Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Inside Track: The Process of Leadership

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 Last month, I offered the idea that given the most common definitions of leadership, Hitler, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan would all pass the test of being called a good leader. Well, maybe Hitler would be called an evil leader, but he was good at it.

We get wrapped up in these arguments because we’ve accepted a poor definition of leadership and we’ve engendered it with heroic qualities. What if leadership is simply a human trait, like compassion? Then the manifestation of that trait would be taking actions focused on an end state. What is that end state? Dr. Robert Terry, Ph.D. would say the generic end state is fulfillment and satisfaction. I exhibit leadership when I go to work and earn money to pay for the life I want. I exhibit leadership when I say (or do not say) and do (or do not do) things that give me the relationships I want. Leadership is an act of will toward the end state of satisfaction and fulfillment. It embodies mission, purpose and personal history. To my mind, saying someone is a leader is to say they are human and we know it because every day they act in a way that produces satisfaction and fulfillment for them.

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So what is the process of leadership? The process of leadership is a management responsibility. Just as a manager is responsible for ensuring work is getting done correctly and on time, the manager is also responsible for maximizing each employee’s satisfaction and fulfillment by stimulating their natural leadership.

If leadership is a personal act of will toward satisfaction and fulfillment, I must be both willing and able to act appropriately, or I will not be successful. The manager understands this and works to ensure six levers are acting in unison.

Lever 1: Structural Motivation

People are motivated or demotivated by their structural environment. Does the company incent the wrong behavior? Are people allowed to make their own decisions? Are people given meaningful work and allowed to master it? Are people penalized for nontraditional behavior when they try to solve problems?

Lever 2: Structural Ability

Environment dictates what is easy or hard to do. Does the company provide all the tools, resources and information required to do the job? Are these resources readily available and easy to use? Do systems provide immediate feedback and relevant data?

Lever 3: Social Motivation

Social dynamics strongly impact desire. Have we built a culture of encouragement and camaraderie? Is it safe to discuss the undiscussable with people in power? Do we support risk taking?

Lever 4: Social Assistance

A learning culture will accelerate the acquisition of new abilities. Are people quick to share learnings and insights? Are people well trained in communication, problem solving and conflict resolution? Is humility demonstrated by people easily asking for or offering help?

Lever 5: Personal Ability

Gaps in knowledge, process and ability hinder success. Does the company assess and teach the knowledge, processes and competencies required for success? Are employees allowed to practice perfect practice? Is resiliency understood, encouraged and taught?

Lever 6: Personal Motivation

You can’t put in what was left out at the factory. Does the company understand the work to be done (not the job description) and diligently hire people who value that work? Does the company stand for something other than just making money? Can employees see a path to personal satisfaction and fulfillment?

Notice that personal motivation and ability (GWC for all you Traction fans) are the last levers to be considered because ideally, we handled that in the selection process.

A great manager builds a company of leaders by managing all six levers of the leadership process. This creates context in which people (leaders) can be successful. When people are not successful, the great manager will work on levers one through five before attributing the problem to the employee because those levers are within the manager’s control. And that’s how they arrive on the inside track.


 

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