Posts Tagged 'Leadership'

The Charismatic Leader

Charisma, from the Greek, is often thought of as a magical or divine quality that only a lucky few are born with.  However, given the interest in effective leadership, many are making studies to discover what actually is charisma – with some remarkable findings.

In a recent Scientific Mind article, “In Search of Charisma” by Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher they summarise a few of the latest studies.  Some of the key findings include:

  1. It is the followers who attribute the “charisma” on to their leaders
  2. That “followership” is influenced as much, if not more so, by “inclusive language” as it is by any other quality or behaviour.  ie, do they speak as if they are “one of us”?
  3. That you can construct yourself to be seen as one of the group.  And this requires first that you listen, then reflect that to the group, then realise any changes or steps forward.

Take Franklin Roosevelt: Being wheelchair bound, he was not typical of the leader stereotypes in western culture, see Gladwell’s Blink for more insights on assumptions about leadership.  While these stereotypes are powerfully influential, FDR used his difference to his advantage by aligning his perseverance  through struggle with the needs of the people.  Likewise, Kennedy his physical ailments to align himself with youth and renewal.  Our leader’s need to reflect the stories and myths of the people they seek to serve.

So how can we use this?

First, we can look at how we are, and how we are not, like the group.  To do this well, we can consider a multitude of dimensions, such as, physicality, outlook, means of expression, language use, etc. Gathering this information by observing and noting what the group appreciates, we can then choose which qualities we may want to amplify that are like the group.

Even if we are atypical of the group, we can still appear charismatic by the language that we use.  Typically, “We” rather than “I” scores more points with our audience, as do stories that unfold about our vision, rather than dogmatic lecturing about what we need to do.

To do this well, we must also understand the story or the guiding myths of our groups – which is why people who announce they are natural leaders – and therefore should have power bestowed upon them – usually fail to win the hearts and minds of “their” groups – see The Apprentice for examples in abundance!

We need to understand our audience first, and then reflect what we understand.  In short, we must be seen to be both “of the group” and “for the group”, and if we succeed in doing something for the group, then our charismatic qualities will increase.

Below is just one snap-shot of  how a leader’s charisma is heavily influenced by their company’s performance, that is, the audience make attributes based on correlated stories rather than certainties about one’s “charisma.”

In Search of Charisma

For more, go to this link with summary below

  1. Charisma was traditionally thought to be an attribute of the leader, but it is primarily an attribution made by followers.
  2. Charisma centers on the capacity for a leader to be seen by followers as advancing group interests. Its spell can be broken if leaders are discovered to be acting for themselves or for an opposing group.
  3. Charismatic leaders cultivate narratives in which their sense of self comes to be seen by followers as emblematic of their shared group identity.
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Learning How to Learn

Accelerated Learning Comes Down to Attitude:

A recent study at Michigan State University has revealed that those who believe in learning, learn faster.  This means that attitude may be as importance as ability in the learning process.

Tracking electrical impulses in the brain has allowed researches to identify two responses to learning: One, the moment of awareness and; Two; what to do with that awareness.  Those that believed intelligence to be pliable put more “brain energy” into learning and so improved.

The good news is that this attitude or approach can also be developed, we can learn how to learn.  How? By focusing on the process, rather than the outcome.  Or concentrating on the “throw,” rather than the “catch.”  And that approach may be even more important than the skill itself.

see: The Oops! Response by MW Moyer

The Irony of Teams

High performing teams are given credit for being the element that sets businesses apart.  It is often said that the challenges and complexities of todays world require the effective working of teams.  Ironically, if we look at what is celebrated, collaboration tends to get a left out?   At work, bonuses are divided between exceptionally perfomring individuals, and rarely to teams.  In school, it is an individual’s performance that is accredited and recognised.  In fact, for most of my schooling, outside of drama and sport, team work was not a featured part of the way that we were schooled.

My experience in schools today does not provide me with much evidence that this has changed.  Yet it is that sense of something bigger than oneself that encourages me to put that extra piece in for the team.  And this trait is not one that is encouraged in much of the school environment.

Does your kid’s school have team assessed work?

Does it have collaborative opportunities, whether they be sport, drama or somekind of project work?

If not, I would encourage them to find ways of making meaningful contributions to group projects.  Of course we all learn on the job, but work is still pluaged by an individualistic culture. Of course Rand would argue the benefits of this, and systemically, we are encouraged to celebrate our personal success.  However, it is effective colloboration that gives organisations the edge.

Ironically, accorrding to Katzenbach, it is not teams for teams sake that drives successful collaboration, but goals that require team inputs that forge successful teams.

Reflexive Leadership – Shifting Balances

As a provider of leadership and management training, with endorsements from  Train to Gain, I believe it is important to lay out what I mean by leadership development.  There is a big buzz about “leadership” following Iraq, the financial crisis and even climate change issues.

There are at least two forces challenging notions of leadership that are facing us today.  They include:

  1. The dissatisfaction with current models of political and organisational power that have led us into the calamities listed above.
  2. A matter of definition – one that remains, perhaps necessarily, mercurial and oblique.

The first of these two issues is a matter of some debate and energy, particularly in current think tanks.  Matthew Taylor of the RSA is adamant about challenging the current and outdated models of “leadership by deference.”  One of the challenges here is that to step beyond a culture of deference requires an extra degree of self-responsibility.  This is an interesting challenge and one that can be explored on his blog here.

Elements of Reflexive Leadership

The second one, of definition, is the main purpose of this entry.  It is also one that will be forever changing, so it is with a degree of predicted obsolescence that I attempt to name what I mean by leadership, or specifically, Reflexive Leadership.  It includes the following elements:

  • Awareness
  • Reflection
  • Creativity
  • Knowledge
  • Access to resources
  • Vision, and
  • Accountability

Reflexive leadership is based on the increasing awareness of the value of self-reflection in practice – whether it be as a therapist, student or business person. This practice is commonly seen in Kolb’s learning cycle and occurs when attempting to learn any new skill or conquer arising challenges.  The value of reflection has long been acknowledged, but in time-poor environments, it is often the first thing to go.

However, this can be a costly mistake in the long run.  As pointed out by David Allen, this thinking time. named “knowledge work” is often THE work that needs to be done.  Take yourself – as a skilled practitioner in whatever field you have chosen.  Let us say, something arises that is challenging your performance or objective.  Nine times out of ten it is not your lack of skill or know-how that is the problem, the problem is based on either one of two elements:

  1. It is relational.  Something is affecting you, your colleagues or your clients and is having an impact.  Chances are it is not directly related to the current content of your delivery or objective.  These matters may seem to be unprofessional distractions, but we ignore them at our peril.  Clearing such matters up can unblock many obstacles and put your delivery back on track.  If this is something that cannot be done by you, an acknowledgement of this as a genuine support need can go a long way to increasing your team’s performance.
  2. There is something outside of your awareness that is affecting the issue.  Take for example you are exploring diversity with your team for the day – and have hired a building that looks like a courthouse to do so.  It may happen that some of the people have not had good experience with the law, or may just feel intimidated by the setting.  Without realising why, you notice some of the people involved are closed or even irritated.  As people from minorities often experience oppression directly or indirectly from such institutions, the venue may be having an unitended impact on the day.  This is not to say that one shouldn’t use courthouses or avoid symbols of contention, rather an awareness of them needs to be brought in – and in fact, when done well, can make for transformational discoveries.

Addressing either of these two elements takes reflection and thinking time.  Building time in before and after to reflect on choices can go a long way in supporting solid leadership.

In any situation, it may also just be that the communication loop is not connected and that somewhere something is not coherent.  This may be between:

  • your intention and your message;
  • your message delivery and it’s perception;
  • or perhaps in missed feedback from your recipients.

Again, being a reflexive leader will help identify these shortcomings and address them.

Reflexive Leadership isn’t just confined to reflection and thinking time.  It also demands a more immediate sense of “response-ability.”  That is, good leaders are able to respond to unavoidable and unpredictable challenges.  While this ability can be improved through reflection, it also requires creativity, support and knowledge.  Moreover, it is not essential that these are present in a single person – a designated “Leader” by one title or another.  On the contrary, a good team will have multiple resources of these elements. Good leadership recognises where they are available and utilises them.

Another crucial ingredient of good reflexive leadership is vision.  Having a view for the bigger picture is crucial in knowing which of the resources is worth utilising at any point, given the circumstances.  Awareness of such goals and objectives provides good leadership in any context.

Finally, what really stands out in leadership is accountability.  Not shying away from this element is in fact one of the inspiring elements that draw people to one choice over another.   Developing an organsiation is about getting others to trust it – to invest in it.  Without accountability, leadership is trivial and unsustainable.  It is a lack of accountability that has created the disturbances in our financial system that we are experiencing today.

Leadership as “Role”

Above and beyond these elements of leadership, is recognising its shifting nature and that leadership is a role rather than an individual’s title.  This means that anyone in a team or organisation may exhibit leadership qualities.  For example, a receptionist may have insights gathered from interacting with customers that lead to important organisational change.

Optimum leadership is necessarily fluid and a shared responsibility that is not confined to the designated few, but available to all.  Such a concept may seem challenging to many organisational structures.  However, that is not the intention, organised structures create opportunities for fantastic achievements.  Rather, it seeks to promote a way of thinking that maximises the potential of a group rather than limiting it to the thinking of a few – this can be done while maintaining agreed structures and avenues of communication.  Importantly, recognising the mutable nature of leadership will support us in understanding how best to step into its role.

Using Reflexive leadership will help us find our leaders in the shifting balances of power and information that constantly challenge organisations today. By finding ways to respect both agency and community, groups and individuals, reflexive leadership will help us come to terms with the current challenges of leadership.

Hedgehogs, Fortune Tellers and Leadership

We love to know the future.  We are drawn to people who have the answers when we don’t.  After all, we make decisions based on assumptions about the future, so it makes sense that we find comfort in those that seem to know the answers.  Take these questions:

Has the housing market bottomed out yet? How low will the pound go? Is it going to be sunny in the Caribbean this easter?

Although reassuring, “expert advice” is not necessarily what we look for in a leader.  Qualities of leadership often include boldness, confidence and certainty.  As Tetlock points out – people who acknowledge their limitations (Foxes) find less public support than those who proclaim knowledge of a “truth” (even when it is unrealistic to do so – Hedgehogs). And so it is that Hedgehogs are more likely to get votes.

However, is this  leadership strategy good for us? In his new book Obliquity, John Kay points out that these “truths” are mostly at odds with actual world events.  And, unfortunately, actions made by people with these qualities can be disastrous:

It is hard to overstate the damage that has recently been done by people who thought they knew more about the world than they really did. RSA Journal – Spring 2010

His examples include Iraq and the financial fiasco,  and even Gordon Brown’s focus on “defined and quantifiable objectives.”  While there are arguably rational justifications for the choices that led to these events, it is rare that such experts correctly predict the future.  That is not to say we cannot gather useful information when investing in decisions – whether they be buying a house or going to war.  We would be foolish not to gather outside information… However things do not go according to plan!

Is this our leader’s fault? Is it the fault of the systems that we employ?  Or is it just life? As Rumsfeld famously said of Iraq – “S*** HAPPENS”.  Unfortunately, this is true.  What is more, this implicit understanding between us all – that we can never be absolutely sure of anything – allows us to easily forgive and forget.

Yet this should not prevent us from developing our understanding of good leadership.  Kay promotes skepticism and humility in the face of both the future and our capacity to make decisions as healthy practices.  Unfortunately, we all get bored with lengthy debates about pros and cons and such skepticism isn’t enough.  However, more than that, Kay suggests leadership is about keeping track of high level objectives and practicing what I would call Reflexive Leadership – that is, the ability to learn and adapt as things change and new information comes to light.  Being proficient in reflexive leadership means being able to face unknown territory with confidence.

Confidence is also one of the more conventional qualities of leadership.  That is, regardless of what is said, people who appear more confident inspire trust and more importantly, following.  Those that have confidence to face the unknown will inspire those around them.  What is more, those that have skills, systems and strategies in place to adapt and manage change succesfully will lead us into the future.

As I suggested in the beginning leadership is not about being an expert, nor is it about being a fortune-teller: Leadership is being able to see the bigger picture and to navigate and adjust to the constant flux of variations we encounter.  Good leadership consists, not of being able to proclaim the future, but to recognise and respond to it as it arises in the present.   The qualities of adaptability and creativity combined with a perspective of higher goals will cultivate the confidence and integrity that we typically look for in a leader.

Crucial to both adaptability and vision is communication, but that is another blog…

“Pooh’s Expodition” – A Parable of Leadership

A view on how things at the top may be perceived lower down – from the perspective of A.A. Milne’s characters in Winnie the Pooh:

One day, they are all walking along to discover the Pole, and Pooh is making up a song about the whole affair, when Christopher Robin says “Hush!”, because they are just coming up to a Dangerous Place.

And Pooh says “Hush!” to Piglet, and Piglet says “Hush!” to Kanga, and Kanga says “Hush!” to Owl (while Roo says “Hush!” quietly to himself), and Owl says “Hush!” to Eeyore, and Eeyore turns round and says “Hush!” in a scary voice to all of Rabbit’s accumulated friends-and-relations, and all of Rabbit’s friends-and-relations turn round and say “Hush!” to each other, right up until the “Hush!” reaches the very end of the line and the smallest friend-and-relation, Alexander Beetle, who is mortified to find that the entire Expotition is saying “Hush!” to him and has to bury himself in a crack for two days and then live quietly with his aunt for the rest of his life to recover.

For more of the story, go to Winnie the Pooh.