When we consider how organizations succeed or fail, in so many cases the crucial factor is effective leadership, or a lack thereof.

Leadership is seldom achieved by happily holding hands and singing Kumbaya

The Confusion about Management vs. Leadership

In effective organizations, management and leadership mutually reinforce each other.  Management is the employment of all resources to achieve the organizational goal. Leadership is the role of affecting followers to achieve the organizational goals.  For the most effective leaders and in the most successful organizations, these two fundamental abilities, management and leadership, are complementary.

Leadership is seldom achieved by happily holding hands and singing Kumbaya

Leaders affect their followers through two basic tools: authority (top down) and influence (organic, person-to-person).  Authority is bestowed upon the leader through his or her role in the organization; influence is employed through interpersonal actions and reputation.  All effective leaders I have ever observed knew how and when to use each tool appropriately.

My definition of leadership is a carefully defined, organization-centric approach, and it is more narrow than much of today’s “happy talk” about leadership. Too many people confuse basic influence with leadership.  We all try to influence each other all the time, but these broad efforts do not define leadership.  Leadership is more specific and organizationally dependent, because leadership involve followers.  We certainly try to lead by influencing our followers, through appearance, communications skills, moral suasion, personality, and reputation, but we also must employ the authority that the organization has given us.  We humans are a hierarchical species; we are naturally attuned to status, and we respond to it.  Authority is so often abused because it is so effective.  The most effective leaders know when each tool, authority and influence, is most appropriate.

Forget Jack and the Beanstalk—there are no Magic Beans

Too many people search for “magic beans,” the secret elixir that will make them great leaders, and many so-called experts peddle such magic.  Rather, leadership is a complex mix of three key elements (Direction, Capabilities, and Character) applied in different contexts.  Leadership is always a work-in-progress, and it requires constant practice.


Giving Direction

Followers look to leaders to provide direction.  But giving direction is much more than simply telling people what to do.  Often overlooked, determining what NOT to do is just as important.  But the capable leader also puts everyone’s efforts in the broader context of reaching the organizational goal

Demonstrating Capabilities

In most endeavors, the leader cannot know how to do everyone’s job, due to the complexity of the tasks.  But the leader must show that he or she is fully capable in the role they occupy.  This is where management and leadership overlap.  The leader must be a capable manager – employing all the resources (time, material, finances, etc.) required to achieve the organizational goals.

Embodying Character

Character is set of values each person acquires that determines how he or she acts.  This is truly the “secret sauce” for leadership, for this element above the others provides the emotional link between the leader and followers.  But this is an elusive element, for it is impossible to measure.  Most important, for character to have its effect, it must rest on the foundation of Direction and Capabilities.  One of the biggest errors aspiring leaders make is to think that good intentions alone with guarantee leadership success.  People never flock to failure; the leader must show abilities of Direction and Capabilities first; then and only then can Character, which requires more time to work its effect, have its powerful impact.

The Ever-shifting Contexts

I have observed many outstanding leaders in my life, but I have never seen one who could effortlessly lead in all situations.  The capable leader must play anthropologist to assess the context in which he or she will lead.  What are the norms of the organization, the values of the group, the effects of the larger environment?  These are key factors which will impact the leader’s ability to achieve the organizational goals, and they often change.  For this reason, I maintain that there is no such thing as a natural leader, immediately effective in all situations.  The aspiring leader must assess the context quickly, to decide whether to enter and adapt, or to turn down the opportunity.

Relevant Topics

For a speaking engagement or extended workshop on leadership, here are important issues I can discuss with you, with the goal of changing how you approach leadership:

  • The difference between leaders and specialists
  • How leaders use both authority and influence
  • Using the Leadership Model of three key elements (Direction, Capabilities, and Character) to develop and assess leaders
  • What is bad leadership, and why we put up with it
  • The danger of the Executive Bubble
  • Charisma – rare and dangerous. Don’t go there
  • Leading in a crisis – when leadership matters the most
  • The Digital Delusion – digitization is not changing leadership
  • How to manage your own leadership development
  • How to develop leaders in your organization
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