We make distinctions between leading and managing and often say leaders can manage and managers should also learn how to be leaders. But, what do we really mean by those words? What is great leadership? In my unfinished book, Leading and Managing a Global Workforce I am trying to answer that question.
In my courses on Leadership and Organizational Behavior, my MBA students struggle with these terms, often describing leaders as “visionaries” and managers as “making sure the tasks get done.”
I recently read a definition of workplace leadership as “the ability to build a team that achieves sustained, long-term performance.” (WJM Associates, Inc. – from their website)
I like this definition because it reminds me of the incredibly effective and cooperative team one of my CEOs built. Let me describe it for you.
Coming from India, working together in the same company, the more risk taking and visionary of the group decided to form a company and he invited some of his friends and colleagues to join him and become his executive team. They did. Together they formed a boutique high-tech company here in Silicon Valley. Since I didn’t obtain permission to write about them, I am going to disguise some information and the names of the executives.
Having consulted in many other companies, I am always interested in observing how executive staff meetings are conducted. Most of the time I find that the executives have had their staff create sexy power-point presentations and that they talk at each other, rather than with each other during those meetings. Typically they don’t interfere with each other’s “sandboxes” or “silos” – except if they are back-stabbing of course.
Not so at this little boutique company – which I will name Milpitas Tech just for this article. When I attended the first staff meeting – and many others after that I observed six men (no women, I’m embarrassed to report) come into the room as equals with a common goal of doing what was best for the entire company. Under the leadership of their warm, personable and friendly CEO, who I am naming Joe for convenience, this group actually talked with each other, problem solved together, helped each other make departmental decisions, and although they were careful not to step on each other’s toes, they never hesitated to make suggestions for improvement. Indeed, one of my tasks with them was to collaborate with some of their executives to improve processes.
As they grew they looked for an infusion of money. The Venture Capital Community made offers – but these offers included wanting to replace some of the executives, especially Joe, the CEO with “professional management.” Because of how powerfully positive the team was under Joe’s leadership, I advised him to hold out and not leave the team. He agreed.
Sometime later they received an offer to sell they couldn’t refuse – the money was great, integration with another company had marvelous potential and best of all the team was respected as a team and left in place.
Another CEO with whom I worked turned a company around from being mediocre with each division building its empire, into a cohesive and cooperative well-run organization. He walked his talk. He cared about people and their personal/professional development. He wasn’t quick to fire anyone – rather he had me mentor and coach many of his managers. He sometimes had to transfer people from one area of responsibility to another into which they were a better fit. BUT, he held people accountable while at the same time caring about them. His management grew under his tutelage.
I really believe that great leadership includes the ability to create trust and safety among those you lead so that they can talk freely with each other without posturing and showing off. The executive team members should not be in competition – or conflict – with each other, although disagreement due to different needs and points of view should be encouraged. (See my chapter, The Tyranny of Pleasantness in my book Conflict Resolution: Causes and Cures.)
Leaders Extra-Ordinaire encourage the disagreement – don’t allow attack – and bring out the best from all their team members. They lead, they learn, they synthesize. Great leaders know they must listen to their other executives, but ultimately make their own decisions. Ronald Reagan was this sort of leader and Harry Truman gave us the phrase, “The buck stops here.”
When I work with CEOs, Executive Directors of Boards and Associations, and managers at all levels, I stress the importance of developing a relationship that encourages mutual support, respect, honesty and cooperation. Hiring well, developing teams that really respect each other and don’t get defensive or on the attack, and leading those teams through example are significant contributors to the company’s reputation, value and of course, bottom line.
Leaders Extra-Ordinaire are men and women who deeply care about other people as well as their visions and desire for success within their companies. Are you one?