Monthly Archives : April 2018

airplane cockpit

The Practice of Management: An Exit Row Seat?

By: Tanya Harris, SHRM-SCP, PMP

One of the marks of an excellent leader is his or her ability to bring about transformation in people and organizations. This leader brings perspective to the collective, meaning they must understand the requirements for sitting in the seat.

I Need a Verbal “Yes”

A great word picture to illustrate this is the airline industry. Most people want more leg room when flying, so when purchasing an airline ticket, they check to see if seats in the exit row are available. Have you ever stopped to think about the similarities of searching for extra legroom when flying and searching for extra responsibilities when looking for job opportunities?

Instead of looking for roles to highlight and grow current competencies, there is a desire to move into formal roles of leadership. The desire does not always align with competence and commitment.  Many people, search for leadership roles, but not the leader’s responsibilities or risk. Many want the leader’s praise and the paycheck, without comprehending the leader’s performance requirements or pressures of the role.  There are specific requirements to sit in the exit row.

Before takeoff and before general instructions, the airline flight attendants look for the leaders. As they announce the requirements for sitting in the exit row, they concisely explain the role of a leader:

  1. You must be able to understand the instructions concerning the exit door.
  2. You must be able to open the door.
  3. You must be able to guide others through the door verbally.

When you think about the role of a leader and their demonstration of effective leadership, these are the requirements. When you lead others, you need to know what must happen (vision and strategy). You must be able to pull it off (competence and motivation), and you must be able to take others with you (empowerment and connection). Leadership is influence. A person is not leading if no one is following, and effective leadership is not forced, followers.

Yes! I Have What It Takes

An excellent leader that transforms people and organizations understands that they must draw commitment from the team to create change that is effective, efficient, and sustainable. Viable organization transformation (change) requires continuous organizational development. An effective leader will courageously accept the challenge to do both, draw commitment from the team and develop the organization’s capabilities.

The leadership research shares that to transform people and organizations, the leader must demonstrate a level of competence to gain trust and respect. Competence is a leaders’ ability to say it, plan it, and do it in a way that there is no doubt that the leader knows the business—which then inspires others to buy into the vision, strategy, and the transformation (change). Kouzes and Posner have coined this phrase, ‘If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.’ The leader must demonstrate competence, commitment to the cause and the people, and clearly communicate (simplify the message, know the audience,  demonstrate credibility, and seek response).

Just in Case

Have you ever really thought about “why” the airline attendants are asking these questions? The attendant is seeking to know if there is a real commitment to the cause so that in times of trouble or challenges, a competent, committed, and compassionate leader is at the helm. In organizations, employees (followers) want to know that there is a sense of security for them and the leader at the wheel is fully prepared to carry the weight of the responsibility.

If you are in an exit row seat and not able to carry out the duties of the role, the attendant will happily find you another seat and replace you with someone who understands the requirements, and is capable and committed to following through. This truth should also apply to organizations.

Bottom-line, an effective leader knows that to develop organizational capabilities to deliver the vision and strategy, the people process (human capital) must align. The organization must have the right people, in the right roles, at the right time, for the right cost, to execute the right goals, which translate to effective, efficient, and sustainable transformation.


The Practice of Management: The Relevant Leader

By: Tanya Harris, SHRM-SCP, PMP

“Knowing Yourself”

“I have often thought that the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensively active and alive. At such moments, there is a voice inside which speaks and says, “This is the real me.”

-William James

Peter Senge’s work on “the learning organization” identifies a leader as someone “helping people see the big picture, promoting understanding of how different parts of the organization interact, and explaining how local actions have longer-term and broader impacts than local actors realize.” The theory of Leadership has evolved throughout the century as scholars have developed theories to explain a leader’s role within complex systems for initiating change and managing dynamic social networks. As such, providing a single definition of leadership is impractical. Organizational scientists, executive coaches, and leadership development consultants, all seek to define and answer the question, “what makes an effective leader”? Gallup shares that while leadership competencies are critical in determining the success of an organization, no leader possess all competencies or strengths. Despite the segregated views, experts reach a point of mutual understanding when it comes to one key attribute a leader must demonstrate– the ability to be relevant.

What Does It mean to Be Relevant?

To be relevant means the ability to adapt and evolve. A relevant leader is not defined by a particular set of talents and traits, but by having exceptional clarity about who they are and who they are not. Simply, the relevant leader is maniacally self-aware of their strengths and their weakness. Relevant leaders seek to surround themselves with the right people, in the right roles and build off the strengths of each person.

The Need for a Relevant Leader

Leaders must monitor, assess and reflect on how and why the competitive landscape is changing and the causal factors underlying that change. The relevant leader can challenge themselves quickly, bring in a fresh perspective and expert advice, as well as earnestly invite and consider opposing viewpoints.

Leaders are influential in determining the outcome of their organizations through their decisions, strategies, and influence on others. Organizations are not only competing amongst themselves, but they are experiencing a rapid change in the external environment such as changes in workplace demographics, disruptive technology, globalization and changes in market conditions. The need for a relevant leader is paramount during this time, as they must be adaptable and resilient, be prepared for new threats, foster connections, all while leading with authenticity.

What Makes a Leader Relevant?

Relevant leaders demonstrate a high degree of Situational Awareness (SA). Situational awareness is a foundation for understanding and making sense of what is going on and then effect change if needed. Relevant leaders demonstrate a high level of Emotional Intelligence (EI). Emotional Intelligence is how leaders handle themselves as well as their relationships. There are other attributes or characteristic that can be used to facilitate, “what makes a leader relevant?” However, regarding these competencies, leaders with highly demonstrated situational awareness and emotional intelligence have the intellectual flexibility to understand the power of “connections and collaboration” to drive the vision, mission, and strategy, while staying ahead of the “competition.” When assessing situational awareness and emotional intelligence, concerning “what makes a leader relevant,” consider these points:

Control Situation, Not People

Situational Awareness (SA) is forward-looking, projecting what is likely to happen to inform effective decisions. The Leaders tasked is to align the goals of the organizations with that of the individual. The relevant leader understands that participation drives alignment and promotes cohesiveness. Shared situational awareness becomes an essential function of cooperation and collaboration among team members who share a common understanding and interpretation of objectives. The relevant leader focuses on empowerment rather than control. This leader creates a carefully, structured, flexible and transparent planning process that combines top-down, bottom-up and middle-out inputs to align disparate groups. A relevant leader connects with his constituency on a deeper level and supports them in finding a higher purpose underlying their job or role within the organization.

Innovation and Intuition

A leader demonstrating a high level of Emotional Intelligence(EI) can look at a problem through a different lens based on circumstances presented, and scenarios created and adapts. The relevant leader is grounded in reality with optimism and is, therefore, able to implement innovative and more effective solutions. The leader must be able to come up with strategies not based just on previous experience, but also on intuition and the perception of the way organizational needs and challenges are supported. Organizational awareness fosters building a broad pipeline of capabilities and leading the efforts of the integration necessary to translate potential into impact.

Staying relevant as a leader is all about keeping a fluid focus. It requires a leader to foster stronger relationships with the team and an attitude of continuous professional development. If a leader fails to stay relevant, they limit their growth and ultimately the growth of the team and the organization.

Summing up the Relevant Leader

As previously argued, there is no single definition of leadership or no widely accepted general theory of leadership. However, there are a few common elements across the spectrum of research that exist. Theoretically, the relevant leader influences the organizational process. There is an emphasis on the characteristics of the leader and a recognition that the context or setting affects how leadership plays out. Let’s briefly consider the elements of influence and characteristics.

Influence concerning the relevant leader: Bass (1990) concluded that “defining effective leadership as successful influence by the leader that results in the attainment of goals by the influenced followers…is particularly useful.” Deciding on a shared direction and coordinating work so that people are aligned is facilitated by an influence process. It would seem to argue that one can conclude why influence is at the core of many current definitions of leadership. On the other hand, it is relevant to distinguish that influence concerning leadership can be a slippery slope. Legendary leadership guru, Peter Drucker, coined the following statement: “The three greatest leaders of the 20th century were Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. If that’s leadership, I want no part of it.” Influence cannot be confused with authority.

Characteristics of the relevant leader: What differentiates effective and ineffective leaders is perhaps the most frequently examined question in leadership research. The characteristics that researchers include covers a broad range of human capabilities, including personal attributes, actions or behaviors, competencies, expertise, and experience. Let’s briefly examine personal attributes and competencies.

  • Personal AttributesPsychologist proposes that personal attributes are constructs that explain consistent patterns of behavior across situations. A leader’s cognitive ability and personality are two of the most frequently studied types of attributes. For example, the concept of charismatic leadership has become a favorite topic in leadership literature and what behavior is demonstrated by such a leader. Bass (1985) argued that “The effectiveness must be real or apparent. Often, the charismatic survives with more attention given the apparent than the real. Image of success and effectiveness is pursued.”
  • Competencies: Research suggests that competency is an interrelated set of knowledge, skills, and perspectives that can manifest itself in many forms of behavior or a wide variety of actions. Many organizations prescribe to the notion that as a leader ascends the leadership ladder, there are specific competencies for specific roles that must be demonstrated to signal a high probability of success as the leader moves into that role. For example, organizations have what is known as “Enterprise Leadership Competencies,” which is a set of competencies along with the description of the associated behaviors and definition based on your leadership level (i.e., from new and emerging leaders to strategic leaders). The demonstrated behavior or lack thereof of specific competencies can determine how far a leader moves in an organization.

Concluding Thoughts

Leadership is a concept that is broad, evolving and contextual. In its most basic sense, leadership can be understood as a social process for guiding and generating the direction, alignment, and commitment needed for individuals to work together productively toward common outcomes. Social and political trends are beginning to change the way organizations develop, measure, and reward leaders. The ultimate leadership challenge for leaders entering this new era of change is their ability to navigate through the fog of disruptive technology, prolific competition and mass globalization to determine and set the course for their organization to stay relevant.