Thanks to our board member Ruth Bramson, former CEO of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, for the following guest post on leadership. To her point, “hero” managers who try to go it alone aren’t nearly as successful as those who can create vision and mobilize a team. What do you think it takes to be a great leader?
What do we mean by leadership? Whereas good managers deliver predictable results as promised, with occasional incremental improvements, leaders generate breakthroughs in performance. They create something that wasn’t there before. But leadership is not a one man or one woman job. Leadership requires the right quantity of leaders with the right mix of capabilities at the right time to match opportunities. A best planned strategy is no more than wishful thinking if it cannot be translated from concept to reality and that is where leadership comes in.
Leadership conceived as the lone warrior is heroic suicide. What makes a successful leader is partnership. Colleagues who see blind spots, help cover our backs and make the mid course corrections necessary to restore equilibrium are essential to any leader. Surrounding one’s self with the best possible people makes for more effective and stronger leaders.
Recently the Girl Scouts USA completed an extensive research study on leadership and how girls define leadership. This study, Change It Up, is the basis for the Girl Scouts’ new leadership development programs. Research showed that girls aspire to leadership not in the form in which it most commonly appears in our culture – command and control – but to a model of leadership that is purpose driven and oriented toward social change. Leadership aspirations and experience are greatly dependent on an individual’s perception of his/her own abilities and the experiences they have had to exercise leadership. They see leadership as collaboration, as a way to change the world and as working together. They want to use informal authority rather than formal power to lead. Strong leaders are articulate and translate their vision into action by building consensus and communication.
Leaders must learn when and how to use authoritative style and balance it with participatory style that is needed to mobilize people. While management requires people to be good problem solvers…leadership requires getting others to take responsibility for what only they can do. Someone with the vision and power to make things happen separates leaders from managers.
There are three specific qualities that define successful leaders. The first is the ability to build trust. Trust allows us to mobilize people, take charge and get things done during the hard times. Part of that is what I call ‘getting on the balcony’. Good leaders need to have a physical presence, to be seen and to be in control. They need to speak to shared purpose, shared history and shared values. Because most organizations are in a chronic state of change or crisis, the need for trust in leaders is more powerful than ever. People need to believe in the passion of the mission, to trust that the leader is taking them down the right path and has as much or more invested in the success of the organization. They must see competence and values in a leader to have that trust. Without believing in the leader’s competence, people cannot trust that decisions are the correct one. Without the values that resonate with individuals and that are predictably and dependably consistent, people do not trust that the ultimate outcomes will match their personal goals.
The second quality is resilience. There is a tremendous amount of fear of the unknown and chaos in the workplace today. Old ways of solving problems are not working and, while people find comfort in the status quo, change is a necessity. A leader who is resilient, who keeps her calm and provides a sense of security and control during the chaos provides a grounding that allows workers to embrace the new ways of doing things. Whether it is the sure-footed confidence, the ability to communicate a new vision’s benefits, the ability to understand the risks and personal consequences of change, a leader who is resilient when challenges, anticipated or not, get in the way of the strategy, tends to be most successful. Most great leaders have suffered some failure…it is their ability to learn from that failure that makes them able to move forward in the next situation. When we respond constructively to failure, diagnose the problem reset their compass, and commit to change, good things can happen. .
The third quality is authenticity. We all hear about ‘walking the talk’. Authenticity goes beyond that. It is the quality that shows through when the decisions are most difficult, when the values are tested against specific ethical and moral choices, when the best interests of the individual need to be measured against the best interests of the organization. It is best seen in the way followers perform, how they model their leader’s behavior and create an environment where personal agendas are secondary to the organization’s vision and mission.
There are many other components of leadership – passion, commitment, the ability to get others to follow, the ability to communicate your ideas in a way that engages others and many others. Leadership is as much art as science. While some are born with the qualities that make for this kind of greatness, leaders can be developed. Smart organizations know this and put their resources to creating the leaders they need to be successful.