Is there one indicator of great leadership that shines above all others? I believe there is.
Actually, it is quite simple.
The litmus test for great leadership - in my humble opinion - is the degree that you lead according to your stated and understood intentions. The "your" in that sentence means what you have said to your team AND your organization's intentions.
Before you switch over to another blog because I have bored you by stating the obvious, stick with me through this example. It's trickier than we might think....
I know a senior leader who I will call Sam. Sam is a functional leader for a large organization and he has several hundred people working for him in his unit. Sam is fairly new and the early indications are that he has the potential to be great.
The organization, like many, like yours, has big plans. They want to grow and reinvent and revolutionize the market. Sam seems fully behind - excited, passionate - this mission and strategy and speaks often about what it means for his team. He wants his team to be the exemplars - the role models - for the desired future. To lead, not lag.
Great vision. Here's the potential rub. There are a few folks who report to Sam - at the senior leader level - who are not on the same bus. In fact, they are notorious for being on no one's bus but their own. They come to meetings and politely seem in agreement, then go back to their groups and do whatever they want. They are not cooperative and not a pleasure with which to work.
The buzz in the department falls into a few themes:
1. Most people see Sam as having the right ideas and strategies.
2. However most also have little faith that he will deal with these "on their own bus" folks. They hope and wonder if he will be THE ONE to demand more from them (or let them go when they refuse their seat on the corp bus).
So let's get back to the litmus test. Sam has said that the team - his whole team - should lead the organization into the future. There are lots of smaller efforts happening in the department. That's all great, but as long as Sam does not insist that ALL his leaders get on the bus, he will never be anything more than a good leader who enjoyed average progress and results. It won't happen, it can't happen.
And consider the possibility - if he DID hold his own line, wow, what a dramatic change would occur and he would send a message that could unleash a flood of great work. People are waiting for Sam to do something great.
Leading according to our intentions means for real - every decision is consistent with what we say. When we say, "this shall be," it should mean something.
I get a little impatient with folks who fight their organizations on fundamental vision and strategy stuff. You know that I believe we should be demanding partners - challenge the status quo is my middle name. But this does not apply to the basic structure and business model. If you have joined an organization that is slow moving, traditional, and conservative - don't fault it for not being nimble and uncomfortable with risk. That is not the model. If your organization says is wants to be more global and collaborative and this is the strategic direction - you don't have the right to run your department as a silo. That's not your business model. Get on the bus or go elsewhere.
As leaders, we should be open to feedback that helps us improve. We should seek alternative views and involve people in shaping the future. That said, once we have decided the strategic direction and the desired culture, we have drawn a line in the sand that we should be willing to hold people to.
- You will never know if your vision or strategy is the right or wrong one if you never totally go for it.
- We won't know if running will help us lose weight if we only do it on Sundays.
- We can't tell if spending more time with our kids will help their grades if we only do it when we have time.
- You can't know if your desired culture is the right one if it is optional and spotty.
There is nothing more noble and magnificent than a fully implemented idea. Most of us half-ass it through life. The leaders I admire most go full in - they align all aspects of the work and team. If it does not work, they will change, but not before doing it well and right.
I don't know if Sam will make a difference. If he continues to let the tail wag the dog, I think his efforts will yield unremarkable returns. This is sad, a tragedy. I know of no leader who wants to be unremarkable.
This is the leadership litmus test. Call it follow-through if you like as it is certainly that. But the words don't do the practice justice. Leaders who are willing to make the tough calls to create alignment with a goal/strategy/intention are worth following, supporting, and sweating for.
You might be thinking, "but what if I don't like the direction my organization is going?" Share your ideas and concerns, try to influence new thinking. But if this is the business model - you need to either be a part of making it work or get out. There is no acceptable in-between place as a leader. If you are not a positive force for the change, you are hurting the organization. As leaders, we are hired to manifest an intention - that's our job. And if we are not doing this - if we are fighting it - then we are not doing our job.
So here is my suggestion, because I know you want to be remarkable. Review your organization's strategic plan, its vision, its desired culture, its business model. Then ask yourself, how should these intentions change how I lead? Am I avoiding the tough decision? Is everyone on the right bus?