Thursday, July 24, 2008

Quiet Leaders Needed to Keep Companies Balanced

If you are a Quiet Leader, your organization is counting on you to be "soft part" expert. And unfortunately the soft part is not only the hard part, it is very difficult to keep it in balance. You can't do it by yourself. You need a leader mob.

You are probably saying, huh?

The concept occurred to me after watching a presentation on Ed Oakley's Leadership Made Simple blog. Ed is another finalist in the 2008 Best Leadership Blog competition. He is also the author of the book Leadership Made Simple .

The post that that offered me new insight was Management Skills vs Leadership Skills, or is it AND…? where Ed's video presentation identifies two parts to any organizational process, the hard part and the soft part.

The Hard Part and the Soft Part

The hard part is comprised of the processes, procedures, measurement, metrics and structures. Think of your reporting, forms policies, budgets, and estimates as part of the "hard" part. The hard part is comprised of items that are design to control the efforts of the organization.

The soft part is comprised of the people related components. Think of the ideas, fears, excitement, resistance, attitudes of the people. You might add a dash of politics and fear of change to make it a little more interesting.

In the presentation Ed asks two questions that establishes the essential message of this post:

First Ed asks, "Which is more challenging in your experience?" The answer is immediate. The soft part is clearly more challenging. The hard part represents those somewhat mechanical elements that are generally easy to understand and learn. Most of us would associate the hard part with the tools and approaches used by management to steer the work of your organization.

Most will say that the soft part is clearly more difficult. There is more nuance and variation in dealing with "people" concerns. It's hard. It requires leadership.

Ed's second question is more challenging. "Which is more importance?" Both the hard and soft parts are important and balance is key. As Ed states, "It all about balance." There needs to be a balance between Management and Leadership.

Out of Balance
As I watch managers respond to the management "crisis of the day", I see the soft part, people centered issues suffer. Give a manager unending requests for reports, budget reviews, schedules, justifications, presentations, and project updates, that manager will not have time or energy to lead. The balance between management and leadership is lost.

An "out of balance" situation is serious and not uncommon. I've described this before in What leaders really do? where I quoted the work of Professor John Kotter where he said, "Most U.S. corporations today are overmanaged and underled."

Another leadership giant who has written extensively about "overmanaged and underled" (Google book search) is Warren Bennis. Miki Saxon at Leadership Turn wrote an insightful series of posts that revisits classic Bennis thinking about management versus leadership. The series reminds us that the mission of a leader is very different than the mission of a manager. As leaders we must:
  • Do the right thing
  • Challenge
  • Originate
  • Keep an eye on the horizon
  • Inspire trust
  • More of the Bennis Leader Mission .......Click here for the complete list at Leadership Turn.
How do we keep Soft and Hard in balance?
Quiet leaders need to focus on their leadership mission and leverage their leadership skills to keep our organizations in balance. Individually, we strive to grow and apply our leadership skills. But, a single leader can't do it alone.

Quiet Leader Mobs
A quiet leader mob, a community of leaders, can add mass to the soft/leadership end of our balance challenge. More leaders equals more mass equals balance. My colleague Tom recently stated the challenge eloquently when he described the need for a "groundswell" of leader activists in order to keep balance. Quiet leader mobs can balance overmanagement. We need more leaders, grassroots leaders, we need that groundswell.

Quiet Leader Call to Action
Keep the soft parts and the hard parts in balance by:
  1. Building your personal leadership skills. Its about learning and growing. Be a soft part expert.
  2. Use your leadership skills to build leadership and community around you. We need quiet leader mobs.
Thanks for reading. Please lead quietly.

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