We’re often asked for our opinions about ‘leadership styles’, and in this sound bite world we’re often considered to be rather verbose in our response. But there’s a reason we’re somewhat considered in our response to questions like “What leadership style works best when….?” or “How should a leader respond when….?” The reason being that in most cases we cannot consider the leaders behaviour in isolation from the response it gets. This is what defines the role of the leader. An individuals’ effectiveness as a leader is totally dependent on the response they get from those they seek to lead.
Now this makes it very difficult to approach leadership development from the perspective of offering a prescription that says “This is what you need to do in order to be an effective leader”. The sheer number of variables in any leadership intervention make such a prescriptive approach potentially damaging, at best it’s a way of getting a leader to pre-consider their options, at worst it’s a recipe for inflexible and unresponsive leadership practice. So, we’re very wary of any approach to leadership development that starts with “Here’s what you should be doing as a leader”, our approach would always start with “Here’s how you should be thinking as a leader”.
To illustrate what we try to achieve in an approach to leadership that is focused on shaping mindset let’s consider four key leadership interventions that we believe to be central to any leadership role. Each one of these leadership interventions will be familiar to anybody who has thought about what leaders do, and why. What I’m going to add is a pointer to how the leader should be thinking when they make these interventions.
A leadership intervention that is concerned with:
1.) Defining and Informing Strategic Direction.
Central to this intervention is working with and through others to connect a defined strategic target to the shorter-term performance milestones that will measure progress towards it. The leadership thinking that will support this is about making a strong and undeniable connection between the two positions i.e. I need to support my people in defining and accepting everyday performance targets that obviously take us towards a shared vision of the future. In this situation, the leader works from this mindset towards self-questioning along the lines of
“How do I communicate my enthusiasm for the vision?”
“What type of targets do we need?”
“How do we define targets that inspire performance?”
Advance thinking around questions like these will put the leader into the right space to open such an intervention.
2.) Establishing Methods and Processes that Deliver on Targets
Central to this intervention is working with and through others to connect a set of clear targets with the everyday activities and processes that will achieve success in meeting those targets. The leadership thinking that will support this is about communicating externally defined targets in a way achieves clear and comprehensive understanding, whilst acknowledging that the people working towards these targets have an important role to play in defining effective and workable systems. The self-questioning here is along the lines of
“How do I communicate my belief in the efficacy of these targets?”
“What process is going to efficiently achieve the sharing I need?”
“What are the red-lines that I can’t allow to be crossed?”
3.) Motivating People to Engage Fully in Delivering Agreed Systems and Processes
Central to this intervention is working with and through others to connect an individual’s commitment that comes from believing that what they do at work matters in achieving organisational purpose, with their recognition of how everything they do is directed towards this goal. The leadership thinking that will support this is about acknowledging and respecting an individual’s workplace motivations and channeling these into a collective understanding of how success will be achieved. The self-questioning then becomes
“What is the vision that people are working towards?”
“What is it about this vision motivate them?”
“How do I harness this motivation to what might be seen as a mundane set of routines?”
4.) Recruiting Enthusiastic Support for a Shared Vision of Success.
Central to this intervention is working with and through others to connect a strategic vision of future growth with a respect for the culture and values of the organisation. The leadership thinking here is about selling an excitement about a positive future in a way that profoundly appeals to the people who make up your organisation. The self-questioning here is around
“Why am I excited about the future here?”
“What is important / not important to these people?”
“How do I describe this future in a way that is factual, but also aspirational for them?”
These are situations that every leader faces every day – either as original interventions or as reinforcement of their established approaches. The place to learn them is rarely ‘live and in the firing line’ but in the relative security of an engaging process of experiential leadership learning. We use tools such as Pressure Point, Webmaster and Simbols to create the opportunities for this leadership learning to happen, while larger scale leadership interventions such as Top Priority will allow an exploration of leadership thinking and action at a much deeper level.