is a privilege - a leader is there to serve his followers.
 
Rudolph Giuliani is a political leader who came to world attention during the 9/11 attack on New York where he was Mayor at the time.  His actions and conduct during this period cemented his reputation for great leadership.  His leadership advice is a mix of home-spun common sense coupled with simple practical tasks and advice.  He founded Giuliani Partners, a consulting firm offering leadership advice in 2002. The publication of his book "Leadership" in the same year confirmed his reputation as a leadership thinker of our age.  Giuliani’s leadership style is very reminiscent of Churchill although he tries to distance himself from him.  He states that a daily routine, starting with a morning meeting means that things are routinely followed-up; resulting in early wins that encouraged subordinate staff to drive projects towards successful completion.  This allowed him to oversee the big picture, while researching other topics that needed his attention.  Once a decision was made, it would be “All Go” with total confidence in ultimate success.  In getting on with things, especially in times of crises, instils further confidence in others.  If he got it wrong, he insists that the leader has to accept responsibility for the teams’ actions and not blame others.  Conversely, give praise where praise is due, you honour those who have done well under your stewardship.  Have public values and beliefs in place, give subordinates responsibility, giving team members the benefit of the doubt (at least initially, then if they continually fail in expectations, they can be removed), and stand by your people when things get difficult.  Doing this enables and empowers the group and encourages them to be bold in whatever they have been charged with.
 
Peter Scholtes shared the platform with W. Edwards Deming educating corporations about the "new" philosophy of the Quality movement.  His view on leadership concentrates on systems thinking.  He believes in transforming leadership from hierarchical command and control into a style of inspiring leadership.  System thinking requires leaders to understand their organisations as if it was a system, rather than an entity, therefore leadership is a process or set of processes.  The leader has to understand system variation, understanding the difference between common cause variation and special cause variation. Common cause variations are dealt with at the strategic level, while special cause variations are mastered tactically.  He states that leaders have to understand people, particularly how people learn, interact, develop and communicate.  They also need to understand how poor leadership can de-motivate their staff.  The Leader of any organisation must show leadership by providing a totally clear meaning, direction, mission, values and focus, which must come from the heart (not be meaningless slogans and wordplay). Staff need to know what to measure and how to measure it.
 
My understanding of Leadership is as follows.
A true leader acts as a catalyst; by galvanizing people or groups to a common purpose though use of their oratory power to convince others to a stated cause, by practicing what they preach.  One definition is that a leader has an instinct to lead those around them, using their skills and knowledge.  They are prepared to lead from the front (by example), showing utmost care for those who follow them. These leaders will not hesitate to admit mistakes, ask advice and learn from it. They continually keep re-inventing themselves. They are open to new challenges and are ready to adopt unconventional methods and approaches to achieve their objectives. These leaders also have the ability to take large risks, but they are invariably heavily calculated in their favour.
In addition to this I personally include mentoring.  I take some people that work for me, who have that indefinable spark of “something”, provide them with guidance, advice, encouragement and responsibility.  They in turn, as they develop, generally do the same with those around them.  They become advocates, allies and your change agents
 
I believe that personal conviction, communication, confidence, compassion, skill and knowledge, when taken together, make that person a hero to their followers.

Author: David Snell

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