Friday, December 02, 2005

Leadership (homework)

Week 6 of my management class was about leadership - our assignment was to write a post about leadership development and leaders.

Leadership is a quality that can be learned. People are not born to be leaders, but develop the traits, characteristics and confidence to lead other people. Training people to be leaders is always going to be difficult because true leadership comes from within. Training to be managers is much simpler. Management is a set of activities that can be documented, repeated and productized. People can follow predictable scripts to achieve repeatable results. However, many parts of leadership are pure instinct. Jack Welsh, former CEO of GE, notes that as a leader, you must know yourself (Chapman, 2005). The theme of self-leadership extends back into history; William Penn, founder of the Pennsylvania Colonies was quoted as saying, “No man is fit to command another that cannot command himself.” (ibid.)

Personally, I have been working on developing leadership qualities for the past 15 years. This is not an easy task, nor is it one that is ever complete. By associating with leaders, reading books from people who are leaders, and learning from the best, you can develop the skills, traits and characteristics that make a leader. When I am in a position to lead teams, I use a democratic to autocratic style. I want everyone to get involved, make a contribution, but I will not wait for laggards to catch up – when it is time to make a decision, I will make it. If it is right, great – praise my team, they provided the input. If it is wrong, blame me, for I am the one who made the decision. I follow President Truman’s maxim here – "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." (ibid.) Have I ever had to use a leadership style that I was uncomfortable with? Yes. When I first began leading teams, I was very unsure of myself and unwilling to take an autocratic rule to get things done. However, as years have passed, I have learned that decisions have to be made. I have learned to believe in my own judgement and make the decisions.

Management gets things done. But without leadership, no organization will survive. Leaders who have no management skills will fail through entropy. Managers who have no leadership skills will fail through indifference. I feel that it is important to have a balance of both. Larger companies seem to have more management without leadership - just follow the rules and don't rock the boat. Today, though, companies are looking to slim down, react quicker and be more like the small startup companies. That requires leadership and empowerment on all levels.

Regarding the rules and axioms (in the textbook) -- they are a good foundation and express some of the core beliefs of leadership. Regarding what could be added – an entire lifetime of experience multiplied by the age of the world. The key to learning leadership is to find people who speak to you, to your experiences. There are very few things to learn to be a leader, but a thousand different ways to express them. To learn the ideals behind leadership you must find an author that speaks to you and puts the keys in terms you understand.

Chapman, Alan. (2005). “Leadership (Online)”. Retrieved 12-02-2005 from
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