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Directing: The Pillar of Holistic Leadership that Gets Measurable Results

June 12, 2016

Directing 1

If you haven’t already, be sure to download the third edition of my e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader: Strategies for Successful Leadership using a Principle-Based Approach. This post looks at Directing as one of the four components of Holistic Leadership.

Management, as a vital practice to the success of organizations, continues to get pushed into the back seat in favour of leadership. The poorly understood inter-relationship between management and leadership has diverted attention from the former when it comes to the overall literature and what we read and hear in the media. In short, management is not as sexy as leadership.

In the four part Holistic Leadership model, Directing is critical to those in managerial leadership positions, especially at the senior level. We read in the management literature how managers must possess certain key elements. They need to be visionary and strategic, yet also have a burning sense of urgency to move forward. And they must be results-oriented. To achieve this means that managers must be capable of mobilizing people. Directing encompasses five enabling elements:

  1. Vision
  2. Strategic
  3. Urgency
  4. Mobilize
  5. Results

That these five enabling elements are essential for effective formal leadership is not in dispute. But what about middle managers and employees? Little has been written on the need for people at the middle and lower levels in organizations to develop their skills for these five elements. However, they are critical skills to acquire if we wish to see a change in the culture of leadership in organizations.

Directing 2

There are three main types of leaders in organizations: senior managers, front-line managers and supervisors, and network leaders, or who are also called thought leaders. Network leaders comprise people at all levels, and are typically those working in non-managerial positions. They self-initiate, working across organizational boundaries, sharing information and linking people together.

All three categories of leaders must interact because they each possess certain strengths. Unfortunately, front-line managers have not been given sufficient attention with regard to improving their leadership abilities. In terms of Holistic Leadership, front-line managers need to ensure they develop the Directing component, because they’re the ones who are best positioned to mobilize their staff. They sit on the interface between senior management and staff, and tend to have a grasp of the big picture. This means they also need to be visionary and strategic, as well as results-oriented.

Network leaders are the seed planters, sowing ideas in their organizations and bringing people together. They work typically in non-management positions. Their interaction with front-line managers is vital, in terms of reciprocal sharing of knowledge and ideas. They also play a key role in influencing senior management. Network leaders need to ensure they develop the elements contained in the Directing component if they wish to increase their effectiveness.

Consequently, it’s important that we rethink our assumptions on the Directing component of leadership. These assumptions are oriented around power and authority and who possesses them in organizations. If we really wish to see our organizations evolve to embrace collaborative learning and shared leadership, then we need to shed some of our traditional beliefs on leadership.

Take a moment to read about an incredible corporate leader who portrays the Directing component extremely well.

Anderson Carpets.jpg Meet the World’s Greenest CEO:

Ray Anderson grew up in Georgia during the end of the Great Depression and World War II. After graduating from college he worked for almost 20 years in industry. Then in 1973 he took the plunge, leaving his employer to form Interface, drawing on an idea, his life savings and funds from a few investors.

Today, Atlanta-based Interface Inc. is one of the world’s largest flooring companies, with plants in the United States, Canada, England and Australia. However, the company’s growth and evolution has been far from ordinary. For example, in 1994 Anderson took a gamble and initiated a process to transform the company using nature as the model.

His QUEST process (Quality Utilizing Employee Suggestions and Teamwork) focused on eliminating waste from cost and measuring workers against perfection. For example, it was found that 10% of each sales dollar went to waste. Between 1994 and 2004, Interface calculated that the elimination of waste represented 28% of its operating income. And from 1996 (his baseline year) to 2008 Interface cut its greenhouse emissions by 71 % in absolute tons! Yet sales increased 66% and earnings doubled. Anderson more than amply demonstrated that business can make money while reducing its carbon imprint on the planet.


Anderson and his management team were inspired earlier on by Janine Benyus’s book Biomimicry. In fact, the manager of product development was so moved that he took his design team deep into the forest to study nature to determine how floor covering could be produced using nature’s design principles. The outcome was new flooring, which when installed has virtually no waste since cut pieces are reintegrated into the production process.

“Everything stays in the flow, the material loop. All of that is basically emulating nature in an industrial system, and that remains our goal,” asserts Anderson. One of Interface’s measures is carbon intensity, the amount of petroleum removed from the earth and then processed through the supply chain to yield one dollar of revenue. The company’s carbon intensity fell by one third over nine years, and it closed 39% of its smokestacks and 55% of its effluent pipes.

Anderson referred to climbing Mount Sustainability in Interface’s pursuit of sustainability. Understanding how to climb each of the seven “faces” to the peak will yield a zero environmental footprint. His vision is called Mission Zero, referring to Interface achieving a zero carbon footprint by 2020.

What made Anderson such an intriguing person and exceptional leader is that he’s on a never-ending quest to reduce waste and to cut emissions in order to reach a zero carbon footprint. Although employees are proud of their collective achievements, Anderson worked diligently at transforming the company’s corporate culture and ensuring that all employees share his vision. Despite low staff turnover, it’s been ongoing process to ensure that the company’s values remain engrained in everyone, and that new employees are quickly brought into the fold.

Ray Anderson exemplified what it means to practice stewardship and to be a true leader in enrolling and aligning his employees towards a common purpose and shared vision. He set, and was, the benchmark to which executive leaders should aspire.

A leader in corporate social responsibility, Ray Anderson died from cancer on August, 11, 2011.

Reflection Question: Whether you’re a senior executive, middle manager, thought leader or an aspiring leader, how do you influence others? Do you have a personal vision?

Holisti LeadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

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