Sunday, November 18, 2007

What leaders really do.

I was inspired this past week with a new body of work when I discovered an insightful Harvard Business Review article and an extended body of work by former Harvard professor John Kotter.

Thanks to Jim Estill, CEO of SYNNEX Canada in his CEO Blog - Time Leadership blog for facilitating this discovery with his summary of the Harvard Business Review article, What Leaders Really Do.

In the HBR article, Kotter reflects on the difference between management and leadership. Although this topic is frequently explored as verified by a quick Google search, I appreciated a number of Kotter's insights on the role of leadership in a "managed" organization.

So what do leaders do:

They don't make plans; they don't even organize people. What leaders really do is prepare organizations for change and help them cope as they struggle through it.

Leadership isn't mystical and mysterious. It has nothing to do with having "charisma"or other exotic personality traits. It is not the province of a chosen few.

Leadership ... is about coping with change. More change always demands more leadership.

Since the function of leadership is to produce change, setting the direction of that change is fundamental to leadership. Setting direction is never the same as planning or even long-term planning.

The more that change characterizes the business environment, the more that leaders must motivate people to provide leadership as well. When this works, it tends to reproduce leadership across the entire organization, with people occupying multiple leadership roles throughout the hierarchy. This is highly valuable, because coping with change in any complex business demands initiatives from a multitude of people. Nothing less will work.

But perhaps the most aha moment for me started with this Kotter quote, "Most U.S. corporations today are overmanaged and underled." The organization that over focuses on budgets, plans, forecast and organization may miss the mark. I found his military analogy, written in 1991 before the Iraq war, very insightful,
Consider a simple military analogy:
A peacetime army can usually survive with good administration and management up and down the hierarchy, coupled with good leadership concentrated at the very top. A wartime army, however, needs competent leadership at all levels. No one yet has figured out how to manage people effectively into battle; they must be led.
The Kotter article is highly recommended for quiet leaders.

Thank for reading. Please lead quietly.

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