Monday, 22 April 2013

The Pied Piper of Leadership

On a recent trip to NZ I finally had time to visit the Hard to Find (but worth the effort) Book Shop in Auckland. It’s actually quite easy to find if you know where to look and once you’re in there very easy to get lost amongst the huge and eclectic collection of books. I was on the hunt for a birthday gift and once I found what I wanted hidden in English History amongst a host of fascinating titles, I was distracted by the business section. As I looked up and down the shelves Amanda Sinclair’s Leadership for the Disillusioned caught my eye. It was the word disillusioned that got me and my interest increased as I scanned the Introduction where the first 2 sentences read:

“This leadership book is not about how to run a company. It is for those who are disillusioned by their encounters with leaders and leadership: with idealised heroic performances, impoverished theories and oversimplified templates.”

I bought the book and this post expands one particular gem that when read made me exclaim ‘Yes, that’s exactly what it is!’

Leadership is generally understood as the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. People are willing to follow good leaders and good leaders are those who, through a combination of personality and leadership skills can communicate with, establish parameters for and inspire others to achieve what’s good for all. Unfortunately I’ve noticed less leadership of this calibre and more of something that leaves me both disillusioned and annoyed. There’s no doubt the boundary between leadership and management is blurry, made even more so by the terms being used interchangeably. But Execs and Senior Management shouldn’t kid themselves that everything’s honky-dory with leadership in their organisation when the behaviours being exhibited are those either of management or like that of the Pied Piper with a team blindly following its leader.

When the DNA of an organisation approves a leadership that focuses less on motivating a group than it does on loyalty and obedience, something’s gone haywire; unless of course that’s what management wants. But if that’s so please, be honest about it. Label it what it is and dispense with the internal comms and ra-ra sessions that seek to engage employees in something that doesn’t exist. Oh and by the way, that employees know doesn’t exist.

Loyalty and obedience mean people will not act of their own volition; they’re depending on someone else to act first and/or issue instructions for them to follow. Amanda Sinclair writes “Dependency is one of the biggest problems for leaders and leadership. When followers exhibit dependency, they look to the leader to solve things; they abdicate responsibility for the problem facing a group.” She goes on to say “Though pervasive in organisations and teams, dependency is rarely admitted. Because of managerial emphasis on values such as ‘initiative’ and ‘self-starter’, dependency is a taboo.” No employee will display the characteristics associated with being a self-starter or show initiative while they’re waiting for someone else to act.

Sometimes obedience is required as management will make decisions or set directions that are there to be followed. That’s what they’re hired to do. However an entirely different set of skills and capabilities are required for good leadership. Leadership takes time and effort to remain focused on the overriding purpose while inspiring others to act. The alternative – being sucked into the dependency trap – is a risk organisations and their management need to be consciously recognising and actively addressing if they want leadership to deliver tangible benefits.

What type of leadership do you give your followers? Are they following the status quo and waiting for you to provide them everything or are they showing initiative, challenging the accepted and willing to fail forward and fail fast for the good of the business?

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