Skip to content

The New Leadership Challenge: How to Deal with Uncertainty

February 1, 2015
CrystalBall When either thrust or eased into a leadership role, one of the outcomes is the leader being expected to have some, or even all, of the answers to problems facing the work team. As one moves up the organizational hierarchy, employees fully expect senior leaders to be purveyors of the future. And when the organization is going through turbulence, such as when a new competitor enters the market, employee insecurity feeds the need for answers.

This is an unrealistic expectation, especially with the huge number of events, many of which are inter-connected, from plunging commodity prices to terrorism attacks to environmental disasters to geo-political tensions to technological breakthroughs. Those who earn a leadership role, regardless of level, are warm blooded human beings, accompanied by personal insecurities and mental models–our individual set of assumptions about the world we hold.

With that expressed, an emerging double-sided competency that’s essential for any aspiring (including current) leader is the ability to synthesize information and to identify trends. The late Warren Bennis put it this way: “An effective leader sees through the fog of reality to interpret events and to make sense of the blurring and ambiguous complexity.”

Bennis’ comment helps reframe the myth of leaders needing to have the answers for their followers to instead providing clarity on issues. However, to achieve this level of capability in terms of clarity, a leader also needs to understand herself thoroughly and to be centered in how she carries out her leadership responsibilities. Five mind shifts are key to enable a leader to be proficient in dealing with change and the fog accompanying it.

Looking into fog bridge 1) Focus on opportunity, not the problem.
Break off the rearview mirror, which will only keep you glued to what was. Move forward by finding solutions that come from opportunity.

2) Emphasize the long-term, not the short-term.
Yes, tactical decisions are important for the day-today operation of your business or public sector organization. However, failure to position your organization for the long-term will weaken its ability to adapt to unexpected events.

3) View the whole; don’t fixate on one part.
Latching on to one aspect of an issue or problem will cause you to lose sight of the big picture, in turn diminishing your capacity to see opportunities and inter-connected solutions.

4) Learn to be a change adaptor instead of trying to control it.
Attempting to control one’s future is, to be blunt, a fool’s errand. The world is too complex, intertwined and unpredictable for any mortal to try and play that game. Learn to strengthen your adaptability and enjoy riding the wave of change. It’s less stressful and more stimulating.

5) Embrace trust; ditch being a doubter.
This fifth mind shift is very important in today’s volatile economy. Trusting your instincts and your peers and followers will make your job as a leader not only that much easier but you’ll improve your performance. William Halal expressed it beautifully on the need for leaders to put aside the need for control:
“The most unsettling change is that leaders will have to shed their mask of authority to meet people directly, facing all the stinging criticism and outrageous demands that have been suppressed by authority.”

Shedding the illusion of authority by both leaders and followers will force both sides to realize that they must learn to work together–essential in today’s competitive global economy. This means that leaders must encourage open discussions and shared decision-making, including ways to identify issues and resolve conflicts. And above all, leaders must be able to listen if they wish to understand the complex problems they face and the diverse views others hold.

Today, leaders are being called upon to deal with increasingly complex and interrelated problems. In some respects, the expectations being placed upon them are almost unrealistic. Transcending from the traditional approach where a leader was expected to be hardnosed and analytical to people orientation and interpersonal leadership won’t be easy for some in management. Unfortunately, those who resist the juggernaut of change, with the accompanying volatile uncertainty, will be left on the sidelines.


If there is no transformation inside each of us, all the structural change in the world will have no impact on our institution.

Peter Block


Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.


Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Jim Grand Manan FBTake a moment to meet Jim.

Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate

January 26, 2015
Book Cover 1) Do you hesitate to make decisions and second guess the ones you do make?

2) Do you question your ability to motivate others and to create a team climate?

3) Do you worry that others have more talent than you?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, or even seemed unsure, then my newest e-book is for you: Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate

Each of us may put on a brave face at work, but we’re all human beings, each with our unique gifts and warts. To wonder if we have the right stuff to become a leader is perfectly normal and is actually an important part of our personal learning journey.

Learning is an iterative process. We learn in spurts, not at a steady pace. Some days we’re on; other days we’re off. After all we’re people, who on a daily basis face a variety of events: illness, loss of a family member or employment, marriage, trip to a foreign country, college graduation, and the list goes on.

As a consequence, each of us needs to figure out how to interact with the external world while simultaneously trying to manage our personal issues. For example, this could be forming a family while taking on new responsibilities at work.

In my new e-book, I share my own fall-on-the-face experiences as a new manager many years ago. But I was lucky and had a great team who gave me immediate feedback that what I was doing was definitely not cool. Being a new manager is indeed a scary experience.

However, this e-book’s not about me but about YOU: how I can help facilitate YOUR journey to discovery, enlightenment and practice as an effective leader.

To do this, I’ve reached into my 420-plus leadership posts from my website-blog Changing Winds to share 10 popular posts on the theme of inner leadership. Along the way, I’ve included three short leadership profiles. Whether it’s Ryan who as a young boy from rural Ontario helped dig wells in Africa, or Ray Anderson who up to his recent death was seen as the planet’s greenest CEO or the story of the sticky paws, these profiles are intended to inspire and motivate you. As you’re reading, enjoy the photos I’ve included to help spark your reflection.

In the end, it’s up to each of us whether we empower ourselves to embark on the learning journey to find our inner leader. It’s a journey that’s exciting and at times stressful. However, the rewards as you proceed through this process reveal themselves every day.


There’s nothing more powerful you can do to encourage others in their quest for personal mastery than to be serious in your own quest.

– Peter Senge


Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.


Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Jim Grand Manan TrailTake a moment to meet Jim.

Building a High Trust Workplace: Today’s Strategic Competitive Asset

January 19, 2015
Man catching woman
Think of a time when you worked with a group of great people, where trust prevailed, where your leader had earned a followership and where everyone worked towards the same vision. It doesn’t have to have been paid work; community service counts, too.

No luck?

Workplaces like this do exist. However, it takes a committed effort by managerial leaders to initiate and sustain the process to create a high trust workplace.

Trust is the most difficult part of leadership. Indeed, your faithful correspondent would argue that trust is the currency of leadership.

Time is the essential ingredient to establish a climate where people know that their leader’s words and actions are consistently aligned, and where peers function the same way. It takes only a moment to shatter or injure a trusting relationship, but weeks or months to restore it, if at all. Read here about the case of The Stickey Paws for a story about trust.

The late Stephen Covey, as part of his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, articulated two key elements needed to create a high trust workplace:
1) Create win-win situations
2) Seek first to understand before being understood.

The habit of interpersonal leadership is thinking win-win. Compromise should be avoided because it involves people transacting with one another. With true synergy (the outcome is greater than the sum of the parts) people have created strong relationships. For leaders, this means they must lose the “I” focus and assume a “We” focus. They must come to the realization that freeing people is superior to controlling them. Once a leader is convinced of this, he’ll be able to act much more easily in an interdependent manner. Covey described three essential traits to interpersonal leadership.

People climbing on each other1) Integrity: This is the cornerstone to win-win thinking. People need to understand their personal values and what winning means to them. Moreover, they must learn to keep commitments they make to themselves and to others.

2) Maturity: Covey defined this as “…the balance between courage and consideration.” Leaders must astutely determine how to increase the wellbeing of their followers while at the same time meeting the objectives of their organization. Achieving high levels of courage and consideration are the hallmark of true maturity.

3) Abundance Mentality: People with a scarcity mentality see life as having only so much to give. They have difficulty giving recognition and credit to their staff or sharing credit with peer leaders. They’re weak team players. On the other side are those with an abundance mentality. They take great pleasure in helping others and are self-fulfilled when they allow others to take the credit for something well done.

The interpersonal leader looks to continually build strong relationships based on a high level of trust. And a vital component of this process is the use of what Covey called empathic listening. This is more than what some would call “active listening.” Instead, it involves listening with intent. If a leader wants an employee to understand her point of view then she must first understand that individual’s frame of reference. This is expressed as the habit: Seek first to understand, then be understood.

Empathic listening means getting into the other person’s head to really understand from where they’re coming, both intellectually and emotionally. It’s not to be confused with sympathy. What the leader is seeking is to understand her follower in order that she in turn will be clearly understood. This concept is extremely important for leaders to understand and to put into practice because it relies heavily on close communication between the leader and the employee.

Climber Hanging That interpersonal leadership requires a high degree of listening should come as no surprise. But it demands a big shift from the traditional “hard” management approach to one that’s referred as the “soft” people approach. Authoritarianism is giving way to employee participation and delegation of authority. This means that employees aren’t just listened to but their ideas are actively encouraged by management. As Roger Enrico, a former vice president of Pepsico once put it:
“The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff…Human interactions are a lot tougher to manage than numbers. So the trick is to make the soft stuff hard, to operationalize it.”

It’s commonly accepted that leadership is about focusing people towards common goals and enabling them to reach these goals by taking the necessary actions. Underlying this is something so simple yet so difficult to achieve: getting people to follow their leader voluntarily. However, without trust a leader will have great difficulty in getting her people to follow.

It’s great for a leader to have a well expressed vision. However, if she can’t create an environment of trust the vision doesn’t matter. Warren Bennis explained that this is not just trust in the abstract sense, but it entails the leader’s ability to”…connect with people in their gut and in their heart and not just in their head.

The absence of trust lowers an organization’s performance, making it impossible to meet its goals and deflecting it from its vision. Intellectual capital is weakened, with negative effects on creativity and innovation. Instead of people being enabled to unleash their imaginations and try out new ideas, they feel disempowered, scared and anxious. This scenario is not uncommon in both the private and public sectors today, and reflects a major challenge for managerial leaders at all levels, but especially for those guiding organizations.

People joining hands Creating and sustaining a workplace of trust should be viewed as a strategic asset in today’s volatile, highly competitive global economy. But as Roger Enrico said many years ago, it involves the soft stuff–interpersonal relationships. It demands commitment, focus and resolve by those leadership organizations.

Reflect on these words by Jean Kvasnica, currently a global account manager with Hewlett-Packard, who at the time was a team leader:

“The kind of person I would follow. It’s like there is a stick down through the center of them that’s rooted in the ground. I can when someone has that. When they’re not defensive, not egotistical. They’re open minded, able to joke and laugh at themselves. They can take a volatile situation and stay focused. They bring out the best in me by making me want to handle myself in the same way. I want to be part of their world. When someone comes into the room with those attributes, it makes everyone in the room feel like we’re all contributing.”

Are you ready to lead?


Frozen people can’t perform.

– Ron Barbaro


Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Leading in a Multi-Polar World: Four Forces Shaping Society, 2nd Edition.


Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Jim Grand Manan 2Take a moment to meet Jim.

Effective Leaders See the Whole Picture

January 12, 2015

Whole Picture It doesn’t matter whether you’re leading a company, government agency or not-for-profit organization; being a top leader has become tougher, with more challenges, unpredictable events and intertwined issues to juggle. Add to this dynamic those individuals who seek to create a new disruptive product or service, one that will shake up society for the better, a true innovation with lasting–and replicating–attributes.

This form of what could be called disruptive leadership is hard to find. Indeed, there are many talented male and female leaders around the world in the public and private sectors. However, to find those leaders who see the big picture, with the numerous inter-connections of issues and events that span the globe, is another matter. One example of a top corporate leader featured in this blog not too long ago is Unilever CEO Paul Polman, whose emphasis on sustainable business practices–the Triple Bottom Line–sets this conglomerate apart from other companies.

In this post you’re re-introduced to an amazing entrepreneur who is disrupting business on several fronts. Meet Elon Musk, aka Rocket Man.

Musk (South African-born) is not just a genius (who helped create PayPal and which was sold to eBay in 2002 for $1.6 billion) but a huge risk-taker. He’s been close to bankruptcy; been sneered at by numerous others, including retired Apollo astronauts; and hit what appeared to be impenetrable obstacles. Yet, Musk never gave up in his efforts to bring to life his visions of the future.

Musk In 2014, Musk again seemed to be on the ropes, facing some big challenges with his electric motor vehicle company Tesla Motors (co-led with three others) and SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies founded in 2002 with $100 million from his PayPal sale proceeds of $165 million), the world’s leading private space company.

But Musk is moving forward. Witness his surprise announcement in 2014 of a patent-free business model for Tesla. He received much criticism from some quarters for doing so. Musk’s reasoning for his decision to share the car company’s patents and future technological developments is for the betterment of the planet and society. He’s committed to reducing the carbon footprint imposed on the environment.

Musk is also planning the construction of a massive $5 billion battery factory in the Nevada desert, aimed to open in 2016.

And then there’s his Star-wars inspired X-wing rocket for SpaceX.

In contrast to other visionaries, Elon Musk has the special ability to integrate his business decisions and executions with the emerging needs of society and the environment. His unique skill at tying together breakthrough technologies, including the sharing of intellectual property, innovative practices and then commercializing sustainable technologies underscores his savvy business ability to achieve his goals in conjunction with societal and environmental considerations. Musk is a true practitioner of the Triple Bottom Line.

Some would argue that Musk’s business acumen–make that brilliance–is more significant than his actual inventions and innovations. Perhaps. But finding a leader-visionary who parallels Musk is likely an exercise in sustained patience.


Patience is a virtue, and I’m learning patience. It’s a tough lesson.

– Elon Musk


Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Leading in a Multi-Polar World: Four Forces Shaping Society, 2nd Edition.


Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

DSCN2815Take a moment to meet Jim.

Leadership 2014: Meet Five Incredible Young Leaders

January 4, 2015

Young people laughing 2014 was a year many of us would like to leave behind, forgetting many of the unfortunate events, large and small, that affected people locally and around the world. Rather than talking about the past, let’s talk about the future and what young people are contributing to making our world a better place.


Young people are showing amazing leadership across a wide spectrum. From a young man who is focused on reducing electronics waste to a young woman who is fighting against the adoption of GMO food to an entrepreneur who’s stormed the apparel world, young people are making things happen, often starting out in their early teens. And they’re not waiting to ask permission from adults, or even necessarily asking for their help.

Let’s get started.

Leslie Dewan Leslie Dewan: CEO, Trans Atomic Power

Named as one of TIME’s top under 30 leaders changing the world, Dewan earned a Ph.D in nuclear engineering before age 30. Her degrees are from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (mechanical and nuclear). In 2011, she co-founded Transatomic Power in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As CEO, she’s leading the company’s research into the design and development of a molten salt reactor which converts nuclear waste into electric power. Called the Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor, it will use liquid fuel composed of primarily spend fuel rods from U.S. light water reactors. According to Dewan, this would contain enough energy to power the United States for some 70 years. Her aim is to have an environmentally-friendly reactor within a decade.

Jason Li Jason Li: Founder and CEO, iReTron

Jason’s deep concern with the disposal of electronics and their environmental impact prompted him to create iReTron.com in his second year of high school. The online company pays cash for hundreds of kinds of electronic devices, from cell phones to laptops to tablets, and then sells or recycles them. His work has taken him to a variety of countries where he’s shared his ideas and concept. Take a moment to watch this two minute promo clip developed by Jason.

The company’s promise explains in detail how iReTron serves its customers. A customer simply enters the device they wish to get rid of, sees what iReTron will pay and then uses a USPS sticker to mail it to the company. Payment is usually made within a week once the item is inspected.

Earlier in 2014 Li appeared on Shark Tank, where he received an investment of $100,000 from sharks Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran. Now studying at the University of Chicago, Jason Li continues to build his business, helping to address the mounting problem of electronics waste.

Amy Paradis Amy Paradis: Bionic Woman

Amy Paradis’ life made a drastic turn on December 26, 2009, when a young man with a suspended licence crashed his parents’ car at 133 km per hour. The Windsor, Nova Scotia, teen was removed by other passengers (there were six in the car). Her injuries made her a paraplegic, and she was told that she’d never walk again.


Enter science and new technological developments which show huge promise for those unable to walk. In 2014, four years after her horrific car accident, Paradis, now 20, stood for the first time with the aid of what’s called an exoskeleton suit. Over the course of a few hours she walked 336 steps.

Amy Paradis promised herself and her family and friends that she would walk one day. No one thought it possible just a year or two ago. Paradis has surprised everyone. And with the aid of the EKSO Bionic Suit (only two in Canada and 75 worldwide), invented in California, she can move forward with her life, in more ways than one.

Rachel Parent Rachel Parent: Advocate against GMO foods

It doesn’t matter whether you’re pro or con GMO (genetically modified organism) foods; what’s outstanding about Rachel Parent is her principled stand on an issue of great importance to her. Parent began her campaign against GMO food at the age of only 12. Her website Kids Right to Know aims to educate young people about health and the need for proper food labelling. Take a moment to read her personal note on her website.

Parent doesn’t engage in mud-slinging or name calling, in contrast to Canadian businessman Kevin O’Leary (and former member of CBC’s Dragon’s Den). Instead, Parent is highly articulate, rational and focused on arguing for what she believes. Watch this video clip of her taking on Kevin O’Leary on the former Lang-O’Leary Exchange in 2013. It was one of those rare occasions where O’Leary was eventually silenced. Also watch this one minute clip where she promotes her slug fest with O’Leary.

Mo Bo Mo’s Bows: Founder and CEO

Moziah Bridges may only be 12 years old, but this budding entrepreneur has a highly infectious and enthusiastic personality. Mo’s Bows was founded in 2011 in Memphis with the assistance of his grandmother and her wizardry with a sewing machine. Within a short span, Moziah had sold some 5,000 bow ties, earning the business $90,000.

Each of his designs is named, for example, Reed Bold Gingham. Mo’s Bows are not cheap, both in price and quality. These are upscale bow ties with a healthy niche market.

Bridges appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2013. Rather than offering an investment, Damon John offered to mentor Moziah, arguing that this was the better route instead of taking equity in the business. This contrasted with Kevin O’Leary’s usual approach of wanting royalties, which was the competing offer. Moziah wisely chose Damon John’s offer, one that will undoubtedly reap huge benefits in the coming years.

Bridges’ vision, as he expressed to the Sharks is to complete a line of men’s clothing by the time he reaches twenty years of age and to be enrolled in college.

Aitzaz In Memoriam: He Saved Lives by Giving His

Halfway around the world the scene is vastly different for young people who wish to get an education and improve their economic well-being.

He was only 15 years old. All he wanted to do was go to school that fateful day.

And then he saw the suicide bomber.

Without hesitating, 15 year-old Aitzaz Hasan threw himself on top of the bomber in front of his school’s main gates. The suicide bomber was wearing a vest containing explosives and shrapnel. Hasan later died in the hospital; the bomber was killed immediately. Amazingly only two people were injured.

Aitzaz Hasan’s selfless action that day saved dozens, if not hundreds, from injury or death in Ibrahimzai, a Shite village in northwestern Pakistan.


Moving Forward

Take some time to reflect on these young people and their accomplishments–and personal sacrifice in one instance–portrayed in this beginning of the New Year post.

What particularly inspires you from the stories of these young people?

What topic or issue would you like to explore further for your own leadership growth?

What are you waiting for?


Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

– Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning)


Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition.


Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Jim-Max ShowshoeingTake a moment to meet Jim.

Know Fear as a Leader

December 21, 2014
Woman in Fear To say that the workplace has changed a lot in the past decade, with more changes imminent, should not come as a surprise to most people. It’s almost become a trite statement to talk about the rapid changes that organizations have undergone. People – managers and staff – know this. They live it every day at work and in their personal lives.


But what’s not been talked about very much in the past is the issue of fear in organizations. When it’s addressed in the literature it’s often in the context of learning. The aspect of managerial leadership and its link to fear has not been written about widely, and when it is discussed it is not given enough attention. Kathleen Ryan and Daniel Oestreich have carried out extensive on this topic over many years, producing several books under the theme Driving Fear Out of the Workplace.

They define fear in the workplace as: “feeling threatened by possible repercussions as a result of speaking up about work-related concerns.” Their research found that almost three quarters of those interviewed said that they hesitated to speak up because they expected some form of repercussion. However, the authors’ finding is that in most cases the “intimidating” behaviors managers show are done unconsciously. There’s also the aspect of perceptions held by employees who have come from traditional, hierarchical organizations where repressive management practices occur. As one manager stated during an interview: “No one tries to manage by fear. Our behavior is avoidance for the most part and people become afraid because of it.”

The subject of fear in the workplace centers around what Ryan and Oestreich call the “undiscussables.” These are the issues that people are afraid to discuss. They come in two forms. First, there’s the problem of someone who hesitates to bring into the open and talk to those who can help resolve it. Second, because the problem is not being discussed, it becomes a barrier to people doing their work properly because interpersonal relationships have become broken.

Man under Desk People do in fact talk about the “undiscussables.” But this is done privately in coffee rooms, hallways, washrooms, pubs, or at home. Ryan and Oestreich note: “We have come to view undiscussables as the window through which it is possible to see the dynamics that frighten people at work.” The biggest undiscussable, according to their research, was management practice. Following well behind were co-worker performance and pay issues, along with several others. Within management practice, the focus was on the interpersonal style of the boss. Other elements in this category included: how decisions were made, favoritism, heavy workloads, and ethics.



The main themes that emerged from their research were:
a) people found it very difficult to speak to their managers about their management style;
b) there was no significant difference in undiscussables at the various levels of the organization;
c) problems with co-workers were less of a problem than with bosses.

With respect to the last theme, they note that as organizations become flatter they expect co-workers relations and performance issues to become more of a problem.

Ryan and Oestreich make a key observation when they state: “One of the reasons why concerns about management show up so often is that they are symbolic of a culture of mistrust and blame….When employees focus on self-interest and see their bosses as the competition, they will not be concerned about making creative contributions to the organization. ‘Them versus us’ thinking does not lead to collaborative problem solving.”

So where does that leave the issue of fear in organizations? Two other authors Richard Whiteley and Diane Hessan talk about what they call four elements of Contact Leadership. The managerial leader who practices and lives by these qualities will help banish fear from the workplace, instilling in its place a climate of commitment, openness, and innovation. These qualities are:

1. A passion to connect with customers and employees. The managerial leader doesn’t just want to hear about what is going on but is actively involved in the work.

2. A deep commitment to creating meaning for employees in clear and tangible terms. The leader ensures that staff understand where they fit in the bigger picture and the overall vision for the organization.

3. An ability to mobilize employees and to help them grow through challenging work. The leader goes beyond enabling her staff. She is able to get them aligned and pointed towards the same goal.

4. An ability to inspire employees and to encourage them to become leaders. This means creating a climate of shared leadership in the organization.


Woman Showing Eye The key to moving beyond the paralyzing effects of fear in the workplace is for leaders to acknowledge it exists, commit to eliminating it through participative management practices and put it into action through a transparent process. Organized labor, if present in the workplace, needs to be actively included. Stakeholders, too, such as suppliers and corporate partners, must also be part of the process.

Fear has no place in companies; they have their hands full trying to maintain their market share in a competitive environment. The public sector has specific and daunting challenges trying to control spending while meeting the needs and wants of citizens. Fear among public servants is an anvil around management’s neck in its effort to become more efficient in delivering services and programs.

And the first place to start is for those in leadership position to Know Fear.


Instead of creating “us and them” distinctions, people talk in terms of ‘we.’ In spirit, people assume that “we’re all in this together.”

– Kathleen Ryan and Daniel Oestreich


Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Leading in a Multi-Polar World: Four Forces Shaping Society, 2nd Edition.


Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Jim-Max ShowshoeingTake a moment to meet Jim.

The Elusiveness of Leadership

December 14, 2014
Guy Jumping When your correspondent entered the leadership field in the early nineties, not long after starting work as a middle manager, the economy was rebounding from a recession and a new buzz around leadership was emerging. Fueled by the writings of a growing cast of respected thinkers, this buzz not only re-introduced the writings of such luminaries as Peter Drucker, Mary Parker Follett and Jay Forrester, but also sought to explore the interconnection between leadership and management.

Companies and governments, at all levels, talked about reinventing themselves using such concepts as Business Process Re-engineering, employee empowerment and shared (distributed) leadership. Corporate training budgets exploded. And not long afterwards a new book hit the market, one defined as the seminal management-leadership book of the 20th Century: Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.

It’s worthwhile, however, to put in context that the hyperbole surrounding leadership in the nineties and 2000s was just that–largely hyperbole. This is not to subtract from the phenomenal work of Peter Senge and other great contemporary thinkers such as John Kotter, Margaret Wheatley and Rosabeth Moss Kanter.

Woman on Ladder The study of leadership and its cousin management was very active decades before. Witness the late Warren Bennis’ comment about the reply he received on telling a friend about his intent to study leadership at the University of Southern California. His friend borrowed from Justice Potter Stewart’s comment about pornography in the motion picture industry: “Look, the only thing we can ever say about leadership is that it’s like pornography. You can’t describe it. You can’t define it. But you know it when you see it. ”

Today, while much has changed in organizations as a result of intense global competition, geo-politics and technological advancements, leadership is still being actively debated. If you ask someone what traits they look for in a leader, a typical response might include, integrity, honesty, openness, vision, trust, self-awareness, adaptability, dependability, decisiveness and self-confidence.

The skills an effective leader should possess would include empathetic listening, strong communication, consensus-building, initiating change, breaking down barriers, persuasiveness and conceptual thinking.

Indeed, the list of leadership qualities is almost endless. Eugene Jennings, in a 1961 article entitled The Anatomy of Leadership noted: “Fifty years of study have failed to produce one personality trait or set of qualities that can be used to discriminate leaders and non-leaders.” Or, as McGill University’s Henry Mintzberg once noted about the endless traits attached to leadership, those of Superman would appear modest.

While the study of what constitutes key leadership qualities continues, extensive research conducted by Warren Bennis during the early eighties discovered four key traits, or areas of competence, that were shared by the 90 leaders he studied.

1) The ability to communicate a sense of outcome and direction for followers.

2) The ability to create and communicate meaning with clarity and understanding.

3) The ability to be dependable and consistent in behavior.

4) The ability to understand oneself thoroughly, both weaknesses and strengths.

Woman with Thumb Up Bennis believed that leaders must create an environment that makes people feel they have something valuable to offer and that they’re part of a larger team effort. He also observed that a new collaborative style of leadership is needed as intellectual capital becomes the key element of success for organizations.

This brings us to today’s turbulent world, characterized by speed of decision-making, corporate partnerships that span borders, and technology’s impact on how work is performed and where companies locate their operations.

Academics and the big-thinkers will continue to deliberate on just what is leadership–and its distinction yet complementarity with management. But in the meantime corporate leaders will get on with business, ensuring that their companies remain relevant in a rapidly evolving global economy.


The great myth is the manager as orchestra conductor. It’s this idea of standing on a pedestal and you wave your baton and accounting comes in, and you wave it somewhere else and marketing chimes in with accounting, and they all sound very glorious. But management is more like orchestra conducting during rehearsals, when everything is going wrong.

Henry Mintzberg


Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Leading in a Multi-Polar World: Four Forces Shaping Society, 2nd Edition.


Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Jim Grand Manan TrailTake a moment to meet Jim.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 524 other followers