Leadership skills analysis
Leadership skills analysis is hampered by disagreement about what leadership actually is.
The idea of what leadership skills analysis actually involves differs widely between different advocates. Experts and companies like Blanchard, Covey, Kotter, PDI, DDI, and AchieveGlobal, differ greatly in their recommendations for leadership skills analysis.
- Consultants have failed to turn leadership skills analysis into a cookbook recipe.
Academics have indulged in extensive philosophical debates about leadership, but have left it indefinable and indistinguishable from magic. But we have little doubt about who the great leaders are.
Roosevelt and Churchill would appear high on anyone's list of great leaders. But they were geared to leading the Western democracies against evil empires. Can their example be used by business leaders facing very different challenges.?
For instance, if you are a leader of a retail company you might be better looking toward Sir
Jack Cohen, the CEO of Tesco PLC--perhaps the most successful retail company in the world at the
moment (certainly the most successful in the UK).
Whoever you look to as a model it is important that you actually look! There is no leadership model that can be captured in a mathematical equation. Leadership is not an exact science. All we can do is look at what great leaders actually do, and be inspired by them to act well in similar circumstances. Young managers--instead of jumping onto the latest pseudo-scientific leadership skills analysis bandwagon--should hang on to every word of their company leader (or they will surely hang!)
Leadership skills analysis is in a similar state to that of the science of electricity before Michael Faraday. Before him there was no theory of electricity, and a paucity of experimental results. What Faraday did was to give the investigation of electricity a sound experimental basis. His lack of mathematical skills meant he could not develop the theory of electricity-- that came later with James Clerk Maxwell. But by simply looking to see what was there he provided a good basis for theory, and many results that could be used even before the theory was finalised.
What many leadership skills analysts are doing today is similar to Faraday's approach. They are studying leaders with something like the attention that Faraday gave to electrical matter. That said, leaders might be pleased to know that magnets and currents are not involved-- the way that leaders are being studied is through in depth interviews.
Clark Aldrich gives an account of interviews performed over six months with organization leaders, including senior people, mid-level managers, and line workers. The people involved came from the private sector and government. Analysis of the leadership skills highlighted by the interviews became part of
SimuLearn's Virtual Leader leadership simulation.
What such interviews have shown is that the bottom line of leadership is accomplishment. GE's Jack Welch said about recruiting leaders: "I was really looking for people who were filled with passion and a desire to get things done."
But just completing assigned work isn't leadership. That's management. Leaders need to get people to act above and beyond closely defined assignments to create new solutions to incredibly difficult problems (like defeating Hitler!) A leader needs power, through titles/credentials and personal charisma. Hedrick Smith, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent, said, "Jack Kennedy was the first successful presidential candidate to rely on personal appeal to win the top prize." Not breaking trust and walking the talk are essential to maintaining informal, but all-important, authority.
Leadership skills analysis requires learning how poer is gained and shared. For instance, Lyndon B. Johnson praised Martin Luther King Jr. thereby sharing power and gaining commitment from a powerful, charismatic figure.
Leaders, and their followers, are often in positions of now knowing what the right work to do is (how do we stop the Luftwaffe?) Leaders have to get their teams uncovering hidden ideas through techniques like brainstorming, exploring, analyzing, and by simply rooting around. Leaders also need to let their team members have their say. As Sir Winston Churchill said, "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
Leaders also need to know how to motivate people at different times. As Anne Mulcahy, CEO, Xerox said: "When times are good, you should talk about what needs improvement. When things are bad, you should assure people that things will get better."
Leadership skills practice
Leadership skills can be practiced and improved. And everyone should practice them. Leadership skills analysis will help workers see patterns of power, ideas, and commitment beyond everyday demands.
Leadership skills analysis is similar to TQM, but is a harder process skill. To apply it in real-life situations needs practice. Leadership requires intuition, timing, and personalization. It requires the when and the how, as well as the what. It's mainly about relationships, not rules. It's more critical than quality, with a much greater capability to transform lives and industries. And to bring it into organizations, we need to use the best role models. If you are in retail, and associated industries, you can do no better than study great leaders like Sir Jack Cohen of Tesco PLC.
1 Clark Aldrich, "The New Core of Leadership: In-Depth Interviews with Leaders across Industries Reveal the Essential Qualities," T&D Mar. 2003