We are picking up today where we left off yesterday, with the idea of a general shift in thinking about leadership development. I draw from several resources. The following excerpt from Scientific American, July 31, 2007, adequately describes The New Psychology of Leadership.
“In the past, leadership scholars considered charisma, intelligence and other personality traits to be the key to effective leadership. Accordingly, these academics thought that good leaders use their inborn talents to dominate followers and tell them what to do, with the goal either of injecting them with enthusiasm and willpower that they would otherwise lack or of enforcing compliance. Such theories suggest that leaders with sufficient character and will can triumph over whatever reality they confront.
“In recent years, however, a new picture of leadership has emerged, one that better accounts for leadership performance. In this alternative view, effective leaders must work to understand the values and opinions of their followers—rather than assuming absolute authority—to enable a productive dialogue with followers about what the group embodies and stands for and thus how it should act. By leadership, we mean the ability to shape what followers actually want to do, not the act of enforcing compliance using rewards and punishments.
“Given that good leadership depends on constituent cooperation and support, this new psychology of leadership negates the notion that leadership is exclusively a top-down process. In fact, it suggests that to gain credibility among followers, leaders must try to position themselves among the group rather than above it.”
Of course, how one goes about “positioning oneself among the group” is a huge variable to good leadership, as are the values and opinions of followers. These, too, can be developed.
Leadership effectiveness is the product of individual ability to be the architect of culture, to understand the values and attitudes of followers (who may be colleagues as well as direct reports), and to inspire the contributions, cooperation and mutual support of the people around the would-be leader.
Taken further, the measure of a leader is how well he or she develops a culture of leadership, where all constituents are ready to lead when the context needs their unique contribution.
According to this new approach, no fixed set of personality traits can assure good leadership because the most desirable traits depend on the nature of the group being led and the context at hand. Author Mark DeVries has discovered five decisions that we believe profoundly reflect the ability to develop a healthy leadership culture:
- Deliver Results – The most dramatic way to change any culture is to provide evidence that good things are happening. Success breeds success. Leaders must deliver results. Identify a single visible result and go after it to produce a small victory. Speed up the production of good results and you accelerate climate change.
- Trust the Process – Change takes time and is far more often the product of incremental small wins than monumental victories. A series of small wins creates the potential for incremental revolution. We may explore this element further in a future blog.
- Import Joy into the Chaos – Interesting, but I have found that even high-performing teams will crash and burn sooner or later if they do not learn to celebrate well together. Research has shown that groups that laugh together are consistently better at solving problems together than the folks who strictly “stick to business”. The most effective leaders maintain a “playful detachment”, as DeVries describes it, “from those triggers that cause people to spiral into negativity and reactive blaming.”
- Instill Stories and Metaphors – Every group develops cultural norms or what we sometimes call “rules of fair play”; these at once reflect the culture and define it. As DeVries writes, groups “tend to live into the words that are spoken about them.” Leaders must recognize the impact of language, encourage and offer stories and metaphors that promote a positive leadership culture.
- Embrace Rituals and Traditions, Signs and Symbols – These confirm cultural identity. Ever worked with a group that has office potlucks from time to time – what I call “grazing tables”? The culture-building power of breaking bread together is historic. Do you allow people to decorate their work space? When we work with groups on “team building”, we often challenge them to come up with a team name and a team cheer that reflects the team they aspire to be. Sometimes that cheer becomes part of a team vernacular that far outlives the team building event. We recently did some culture and process work with a university at which the president simply turned over leadership of his monthly all-campus staff meetings to a team, which seemed to pull back the curtains exposing once-hidden sunshine and a positive new climate. Even standard operating procedures can contribute to your team’s cultural identity.
We all have the potential for leadership and, therefore, need leadership development. It is our responsibility as leaders to cultivate a climate for leadership, where everyone has a role and the ongoing opportunity to develop and practice as a leader.
If your organization or team needs assistance in developing leadership or a more powerful leadership culture, call Mark Sturgell at 217-362-0500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.