Sunday, January 02, 2005
The Leader of the Future.
The cloak of chief; the cloak is a metaphor for the strong values and beliefs that protect the wearer
The real role of leadership ‘is to help people face reality and to mobilize them to make change’ according to Ronald Heifetz director of Leadership Education Project at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government. And, he says, making change is painful. ‘Many people have a smiley face view of what it means to lead. They get a rude awakening when they find themselves with a leadership opportunity. Exercising leadership creates resistance- and pain’. People are frightened they will lose something – that they are going to have to give up something that they are comfortable with.
So why bother to lead. ‘There are a lot of things in life that are worth the pain. Being a leader is one of them’, he says.
So what do good leaders do?
The real courage is facing reality – and helping people around you to face this reality. It is no accident to word ‘vision’ refers to our capacity to see. Mustering the courage to interrogate reality is a central function of a leader. And that requires the courage to face three realities.
First what do we stand for – and are there gaps between theses values and how we actually behave?
Second, what are the skills and talents we have – and are there gaps between what we have and what is required?
And third, what opportunities does the future hold? Is there a gap between these opportunities and our capability to capitalize on them?
Leaders don’t have to answer these questions themselves. Leaders provide direction but more that often means posing well structured questions. It is not about following the leaders ‘vision’ but more encouraging the organization to face up to and start tackling tough problems together.
Getting people to face reality is hard. Conflict is dangerous. It can damage relationships and friendships. But conflict is the primary engine of creativity and innovation. So leaders need a stomach for conflict and uncertainty and a willingness to try things and to learn from mistakes.
Not everything is subject to change. Leaders need to ask people what is precious and what is expendable? Which values are essential that, if we were to lose them, we lose ourselves? What assumptions need to be changed? The leaders real work to lead conversation about what is essential and what is not.
Leaders must be good listeners. They must ask, 'What is really happening here?' Real conversations give clues to what is happening beneath the surface. It is a skill to get people beyond just going along with what they have always done.
The enemy to empathetic listening is the leaders own sense of self importance. The more leaders take the lead and appear to have all the answers, the more others don’t bother. Some leaders also try to protect people from change but it is equally important to ‘un-protect them’. You have to be able to 'stir the pot without letting it boil over'.
Leaders will need partners from outside the organization to help people focus on difficult issues.
Leadership challenges for all the difficulties, Heifetz concludes, are worth the pain. There is a thrill that comes from creating something with others of value.
Sound like a creative school principal or teacher.
This web log based on an article by William C Taylor an editor of Fast Company, first printed June 1999