What do leadership and lasagna have in common?
by: Larry Hollon
Most of us have certain foods that we love. One that I love is lasagna. We crave opportunities to eat our favorite dishes. Yet, even our most favorite dish doesn’t taste good when it isn't made right. An inexperienced cook, a defective recipe, or poor-quality ingredients can all cause a favorite dish to be something to be avoided instead of savored. The fact is, we all know poor cooking when we taste it.
|Is this also true for leadership? Don’t all of us recognize poor leadership when we experience it? Here are some examples of what poor leadership “tastes like."
· We feel unappreciated. We never hear any feedback when we do a good job. However, all hell breaks loose if something we handle doesn’t go well.
· Our bosses insist on making decisions and controlling actions on matters that we are much closer to and therefore are much more qualified to handle.
· Daily, we see inefficiencies, ineffective activities, and waste, but we know we’re not empowered to do anything about it. Often, we officially have the authority to act on it, but we’re not empowered to do so because our bosses are controlling our priorities. In fact, through their leadership style, they may be controlling how we spend every minute of our working time.
· Many of our bosses’ expectations are not ever clearly given to us. We learn of many of their expectations only when we have failed to meet them.
· We feel they have talked down to us. Our bosses treat us like children, or like they own us.
· We feel controlled. Like we don’t have any choices.
· We live in constant fear of humiliation by an angry boss.
· The list goes on. How many can you add?
Most of us know what these experiences of poor leadership taste like. HOWEVER - do you ever wonder what the leadership you deliver “tastes” like? Is it a favorite dish or is it utterly bitter to your subordinates? Have you ever asked them? Is your relationship with them such that they would tell you the truth if you did ask?
Can you say with complete confidence that you know an established, proven “recipe” for good leadership? Have you invested significant time and effort in learning the ingredients and skills of good leadership? Do you accept that there is a “science” to leadership that’s just as real as the “sciences” of marketing, accounting, purchasing, human resources, etc.? Do you accept that there are established, proven principles, guidelines, management and leadership processes, things to do, and things to avoid doing?
Are you like most of us in management? Were you promoted into a management role largely because you possess a high level of competence at a set of functional/technical skills? But were you ever taught the recipe for good leadership?
What is good leadership anyway? Isn’t it just being better than your subordinates at functional/technical skills so you can tell them the best way to do things? No it’s not. Isn’t it just determining what people need to do, telling them, monitoring the results, and reacting to undesirable results? No it’s not. Is it a combination of both of the above? No it’s not.
Of-course, the functional/technical skills are an important component of our management jobs. However, there is an additional component that too often is totally neglected – the leadership component. Real leadership has nothing to do with being the boss. Real leadership has nothing to do with having functional/technical skills that are superior to those of your subordinates. Real leadership is simply the ability to influence. It is the ability to:
· Keep a group focused on a common goal
· Build consensus within a group
· Facilitate commitment and motivation within individuals
· Influence people to work together and do things the organization needs because they’ve decided they want to do those things. As opposed to because they fear the consequences of not doing so. Or because they are coerced or manipulated to do so.
You can decide for yourself if the above paragraph describes real leadership by analyzing those times you have seen or learned about it:
· You’ve probably seen true leadership in work groups (i.e., those departments, sections, groups, etc., that focus together on a single business process such as customer service, production, purchasing, human resources, etc.). In nearly every work group, there are those individuals that the rest just seem to follow. They influence the group’s direction, emphasis, and priorities more than the rest. They take the initiative on problems, projects, and changes. They have, however, no authority over many of the co-workers they influence.
· Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had millions of Americans following him. He had no authority over them, but they followed.
· India’s Mahatma Gandhi had no authority when he instigated the freeing of India from British rule. How many people were following him?
Just as we can all tell the difference between good food and bad, we can all tell when we’re experiencing good leadership or poor leadership. However, most of us in management roles haven’t had the opportunity to learn the recipe, or the skills, of good leadership.
We are going to be able to provide leadership that “tastes good,” and of-course, maximizes the performance of our group, only if we have made a significant investment of time and effort to do these things:
· Learn what true leadership is
· Learn the principles, guidelines, processes, things to do, and things to avoid doing, of true leadership
· Develop the specific skills of leadership
Contrary to popular belief, true leadership doesn’t come naturally. Although some people have a natural personality style that facilitates good leadership, the ingredients and skills are all learnable. Information on true leadership is available from many sources. The hard part of making true leadership a major component of your management job is forcing yourself to change the way you do things.
Remember that your subordinates know exactly what your leadership feels like. Do you?