blogging about DIRECT LEADERSHIP


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This morning, as I was preparing for the two speeches I am going to give in Mexico this week – one for a group of Executive MBA students and one for a group of clients of my host and partner here (Monica Diaz of Quidam Global) I slipped into imagining things. The following is my train of thought and perspective on Everyday Leadership for these two occasions.

Imagine that you lived say 150 years ago in a small remote farming community. Work was physically demanding, the pace was slow, and the work space was limited. Nobody had a formal education. Every morning when you went to work in the fields, like your ancestors had done. And there you would meet your neighbours. Some of you would meet the other women regularly at the place where you washed the family’s clothes. If indeed there was one, the children would all go to the same school. On Sundays you would all meet again in church. And a couple of times per year work in the fields would demand that everybody worked together. Not a formally very structured organism, because there was such a strong sense of being ‘in it together’ and lots of opportunities to connect and communicate as the daily routines were undertaken. Likewise not a lot of formal leadership. The place operated more like a living organism.

Now look at the organisations most of us work in today.

Work is no longer so physically demanding. Most of us have some form of education. Some of us – indeed – have a lot of it. The work pace is high. The workspace may for some of us involve travelling or distance leadership. When we leave work, we spend our time with maybe a few people from our workplace and a lot of others either in person or on the internet. We do not live in the vicinity of our jobs, so both we and our neighbours go separate ways in the morning and come back separate ways. Our homes are equipped in ways which mean that nobody has to go to the common washing ground. And our offices are full of tools that allow each person to be much more self-sufficient than ever in the past.

The strong interdependence that tied people together around a common challenge and a common destiny is no longer there. Neither is the ‘social network’ which ensued from the fact that you lived your entire life among the villagers. Nowadays we are less dependent on each other and have a different relationship with our work. Am I right?

Imagine, what it would do to our organisations today if we could super-impose the strong interconnectedness, the sense of being well-informed about all things of interest – and the sense of common purpose that we used to have when we were living in the village …

Pause for a moment, visualize it…

It is obvious that we need something to replace the qualities of the village.

So we create visions, missions and strategies. We define company values and we break down goals while keeping in mind the big picture. We also create some social activities and we teach relationship skills, because we know how important relationships are if both people and the organisation are to thrive.

And we structure our workplaces. Shapes and formats vary, but all organisations have a structural backbone.

This is, however, where everyday leadership becomes important.

Everyday Leadership may be seen as one side of a coin, whose other side says ‘structure’. To lead any organization is to offer guidance in a very broad sense. You may find guidance in a road map, a GPS, from a tour guide, a parent, a teacher, etc.

Within our organisations, certain elements of this guidance may be put down into organigrams, procedures, job descriptions. They are the guidance elements that are stable over a certain period. Long enough that it makes sense to write them down.

Other elements are much less stable. They vary from one day to the other. One day you notice that some of your staff members are not as productive as they ought to be. Another day, you notice that two parties get along terribly and this has a negative impact on your team’s motivation. The next day a situation comes up which gives reason to take a look at how you share knowledge or make decisions. These changeable, fluid elements of working life cannot all be managed by procedures or organigrams, they require present, modern-day leadership.

Another way to put this is to say that leadership can take two shapes: structural measures for the long-term stable challenges and everyday interventions for the fluid, changeable ones.

Now then, how does my material/my model add something new to this picture.

I claim, that because leaders are allowed to interpret their everyday leadership work as they please, many organisations do not have that adhesive, that glue which tied the villagers together. They do not have a leadership operating system.

My model – Direct Leadership – offers a leadership operating system, which ensures that the leader contributes all the things that used to be present in the village:

• where we are heading
• how is work divided
• exchange of knowledge
• a sense of belonging
• that all talents are used
• decisions are made
• and that everybody pulled extra weight in harvest period.

Including ensuring, that these are provided in modern-day leadership styles, which is sometimes directive, frequently coaching and regularly monitoring.

This is different from most leadership training, which focuses mainly on two angles of leadership: strategic leadership and personal leadership.

I call my model Direct Leadership – I could also have called it Everyday Leadership.

My model addresses day-to-day leadership, the kind that each one of us has some of – and which together can make or break an organization.

And it works is much like turning on a lamp when you enter a dark room. By seeing and recognizing the elements in the room, you can manoeuver elegantly rather than groping and stumbling.

The way it looks in most places I have met is that while we are clear on strategic goals on values, everyday leadership is left to be defined by each individual leader. The only good (or at least for some of us nice) thing about that is…. that it provides each leader a sense of personal freedom, personal power to decide.

The downside is that it neither provides us with a clear definition of what we are measured against nor does it give us a separation between our roles and our personalities.

And that in turn means that whenever someone – an employee or our boss – is unhappy with what we do, what is being criticized is not how we take care of a certain job function. They fire away and criticize our personalities.

And eventually, our staff that should be receiving good, solid, day-to-day guidance – which corresponds to their skills and personalities, of course – are poorly helped.

This – and nothing else – is the precise pain my material can heal. For individual leaders, who read my book or go to a training, for their employees – and for organisations that see how a leadership operating system allows them to vitalize their collective leadership efforts.


Written by Karin Zastrow

May 18, 2011 at 16:37

Posted in Misc

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