Leadership has been one of the hot topics in management for the management gurus to dwell, opine, write and debate upon.
Opinions on leadership are certainly abundant and written about for hundreds of years. Yet the recent failure examples of business leaders indicate that there is a huge problem and all the definitions and debates on ‘leadership’ have had little reflection in actual terms. Clearly, we still have a problem.
Leadership is usually defined so broadly that it’s up to the individual to decide – what is and what is not – a good leadership. So, in spite of all the work that’s been done, there’s no real agreement on the definition of leadership.
Most of us cite examples from stories and personal histories of individuals and make these as role models to define or epitomize leadership. We tend to believe that leadership is a personality trait and the charismatic profiles around us tend to make us believe that’s all there is to it.
Unfortunately, many organizations also adopt this simplistic view of leadership, which often leads to the disastrous results we’ve seen in the past.
So, how should leadership be actually defined?
Logically, the role of the leader is to establish the conditions and rules under which all performers will choose to execute the mission, vision, and values of the organization. Thus, ‘leadership’ is about affecting behavior and a true leader is the one who leads people’s behavior.
We can measure the effectiveness of leaders by examining the behavior of their followers. We can therefore grade a ‘leadership’, not only by a leader’s behavior, but also by the behavior of a leader’s followers.
But in most organizations, leaders are evaluated solely on results. We have enough examples in our recent past. To use one of the best-known examples, Citibank was once considered to be a model organization. Citibank’s leaders were branded by the press and by financial analysts as super successful role models. The company’s stellar results for many years were represented as proof of the Citibank success story and the prowess of the company’s leadership team.
It wasn’t too much later that the company was shown to be hollow to the core – purely based on the financial results in the recent years. The leadership was changed and the new leadership was immediately placed under extreme scrutiny with wall-street pundits painting their future on their blog walls.
But Citibank has proved a very significant point that relying on results alone is a flawed way of accessing the leadership strengths. It reminded us that ‘leadership’ is not only about the person at the top but his entire star team, which has been nurtured carefully over the years to tackle exactly the challenges that one day they were supposed to face and overcome. Leadership is about preparing the organization for dealing methodically with the future turbulences. It is not about overnight results, but the correct behavior of the team in achieving results in spite of the turbulences.
An effective leader can impart extraordinary behavior characteristics in the team.
Best leaders inspire their followers to go beyond whatever is minimally required to get a job done. This is not a forced situation, but rather based on their dedication to the leader’s goals and vision.
Successful leaders have followers who believe the leader’s goals are important enough that they support those goals by encouraging-and correcting-others so the entire group’s behavior supports the leader’s priorities.
The leader’s followers are also willing to make sacrifices for the leader’s objectives. They are willing to give up something for the leader to demonstrate a commitment to the leader-and the cause. Finally a leader must create an environment of trust and mutual respect for what each person contributes to the organization.
Thus, organizations should expand the evaluation of leaders to get a better view of their leadership effectiveness.
(a) Organizations should assess how a leader introduces and leads change in an organization. It’s instructive to know how quickly a leader’s ideas gather momentum.
(b) They should also see how well the followers actually perform the tasks necessary to achieve the goals set by the leader.
(c) They could also measure the leader’s cultural impact on the organization by focusing on how well followers relate to the leader, the leader’s goals, and to each other. This can be seen through the productive relationships between followers.
(d) Another sign is how well followers relate to the leader. Successful leaders have trusting relationships with their followers that allow for behaviors like admitting a mistake or discussing personal concerns without fear of retribution.
Organizations should pay attention and periodically measure those behaviors to learn what impact a leader is having.
It should be remembered that great leaders manage people so they respond to the cause, not the leader’s personality. The most successful leaders challenge their followers to develop loyalty to the organization’s goals than their personality. Only then can they stretch and grow.
Personality based leaderships will have much lesser impact in the long run.