Management is dead. Leadership is back
Management is dead, according to the November 12, 2002, issue of FORTUNE magazine. Leadership is back.
Exaggerating shamelessly to make a point, writer Jerry Useem was setting the stage for a discussion about leadership in a 9/11 context.
With George W Bush and New York mayor Rudy Giuliani firmly in his sights, Useem's case was that in the post World Trade Centre world, a lot more people were going to have to become leaders.
Being a boss, Useem said, is not the same as being a leader. Bosses inherit subordinates, leaders earn followers; are defined by their followers. And for all the talk about flattened hierarchies and individual empowerment, leadership is something elemental, something that we are hard-wired to need. Primates choose leaders. Groups of five-year-olds choose leaders. It's in our DNA.
Leaders, according to executive recruiter Jim Citrin, 'absorb uncertainty'; by saying – maybe reflecting group anxiety – 'I hear you'. You don't have to be a Churchill (although it helps), but if leadership is about to find you, here are some characteristics you will almost certainly need:
Visibility. What did people in New York say about Giuliani after September 11? “He was everywhere”. Effective leaders are highly visible. You either lead by example, according to Vietnam vet and Young and Rubicam Advertising CEO Ed Vick, or you don't lead at all. He stood in the lobby of his company's mid-town Manhattan HQ when it re-opened late in September and welcomed everyone back; the resulting flood of gratitude, he said, “just blew me away.”
Optimism. Be straight, Useem said, but also be not afraid. Or at least, don't show it. Churchill got it right during World War II, promising “blood, toil, tears and sweat” in the near term, while remaining upbeat and certain that Britain would in the end prevail.
Truth. Don't get ahead of the facts, don't let them get ahead of you, and don't bog down in them. US defense chief Rumsfeld seems to get it about right. Refusing to exaggerate success, or to gloss over risks, his waffle quotient is remarkably low. According to The Economist. “He either speaks straightforwardly, or not at all”.
Humanity. The bottom line comes second. Loyalty and commitment comes from responsibility to your team, and responsibility to your community. Show you care about both more than you care about the short-term numbers.
Destiny. In times of crisis, we're inclined to be overcome by the size of the challenge. Leaders find ways to connect the humdrum of people's jobs with the larger causes on their minds. Smallest-ever Baldrige Award winner Texas Nameplate Company see excellence and high performance as 'doing well for America', as their patriotic duty. Hokey, maybe, but genuinely felt and highly motivating.
Narrative. The best leaders use simple and memorable stories, not PowerPoint presentations, to inspire. Find yours, and find ways to express them often.
Reach. As in don't over-reach. Those people are not cheering for you, they're cheering for themselves, and for your collective ability to unite and succeed. Respect that, and them, and you'll preserve the “delicate compact between the leader and the led”.
Mistakes. People are so starved for leadership, Useem concludes, that they'll forgive missteps if you eventually get it right. Bush stumbled (where was he on September 11? Zigzagging across the nation on his way to the capital), but recovered. So can you.
What's leadership got to do with 'quality', and with Q-Newz? If you're a regular reader, you'll have noticed that I like to say 'we're all leaders'. The key to high performance in an organisation is distributed leadership, with everyone taking responsibility – leading by example – in their bit of the enterprise. If that's you, how many of Useem's characteristics can you tick off?
Dr Malcolm Macpherson is a veteran quality award assessor, publisher and communicator, and was recently elected Mayor of the Central Otago District. He edits an international Baldrige Award web site. Contact him at email@example.com, or visit www.baldrigeplus.com
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