Friday, July 13, 2007

Credible Leadership by Michelle Kunz

As leaders we face the ongoing challenge of earning the right to be in the seat of leadership. It would be much more convenient if this were a one-shot deal, but even in tyranny that does not really exist. The tyrant must always be on the lookout for the would-be usurper and this requires a great deal of energy.

In fact, as exhausting as it sounds, it takes a great deal less energy to focus our attention on the positive aspects of earning the right to lead, as opposed to maintaining the might to lead. In earning the right to lead, there are a few key elements to incorporate into our leadership approach, and ultimately into our personality, and these will ensure that those we lead are willing to be led.

  1. Establish trust. We hear about trust all the time, but how to earn it is both simple and not easy. To truly be trusted, we must be transparent. Transparency means that when people speak to us or otherwise interact with us, they need no guessing to understand our motivation, our desires, our fears and our current feeling state. As leaders, we can develop the ability to express all of that articulately and well, without being reactive or inappropriate. There is a genuine vulnerability which comes with transparency, and most leaders are not accustomed to feeling vulnerable -- isn't a leader INvulnerable? -- but if those we lead sense our vulnerability without sensing reactiveness, they will be more willing to trust us because of the honesty this requires. Honesty begets trust every time. Any sense of dishonesty -- even in the name of appearing strong when we are not -- will lead to the erosion of trust.
  2. Delegate effectively. Most of us need no reminders that delegation is a key component to successful leadership. We simply cannot do it all by ourselves, which is why we are leading to begin with -- there are others who are needed. But effective delegation is challenging. It is also empowering. For the person who is delegating, time is freed to pursue core genius tasks. For the person delegated to, a growth opportunity is presented. Effective delegation requires clear up-front communication regarding goals, time frame, accountability and consequences, both for achievement and for failure. When both parties are involved in laying out the groundwork there will be a higher sense of ownership and accountability. And then the leader needs to let go and let the process which has been laid out take its natural course. If a well thought out process has been defined, nothing more is required. If additional management seems necessary, examine the initial set-up to see where additional clarity might have prevented this energy drain.
  3. Achievement vs. avoiding failure. The differences between these two orientations are vast. Many leaders find themselves trapped by fear of failure. They have been promoted quickly and lack confidence, skills or experience. They have been promoted due to skill sets and lack people skills to lead teams effectively. They have achieved such a high position of leadership that they fear taking too many risks and are stuck in the trap of doing things the same way because it has always worked before. All of these (and plenty others) are leaders who are avoiding failure. The energy they exude is fear-based, negative, demanding, uncreative, blocked, backward looking and stale. Leaders who are achievement oriented are interested in what works, what works better, and what works best. They pursue excellence. They are willing to try new ideas, learn new skills (and try them out without experience -- to GAIN experience), and make mistakes. They know how to learn from their experiences and move forward. Achievement requires movement away from what is known and what is safe. It requires taking risks. Credible leaders examine their attitudes and processes for the old and stale and continually renew and refurbish.
  4. Incorporate mistakes into the plan. Once a leader has laid out a plan of action and the team has moved into the implementation phase, a lot of things are going to happen which were not a part of the plan. This is the nature of action. Ineffective leaders tend to return to the original plan and try to make things fit back to the original. This is past oriented thinking, filled with negative energy. It is exhausting and unproductive. Time is wasted while things are "fixed." Meanwhile new unexpected and unplanned events are occurring all the time. We're stuck! Credible, effective leaders realize in advance that this is inevitable and are flexible and creative enough to incorporate the unexpected into the plan in the current context and move forward with the new information and perspective. Context is constantly shifting as new information and time flows from the present moment into the past and forward into the future. Remaining current-context oriented keeps us resilient, responsive and creative. We are unstoppable!
  5. Cultivate humility. This connects us back to the beginning. Humility is an attitude of service. It is an awareness of all that we do not possess, all that we do not know, all that we cannot do. Without needing to descend all the way to self deprecation, humility can help keep us human, open and transparent, help maintain our sense of humor and perspective, and remind us that we are all equals, even though some of us lead. The teacher is the student and the student the teacher. The servant the master, and the master the servant. Humility draws people to us and allows them to see us for what we truly are. Our strengths become apparent, without the need for aggrandizement.

There are many books, websites, blogs, articles and papers written on how to be a great leader. Leaders who are great and not so great speak on this topic every day. There are certainly more than five qualities a leader can aspire to in gaining credibility. I offer these five as a starting point for sincere leadership -- a foundation from which authentic power can be truly shared by all and channeled by one in whom others have placed their confidence. The leader.