Whoever is at the top of the team or organisation makes a big difference to their group or company.

As the saying goes, “the fish rots from the head.” If it is certainly true that poor or dysfunctional leadership permeates down through the organisation, then it is also true that effective, inspirational leadership also filters down through the company or organisation.

Leadership is about relationships

Leadership is about relationships

In essence, leadership is a relationship. As JM Kouzes and BZ Posner (2002) say in their book, “Leadership Challenge,” “It’s a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow” (page 20).

Sometimes the relationship is one to one. Sometimes, it is one to many. Irrespective of the number, leaders must master the dynamics of this relationship.

Leadership is an influence process. At any time you’re trying to influence the behavior of someone toward a goal, you’re engaging in leadership. This is so no matter whether you’re a politician, a CEO, a parent, a teacher or a minister of religion.

Ken Blanchard asserts that leadership is about moving people from dependence to independence in pursuit of a goal. However, he considers that there are some prime requisites here. First, leadership is about going somewhere. If you don’t know where you’re going, your leadership doesn’t matter. Second, it’s about implementation. Certainly leaders need to give their people vision and direction, but they also need to work to get their people to move closer to their destination. Finally, it is about serving and supporting. In this way, leaders serve their people by guiding and cheerleading them as their needs require.

Definitions of Leadership

“The legitimate use of power to achieve outcomes on behalf of a group of people”

(Jock Cameron, National Student Leadership Forum, Parliament House, Canberra, 20th Sept 2012)

“Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right thing”

(Peter Drucker; Austrian-born American management consultant and educator, 1909-2005)

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves”

(Lao Tze; 6th Century BC, philosopher of ancient China)

“Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power, but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders”

(Follett, MP. The Creative Experience, NY; Longmans Green, 1924, page 3)

Are Leaders Born or Made?

This is a familiar question. In fact, I was sitting on a plane only a month back and the guy behind me turned to his friend and asked that very same question. I taught leadership for six years in the MBA program for the University of South Australia and it was the one question that students always wanted to know about. I now teach that same course at Torrens University and still the question is asked.

70-30So, what’s the answer?

It’s both. Leaders are both born and made.

It is Prof Bruce Avolio who is the Professor of Management at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington who says that according to his research and investigation, 70% of leaders are made and 30% are born.

Interestingly, the next question is that if this is so, how do we learn leadership?

Prof Avolio indicates that the 70-20-10 rule applies. In short, 70% of your ability to lead comes from your experiences and what happens to you, 20% comes from your role models, and that final 10% we just don’t really know about yet.

Further, there was a landmark piece of research back in 1994 by AK Ericsson and N Charness (“Expert Performance, It’s Structure and Acquisition,” American Psychologist, Vol 49, Page 725-747) which highlighted that people who were considered prodigies in areas such as music, chess, athletics and so on, all had a very consistent pattern. All not only showed interest in their talents, but all practised from between 2 to 4 hours a day for 10 years. They went on to find that “experts” had practised over 10,000 hours, the next level down about 7,500 hours, and the next level 5,000 hours.

They therefore concluded that “the traditional view of talent, which concludes that successful individuals have special innate abilities and basic capabilities was NOT consistent with the reviewed evidence.” Instead, high performance was characterised by “factors that predispose individuals toward engaging in deliberate practice” and then “sustaining high levels of practice for many years.” Expert performers also typically had coaches who encouraged them to practice intensely.

So, what’s the message? Some great leaders are not necessarily born with, but acquire at an early age, the desire to make things happen with other people. Other leaders can acquire increased leadership ability with practice at any age. Finally, coaching helps the leaders acquire the skills they need and keeps them accountable.

In brief, if you want to get good at leadership (and coaching for that matter), then, engage in intense practice!  Practice, practice, practice. It’s not rocket science really…

Failure of Leadership

Typically, leaders who fail at building support from their followers do so in one of two ways:

  1. They are autocrats or dictators who are typically ruled by their ego where they use a megaphone to blast a point of view without making anyone around them any smarter and if anything, cause their followers to withdraw and hibernate or occasionally, cause their followers to become their favourites and in turn, create cliques. These leaders lacked any kind of emotional intelligence and normally self-centered and perhaps narcissistic.
  2. They are abdicrats where they allow the free flow of democracy in such a way that it becomes almost an anarchy of misalignment. Generally speaking, in an endeavor to please or because of their own lack of confidence, they tend to go overboard to gain consensus and not surprisingly, the team loses its way without any clear direction.

Instead, leadership is a paradox of power in that it is top-down, but interactive, command-and-control but participatory.

Leaders Versus Managers

Is there a difference being a manager and a leader? Two sources and anecdotal evidence certainly says that there are differences. Although it is true to say that most of the leaders that I coach would admit to fluctuating between the two, it is important to recognize where you are at any point in time. Are you leading or managing?

  1. According to Capowski, G. (1994) “Anatomy of a leader: Where are the leaders of tomorrow?” Management Review, (March), p 12, the different characteristics between leader and manager are as follows:
    Leader Manager
    Visionary Rational
    Passionate Business-like
    Creative Persistent
    Inspiring Tough-minded
    Innovative Analytical
    Courageous Structured
    Imaginative Deliberative
    Experimental Authoritative
    Independent Stabilising
    Share knowledge Centralises knowledge
    Trusting Guarding
    Warm and radiant Cool and reserved
    Expresses humility Rarely admits to being wrong
    Initiator Implementer
    Acts as coach, consultant, teacher Acts as a boss
    Does the right things Does things right
    Leadership Development
    Vision, values, clarity of mission,teamwork, managing change,communication, culture
    Management Development
    Financial acumen, project strategy, organising skills, process improvement,financial control,information technology
    “When it ain’t broke may be the only time you can fix it” “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
  2. In “What Leaders Really Do” by JP Kotter, HBR (2001), the following depicts the difference between Leaders and Managers.
    Leadership Management
    Copes with Change Copes with complexity
    First step is to set a direction – developing a vision for the future & strategies to achieve it First step is undertake planning & budgeting – setting targets or goals and steps to get there
    Achieves plan by aligning people & communicating the new direction to coalitions who are committed to it happening Achieves the plan by organising & staffing – org structure, jobs, staffing the jobs, communicating the plan to staff, delegating, devising systems to monitor implementation
    Achieving a vision requires motivating & inspiring & keeping the people moving in the right direction Pursues plan accomplishment by controlling & problem solving & monitoring results via meetings, reports etc

The Key to Leadership is Trust

Professor Bruce Avolio in his book in 2011 titled, “Full Range Leadership Development” highlights the notion that the core of effective leadership is about trust. Without it, leadership is non-existent.

It's all about Trust

Trust is critical

See below the key quotes from his book:

“…without trust, you can never achieve the full potential of your leadership…” (p 23)

To gain trust, it is important for leaders to have “set clearly defined expectations and agreed-on levels of performance…” This is “effective transactional leadership [which] can create the conditions on which deeper levels of trust are formed” (p 23).

“…transactional leadership was the basis for developing transformational leadership…without the transactional base, expectations are often unclear, direction is ill defined, and the goals you are working toward are too ambiguous (p 24)…the most important effect in the early development of teams was learning how to structure roles and expectations…So, getting the transactions right consistently, in what we have labelled transactional leadership, is essential to becoming an effective leader, follower, and team” (p 30).

Transformational leadership involves the process whereby leaders develop followers into leaders. This is a conscious goal; the leader has a development plan in her or his head about each follower…Such leaders stimulate challenge, as opposed to suppressing it when it arises…they work to leave behind an organisation, community or even society that is better positioned to succeed than when they first began their work….[they are] moral agents who focus themselves and their followers on achieving higher-level missions and purposes. The higher levels of identification result in higher levels of commitment, trust, loyalty, and performance (p 51-52).

“If you honour all your various transactions with people, over time they come to trust you; it is higher levels of trust versus compliance that transformational leadership uses as its base for achieving exemplary performance” (p 52).

“What we have clearly learned is that leaders who can balance transactional and transformational leadership across time, situations, and challenges are the most effective” (p 50).

What are the Characteristics of Leadership?