A key responsibility of leaders is to formulate a future that looks like it will be worth creating. No matter how sensible and realistic the vision, if it does not resonate with your employees it will be hard to make it exciting.
Leaders may secretly have a fantastic vision of the future, but they may fail to convey it people in the organization. There is much emphasis on impressing the outside world with storytelling, but if you cannot clearly convey a message to your own people, you have a more fundamental problem.
Even if the vision is exciting, realistic and well communicated, it will be difficult to persuade people who don’t have personal values and interests that are compatible with the vision. In such cases, people often leave the organization voluntarily, but if they don’t, they should be encouraged to leave.
Failing to engage people
Research shows that there are three major factors that must be addressed in order to effectively motivate employees:
- Purpose – a sense that one’s efforts has a bigger-picture impact
- Autonomy – being able to use their own minds to solve problems, without being micromanaged
- Learning – professional growth
Even in organizations that provide a clear vision and a clear link between action and contribution, autonomy and learning are often neglected.
There are a variety of “styles” of leadership, each employing different approaches to defining a vision and inducing others to pursue it. Here are some of the most common.
This style, often associated with the military, emphasizes a strict chain of command with hierarchies of goals and limited autonomy. Professional growth may or may not be part of the equation, depending on the goals of the organization. Military organizations often do better with professional growth then civilization organizations, since most of their time is spent practicing instead of fighting actual wars. It is also worth mentioning that autonomy varies quite a bit and in some situations can be substantial.
The basic premise for servant leadership is that the leader is there to serve his or her people. In formulating a vision, the leader seeks participation and approval from them and the main approach to pursuing the vision lies in removing obstacles and helping followers be successful.
The business literature and the press is full of stories of celebrity CEOs who can move followers through their own force of personality, intellect and credibility. Steve Jobs is a classic example. He was admired, respected and perhaps feared somewhat, by his people.
The Quiet Leader
There are plenty of examples of leaders who don’t have an outsized personality and who are still effective in meeting organizational goals and motivating their people. Some even make a point of not having their “ego” get in the way. This approach is known as “Quiet Leadership”.
In this leadership style, there is an emphasis on involving followers both in vision formulation and in decisions-making in general. The leader grants a fair amount of autonomy and seeks to reach decisions through consensus where possible.
When an organization is not changing much and where the focus of action is invariably short-term, leaders tend to focus on day-to-day tasks almost exclusively. A fast food restaurant would be a good example, but we also see this leadership style in organizations where sections are relatively isolated and change slowly.
Transformational leadership is employed by leaders who seek to create value by transforming the organization and quite often themselves and their own people in the process. The style places great emphasis on autonomy and continuous learning for everyone.
This school of thought holds that leaders should not tied to a single style, but instead try to acquire a portfolio of leadership skills and then change styles as the situation changes.
The leadership styles described here are only approximate; in practice leaders do behave differently under different circumstances. The styles denote the default or dominant behavior, however.
A leadership style can be reduced to a few key distinguishing characteristics:
- Knowledge rights – how much information is shared with followers
- Decision rights – how much decision-making authority is delegated
- Inclusiveness – emphasis on evolving followers
- Emphasis on organizational change
- Emphasis on personal development
- Expectation of the leader as having the best answers
- Consistency of the above
Because the two key activities of leadership are goal-setting and inducing others to pursue goals, it makes sense to look at these attributes for both.
Lean Leadership is a blend of the Transformational and Participatory leadership styles. Aside from organizational development and the leader as a facilitator of the individual growth of his/her followers, Lean Leadership emphasizes a significant of knowledge and decision-rights, although leaders are responsible for the final decisions being made. It is consistent (and not Situational) in that it does not deviate from these principles.
The illustration below provides a visual profile of what Lean Leadership looks like.
Lean Leadership is not Servant Leadership, in that it does not abdicate the responsibility of making decisions that may sometimes be unpopular. The fostering of the individual growth of the followers is not altruistic in nature, it is a practical approach to reaching challenging organizational goal through learning and problem-solving. Developing employees is part of this, and it is also a key aspect in delivering value to and earning the long-range loyalty of employees.
While Lean Leadership does not reject strong personalities, the main emphasis is always on facts and problems. It does not reject earning credibility through good decisions and demonstrated ability, however.
Our leadership coaching process uses a continuous improvement method analogous to what you would use to improve organizational performance. The purpose of the process is to build leadership competencies and transition behaviors to adopt a Lean Leadership style.
In each session we reflect on what the participant has observed since the last time, and review goals in order to identify obstacles and problems. We work with the participant to develop potential solutions, which are then enacted and reviewed in the next session.
We offer a two-day course on Lean Leadership that can be delivered in smaller increments as appropriate. The course is an interactive mix of case studies, presentation, exercises and role-playing. Participants will be given pre-work and homework focused on real-world challenges they face in their organizations.
Topics covered include:
- The purpose and key competencies of leadership
- Leadership styles and what makes Lean Leadership different
- Visioning and goal-setting – what makes a compelling destination?
- Facilitating goal-setting and visioning
- Evaluating your Leadership Capital (credibility)
- Why should they follow? Strategies for Motivation and Persuasion
- Investing and Building Leadership Capital
- Conflict Resolution
- Coaching Followers
- Coaching Yourself