Making your leadership count
Ever asked yourself “Am I doing a good job at this thing people call leadership, or am I doing a terrible job at it? And how do I really know that I’m paying attention to the right things and not majoring in minors?”
“Knowing what counts as leadership is the first step towards accelerating your leadership effectiveness” says leadership development consultant and executive education facilitator Dr Peter Blyde. With 25 years’ experience in leadership development across a large number of organisations and programmes (including the University of Auckland, the Hillary Leadership Programme, Fonterra, Midland DHBs, Metro Performance Glass, Ballance and ANZ), Peter has a wealth of knowledge to share, and a passion for working directly with people to build their leadership capabilities.
When you’re thinking about what leadership actually is, it’s useful to know what it’s not, he explained to a group of senior executives at a recent ‘Short Sharp’ presentation/ workshop at the University of Auckland Business School.
First, leadership is not primarily about the characteristics of an individual. This is a common starting point for defining leadership – and has us focused on “do I have the right stuff?” For example, we often say Martin Luther King is a leader because he was a great orator and storyteller.
Nor is it defined by the activities of people in charge. When we say ‘the leadership around here’ – what we mean is, people more senior than us.
Fundamentally – leadership is a contribution. It is the contribution that is focused on changing things today, so that the future can be better. The reason Martin Luther King showed leadership is because he was at the forefront of significant change in the civil rights movement (not because of his personal characteristics).
Leadership sits alongside, and sometimes competes with, other contributions – notably the professional contribution that is focused on ‘excellence in the craft’. And the management contribution which is focused on ‘high performance’.
And while much of what is written about leadership focuses on what people in charge do to get high performance from the system, Peter argued that what really counts as leadership is disrupting things today so that the future will be better.
Peter went on to ask the audience if they were deploying themselves across those three contributions in the right proportions, or were instead “mortgaging the future for the sake of today’s performance”.
Senior executives must wrestle with that central question, and it’s a tricky one: Am I optimising the contributions between delivering high performance today, against disrupting it so that the future can be better?
Globally, the big shift in the leadership space is towards creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship in organisations large and small. And getting into that space requires a commitment to meaningful change in the system.
One question raised at the workshop was how to deal with resistance to change. “People don’t resist change, they resist loss”, Peter said. A useful approach he shared is to acknowledge that yes, we are giving up a certain now for an uncertain future, but the risk of doing nothing is greater than not doing something now. Involving your people in the vision and the commitment to meaningful change will go a long way towards turning resistance into acceptance, even enthusiasm.
Another problem for many senior executives is their perceived lack of time to do everything they want or need to do. The solution, according to Peter, is to stop playing the game “if I was better, stronger, faster, I’d be getting to all of this”.
“Stuff is always going to fall off your plate. I’m asking you to choose what stuff falls off. And if you’re worrying that your choices may be disappointing to some people, consider this quote: ‘Leadership is the art of disappointing people’s expectations at a rate that they can handle.’ ”
Consider also, he said, that some of the things you do don’t warrant your high standards. Most professionals who move into managerial positions have a perfectionist tendency they need to kick. Don’t, for example, spend several hours finessing a report that most people do not read very closely (if at all).
Prioritising in this way, dropping or delegating some of your BAU responsibilities, will give you more space to concentrate on change leadership, Peter said. He then posed three questions that, if you can find clear answers to them, will accelerate your development and make your leadership count.
What is your signature organisational change, i.e. what is the one change that would make the biggest difference to the future of your organisation?
What intentional change(s) can you make to your own behaviour at work? Identify one thing you are good at that you could turn into a distinctive strength, and possibly one thing you are poor at that you could become good at.
And finally, what actions will you take that are outside your comfort zone? That is, actions outside your formal authority and your informal influence (but not too far outside, because then it will be easier to eject or sideline you than address the change that is needed). This is called ‘walking the razor’s edge’.
“To make your leadership count, get a good balance between your professional management and leadership contributions. And find good answers to those three questions”, Peter concluded.
Peter Blyde facilitates the courses: