KARIN ZASTROW

blogging about DIRECT LEADERSHIP

Leaders and Traffic Signals

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Imagine driving through a city in the rush hour.

See how you and other people speed up, slow down, look for a sign to see if it is ok to make a left turn here, come to a halt at a traffic light. And then resume pace.

 Now imagine that there are no signposts or traffic lights.

Instead, at every road-cross there is a police officer, who has defined his own rules and signs for how to control the flow of cars, cyclists, pedestrians and other wayfarers.

At times people’s eyes go blank when I talk about the need for a leadership infrastructure that aligns an organisation’s leadership deliverables.

The metaphor of traffic signs vs. individualistic policemen, however, rarely leaves anyone unaffected.  Either in words or by body language people generally confirm that they can all imagine what that would look like and how frustrating it would feel.

Yet, thousands and thousands of organisations let the execution of their strategies ”travel” through an organisation whose leaders have largely defined their own leadership deliverables.

”But, we have both values and a set of leadership competencies!” some will argue.

I strongly advocate that an organisation has clear values and requires that leaders subscribe to them. Just as I support that leaders possess a set of generally acknowledged leadership skills (typically: general communication/people skills, assertiveness, results driven).

However, unless the competencies embed the sort of operational leadership deliverables that are at the core of the Direct Leadership model, neither values nor competencies will ensure consistent practise.

Every single policeman in the example may subscribe wholeheartedly to the values of the police force. Just as he may have a the skills of a good police officer and be determined to do a good job.

However, if he does not deliver in accordance with some sort of common standard language, then a) the wayfarers at his road cross will struggle to understand what he wants them to do and traffic will move in a slow and staccato way and b) his contribution to the big picture will at best be poor or even counterproductive.

Establishing leadership infrastructure is to make sure that there is a general understanding across the board of “what the traffic signs mean” when leaders do and deliver.

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