Article in Business / Leadership / Theories of Leadership
Leadership is part science, part art, part rational and part emotional. It reveals itself in many different ways in many different settings. This is a topic well worth discussion and best thinking.

Leadership is about inspiring and enabling others. In that, remember these three truths: 1) It’s not about you. 2) Help should be helpful, 3) Everything communicates.


Who won eight gold medals in swimming in the 2008 summer Olympics? Michael Phelps …… AND HIS TEAM! (Three of his events were relays.) As a leader, you’re relevant only in the context of your team. You aren’t leading unless others are following, aligned around a shared purpose; and, ideally, one that has meaning in being about doing or producing something good for someone else, and is rewarding because those doing or producing the good derive good things for themselves as well.

While it’s not about you, all leadership is personal. Rochester school superintendent, Jean-Claude Brizard gets this. He’s striving to “create an environment in the district where if he asks a school principal about a specific student and their dreams, aspirations, struggles and achievement, he and school leaders will be able to have a meaningful dialogue about that child's future”.

The most successful leaders use a very broad definition of their team – well beyond the people that actually work for them. Phelps’ team included not just the guys in the pool, but also the trainers, coaches, sponsors, and supporters as well – not one of which reported to him on the formal organization chart. In thinking about your team, consider all the stakeholders from shareholders or donors to suppliers, customers, employees and the communities in which you and they live and work.


In general, integrating out, in, and across is more helpful than managing down. Managing down almost always involves stepping on someone else’s functional responsibilities, and disables. Conversely, knitting people together across silos and processes enables as you EASE their work: Encourage them, Align their efforts with others, Solve problems, End distracting efforts.

Think in terms of integrating across strategic, operational and organizational processes. The strategic process involves the creation and allocation of resources over time in pursuit of a shared purpose. (Where Play/How Win). The operational process ensures executional excellence of shorter-term plans along the way. (What getting done by when by whom). The organizational process is about building ADEPT people and teams over time (Acquire, Develop, Encourage, Plan, Transition).

The #1 thing experienced, successful leaders regret is not moving faster on people. They regret settling for less than optimal performance from individuals or the team for too long and the message that sends. The hardest choices involve a strong individual performer that’s damaging the team. Moving or not moving on them sends the strongest message of all about the relative importance of individuals and the team as a whole. You must must must protect the team. Putting in place and following through on a robust performance management system is key to this.


What’s the most important part of a dam? It depends upon the dam’s purpose. For recreation, it’s the lake above the dam. For flood control, it’s the floodgates. For energy creation, it’s the turbines. The most important part of your enterprise, your dam, must be the focal point where your vision, values, and priorities come together to turn potential into something meaningful and rewarding.

Drive that with your message. Everything you do or don’t say, do, listen to and observe sends a message. You can choose that message purposefully and center your communication on it. Or you can let people interpret and misinterpret the range of things you do or don’t say, do, hear, observe as they see fit, like the big three Detroit auto CEOs did when they each flew a private plane to ask congress for help.

The stronger the congruence between what’s most important to your enterprise and your own values, intentions, words and actions, the more impact your message will have. This is why the best messages aren’t crafted; they are discovered. Great leaders live their messages not because they choose to, but because they must. “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Their message is their truth. Pivot off the personal truth in your message to imbue your stories with truth to the teller, audience, mission and moment . Ideally, this happens in the stories you tell and in the stories others tell about you as you communicate, demonstrate and live your message.

Do this across the stages of a full culture-shaping communication campaign: • Prepare and seed: to begin to align key stakeholders before the launch • Launch: invoke an intervention/kick off, roll out and deep dive • Cascade: with public tracking, reporting and adjusting of milestones along the way • Celebrate: by over-investing, delivering and publicizing early wins • Reinforce: with an early warning system leading to adjustments and recommitments • Institutionalize: in your strategic, operational and organizational processes

Because everything is always changing around you, you can’t stand still. This is why all leadership is transformational leadership. This is why inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best, together, to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose is your never-ending job. And that’s the truth.

Let me leave you with a few questions to think about: • What’s most important to those you’re serving and leading? • What’s been most helpful in enabling others to do their absolute best, together? • What’s your message/narrative; and how are you using it to inspire people in your organization?


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