Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

When most people start to define leadership, they list a number of traits or qualities. Often it’s a definition of the type of leader they would like to work for rather than one that is focused on being highly effective. For example, I often see the trait of “kindness.” While it’s desirable, the list of effective leaders who didn’t have this trait, is very, very long.

What if you started to define leaders from a different angle? Start with the question, “what do leaders produce?” “What is the result of effective leadership?” It would be a filled out description of leading others to achieve a vision or goal.

Does that vision or goal have to be positive or ethical for someone to be an effective leader? Take the example of Jim Jones (rather an extreme example.) Obviously he was an effective leader, you can’t say he didn’t lead others to achieve his vision. Was he a good or ethical person? We’d probably all say no.

It’s possible that someone can have all the traits of a great leader and lead everyone off a cliff. As they say, the road to hell is paved by good intentions.

Finally, I think then when we list qualities of great leaders we list what we’d like them to be rather than what they really are.

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I’ve been reading the new Ken Follet Book which tracks 5 families from 1911 to 1924.  What’s interesting is that leadership that top level leadership is removed from the actual work or from the front lines in World War I.  As a result, countless decisions are made that end up in disaster.  In addition, those who survive start to learn what actually works but this information never filters up the line.  Now shift the scene to my visit to the Comcast store last week.  They have countless problems with service and equipment quality that front line customer service needs to address.  Upper management has put them in a position to have to handle the same problems over and over again rather than looking for systematic fixes.  The morale of the story…when top management looses connection with the front line, front line employees become cannon fodder.

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I think there are lots of interesting things you can learn from TV, it’s not necessary a vast wasteland.  Deadliest Warrior is a series on SPIKE TV.  Each week they pit a famous warriors from different time periods against each other.  One of my favorite espisodes is still Jesse James vs. Al Capone.

What I learned about leadership comes from the ancient world (pre gunpowder).  Each of the warriors from the ancient world were not only considered great warriors by great leaders.  Each led thousands of warriors and even entire countries by their measures to greatness.  These are individuals such as Hannabal, Alexander the Great , William Wallace, Sun Tzu, and Attila the Hun.   What they have in common is that they all led from the front.  They were follow me type leaders and were not afraid to be in the heat of the battle.  They were all also trained since childhood to be great warriors, they were not average but instead top performers.  Hannabal was said to have been the top swordsman and horseman in his army.

So how does this match up with a modern day view of leadership?  Does the top performer, leading from the front still work?

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Uploaded by mscheng

The more I read about leadership the more I think people are describing a utopian view of leadership rather than what great leaders really do.  First, the only think that really defines a leader is someone who has followers.  If you don’t have a least one follower you really are much of a leader. 

So would the most effective leaders be the ones with the greatest number of followers?  Perhaps but you might also want to factor in the amount a fanaticism in the legions of followers. 

Ghandi, Ghengis Kahn, William Wallace, George Washington, Pope Alexander and L. Ron Hubbard all had legions of fanatic followers.  What did they all have in common?  The only think I can think of is the ability to sell their vision to others.  I think you’ll also see them leading from out in front. 

The interesting thing is that the vision itself actually doesn’t really matter as long as you can sell it.  So leadership skills and principles can work for good or negative ends.  In fact, good intentions can often lead to the biggest disasters.  As they say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” 

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Uploaded by Heroes 4 Hire

I’ve sat in dozens of discussions with different companies over a basic question about new hires.  Should we look for experience or hire someone out of college?  This is actually not an easy question to answer because both choices have strong pluses and minuses.

Let’s start by looking at hiring someone with a lot of experience.  What you get is someone who can start being productive early and may need very little new training.  For companies that don’t have the time and patients to develop someone new this looks like a good option.  However, since they are ready to go, you will end up paying more for them.  You just have to determine if they are worth the extra money.  In addition to all the good traits, they will also bring in all the bad habits they’ve learned in past jobs.  You have to determine if this is okay and/or can you retrain these people.

New college graduates are more of a blank sheet.  They don’t have some of the bad habits because they haven’t done anything yet.  However, they may come with the biases of their teachers.  It does cost less to get an unexperienced person but you will have to invest in a lot of training.  In addition, it may take a very long time before they are productive. 

In the end result, this is a partly a financial decision.  Where do you want to spend your money?  Where will you get the fastest return? 

It’s also a cultural and team issue.  Who is going to fit in with the team?  Who can work in the existing culture?

I’ve seen both methods work very well and I’ve seen both methods work miserably.  I think it’s a matter of knowing what you’re really buying and being prepared for getting these new hires up-to-speed.

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I think this is a much more realistic show.  Why don’t we see things more like this.  Leadership in action.

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You read a lot of criticism of big busines such as Big Oil, Big Pharma and now Big Mac.  A lot of the historical anti-big business comes out of the early 1900s when there was a small number of big businesses and an equally small number of captains of industry.

That world has changed dramatically in a hundred years.  The biggest change comes from the sheer numbers of these businesses.  First, if you look at the top 100 companies only a small handful existed a hundred years ago.  In fact their entire industries didn’t exist.  Even companies like GE look nothing like they did.  Their largest business unit is financial services and not manufacturing.

In something like pharaceuticals, you have hundreds of highly competitive companies that often have very little in common.  Instead of conspiring in a big kabal, they are more likely trying ways to take market share from each other.

There is also a tremendous amount of transparancy in the companies because they are publicly traded and often owned by large money funds.  At the bottom line what these companies really care about is a stable set of rules to play by. 

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