I know I have a very smart readership here, so this is not a news flsh to anyone, but leadership is something that is not found in a certain type of person.
That is, you won’t find leaders in certain offices, or of a certain height or gender or experience level.
Leadership is a characteristic. It is something that not everyone has in them, but if you find the right people, you can create them out of whole cloth.
Robert Pater, who regularly submits leadership articles to Professional Safety magazine, was back at it in the November 2015 issue, writing about recruiting and retaining the right leaders for your organization so you can combat what is called “leadership erosion” – that malady in which many companies produce leaders with great energy and enthusiasm in the short-term, but eventually lose them to various frustrations over time and disappear.
The first part of Pater’s article discussed the two main reasons for this erosion of leadership, and steps that companies can take to combat the problem.
in this post, we will expand on the second reason for leadership erosion. Pater maintained that the second reason for erosion is simply the person selected to be a leader gets frustrated easily, gives up too quickly and lacks creative vision to find work-arounds in order to achieve what needs to be done.
But Pater writes that the first real step to understanding the kinds of leaders you want and need, you need to understand what leadership actually is.
So What is Leadership?
You could ask this question of 100 different people from al walks of life, and you might just get nearly as many different answers. Some of the answers, however, may focus more on the type of person they perceive as a leader, rather than the qualities that go into leadership.
Pater, in his article, puts forth a couple of ideas about leadeship based on research. What he writes in that leadership is “a set of functions needed to accomplish tasks and mission.”
When put that way, it seems that anyone in your organization who is competent at his or her job can express leadership, since what they are doing competently is showing the avbility to accomplish their tasks and forward the mission of the organization.
The second point Pater notes is consistent with this – because there is such a need for a range of these leadership skills, there is an expectation for multiple leaders, as no one person can do it all. Therefore, a team of leaders, in which every individual provides their own strengths that complement others in the team, is the best way to go to provide leadership for all aspects of an organization.
So if it seems like almost anyone in your organization could express leadership qualities, why is it so hard to retain these leaders who are selected?
It’s About Disruption
The rub comes in those who do their job well, but they don’t really want to mke any changes. Leadership is about change, whether it be a full overhaul of what has been going on in the organization, or whether it is just some tweaks around the edges. Those who keep with the status quo are those doomed to fail as leaders, Pater postulates. Therefore, Pater suggests that the first thing you should seek in a potential leader is someone who wants to see changes and is willing to commit to change and have the energy to do something.
From there, as you understand what one person’s strengths and weaknesses are, you find another change advocate in your organization who has a different skill-set and strengths, and move on down the chain until you have at least one person on your team who has the ability to handle any contingency action or task that needs to be achieved to see that change is achieved.
To illustrate this point, Pater wrote about an interesting case study involving one of his company’s clients, MSC Industrial Supply.
A Leadership Menu
One of the things that MSC discovered was that as you have very different people being leaders, you really should not try to pigeonhole them all into very limited roles. Some people may be OK teaching classes in front of groups. Some may be better at providing engineering feedback, while others are much more comfortable in small-group or one-to-one conversations.
In the case of MSC, providing a full list of the different leadership roles helps keeps people engaged in leadership. People can choose just one or two roles, or they could dabble in all of them. The idea of having change agents is invalid without providing the areas in which those agents can more easily direct and guide change.
Next: Pater concludes his article with discussion about reinforcing and reinspiring leaders and leadership in an organization.