Published in: St. Louis Business Journal
Author: Benjamin Ola. Akande and Brad Wolaver
Description: Today, our challenging economic climate requires organizations to inspire change in new and more effective ways.
Today's challenging economic climate requires organizations to inspire change in new and more effective ways. Public discourse and the political process haven't brought the change we need. And with regulations making it more complicated for businesses to achieve their goals, organizations need to adapt to new challenges of unprecedented scale and with blinding speed not needed in the past. For employees that means 're-imagining' the definition and act of leading . For businesses, it means reframing their understanding of how they function today and how they will succeed tomorrow.
The good news is that healthcare, civic organizations, non-profits, government, education, and corporations all stand to benefit from new ways of thinking about and exercising leadership.
Leading from where you are
Leadership is an activity that some people do some of the time with each of us having the opportunity to exercise it at any time in any situation. Everyday more individuals are asked to 'lead' without the formal authority to do so. The first step toward taking up the leadership mantle is understanding where your relevance lies in your organization. Unfortunately, many employees don't know their purpose within their company or how they contribute to its mission, values, strategic goals or bottom-line. To begin leading from where you are, you must first know yourself!
Getting out on the balcony
Frequently leading fails because a situation is misdiagnosed. It's easier to understand who has a stake in the outcome, why, or what needs to be done if you can see how the situation is constructed. It's at this time a leader needs to step up and away from the situation out on the balcony with its vantage point for observing interactions, gaining perspective, and generating multiple interpretations.
From this bird's eye view, leaders can identify who is doing most of the talking, who has been silent, and what the authority figure is doing. They can then ask themselves, "What is really going on here?" and then consider how the current situation reflects the concerns, values, and perspectives within the organization. With any issue and in any group there will be numerous factions that must be identified. Each holds a piece of the problem as well as the solution, and each will express it in their own way according to their values and aspirations. The balcony's view helps identify perspectives shaped by tradition, power relationships, loyalties, and interests.
Managing yourself to be at your best
Seeing yourself as a part of an organization as well as how others perceive your role within it is important in exercising "individual" leadership. These leaders gain a repertoire of capacities on which they can draw in different situations and they establish their "leadership legacy" as they create a track record that people will look to as they consider whether or not they can trust them. To do this you must first consider your strengths in the organization and identify those talents you and others rely on to move the organization through challenges. Am I considered an expert on certain issues? What is my reputation? Do I do what is needed in a situation or what is comfortable? Old habits can be significant barriers to making progress on the issues we care most about and bad habits can thwart individual leadership by eroding follower confidence.
Intervening to move towards a goal
Actions and intentional inaction require specific interventions to move people through difficulties. Since exercising leadership is an improvisatory art a true leader may need to experiment with assumptions observed from the balcony and work with others to determine if the right issues have been uncovered before intervening. Leaders never know if an intervention will work until they try it.
Engage and energize others
Ultimately, leadership is about people so discovering connecting interests, attending to how people work together and inspiring them to make progress on a tough challenge requires engaging and energizing others. By involving others in planning the process as well as addressing the content of the issue, concern, or challenge, different factions feel a shared responsibility for making progress. Expanding the circle of people who are engaged enhances the credibility of any leader's effort.
Organizations need leaders capable of repairing damage today and authoring change strategies tomorrow. As our nation grapples with the challenges of leadership, it is time to think about the effectiveness of leading from where you are. By practicing leadership as an activity we are all better suited to emerge from this demanding time better off than we are today.
Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande is Dean of the School of Business & Technology at Webster University.
Copyright © 2010 Webster University • George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology • 545 Garden Avenue • St. Louis, MO 63119. All Rights Reserved.
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