Want to have a “fun” argument with a friend, wife, husband or significant other? Ask them what good leadership looks like. While having what I would call a friendly disagreement with a friend on what effective leadership entails I noticed one important thing…it depends on who you ask. In an attempt to grab some consulting business from the commercial wing of her company I asked her about the competency of her company’s VP of Sales & Marketing. The response I received wasn’t really a ringing endorsement of the VP of Sales & Marketing. However, when I pursued my line of questioning to get a better understanding of what “I guess he’s okay” means I was somewhat bewildered by the additional information I received. Answers like “Well he doesn’t really listen well”, “He’s not really aggressive, he’s somewhat passive”, and “He has favorites”. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to evaluate or review talent like I have the first rule of thumb is remove your biases, prejudices, stereotypes and any other “mental obstacles” that get in the way of objectively evaluating performance. But since we’re all human let’s get real, we evaluate others based on our personal preferences. The “Leadership Industry” is so lucrative and the reason for that is NO ONE has really defined it. Think about it the most coveted subjects (e.g. leadership, happiness, success, life) all are interpreted differently again depending on who you ask….and there’s a lucrative industry for those wanting to share their opinion. However, I will argue till my very last breath that there’s not 1 book I’ve found on “Leadership” (and I literally have hundreds) that explains in an objective manner what effective leadership looks like in application. You know why? Because it’s not really “Leadership” it’s “Receiver-ship”. How we receive direction is based on our own personality which makes this a very complex issue and the reason why compartmentalizing effective leadership is absolutely wrong. In my humble opinion and I say this with all sincere humility that “Leadership” takes unimaginable versatility and flexibility to which very few have excelled. And to be honest I cannot name the very few. If you hired me tomorrow to run your commercial operations the one thing I can guarantee you…some will like my leadership style….some will hate my leadership style. How will you measure that?? Now, I know some of you are saying it’s not who likes your leadership style that matters it’s the results you get, and to that I would say you’re partially correct. Yes, results are important heck they’re critical but over the long haul you’re ability to consistently inspire people to follow your lead matters BIG TIME. I’ve seen people step into leadership positions and have phenomenal 1st & 2nd year performances only to flame out or get fired their 3rd year because their people are no longer inspired by them. When you find leaders that have excelled in their roles for several years and their people feel as though their leader was just hired yesterday…..you have a leader that has unimaginable & flexible skills. As I’ve mentioned these people are few and far between, but they exist. “Leadership” is an “Eyes of the beholder” trait but the one constant I see that everyone enjoys from their leadership is their ability to “INSPIRE” and that takes unimaginable & flexible skills.
More than EQ
Some of you I’m sure are saying “Okay, how does someone develop unimaginable & flexible leadership skills”? “This sounds like Emotional Intelligence mumbo jumbo”. First, I do think there’s an opportunity to develop leadership skills that are flexible and yes can be unimaginable. Secondly, I’m a fan of “Emotional Intelligence” leadership however I think it’s become such a cottage industry that many of its principles have become watered down. Let’s attack the 1st question ( “Okay, how does someone develop unimaginable & flexible leadership skills”?). “Now that we are a fully integrated global society, Multicultural/Multigenerational teams are as part of today’s workplace as the morning routine” so says Jane Hyun and Audrey S. Lee global leadership strategists. Both strategists agree that a “flexing” style of leadership is the most effective especially when leading people who are different from you. “It’s fluent leaders, or those who can flex, that get the best out of diverse teams”. In their book Flex: The New Playbook for Managing Across Differences, the two explain ways the next generation of leaders can inspire and get the most out of their employees:
Leaders need to set aside their own biases about what it means to be effective and efficient and to recognize that there are different ways of communicating
As a leader, you need to recognize the different backgrounds on your team, as well as strengths and weaknesses. Once these are identified, you can better determine how these pieces can help solve your problem, rather than spending time trying to mold employees to approach problems as you would. Sometimes this will mean you need to ask questions about what people know. Everyone brings work experience, along with perspective from their personal lives, to the table. Curiosity is essential for leaders who want to consistently get the most out of their teams.
We’re all naturally attracted to people who are like us, but teams end up having blind spots if everyone is in agreement. Diversity can bring healthy conflict.
The biggest differences we often run into in the workplace come between indirect versus direct communicators. For example, an employee with indirect communication style may not bring up issues unless he is asked, out of respect for authority, while a supervisor with direct communication style may expect that employee to speak up. This creates a power gap between the two that needs to get closed in order to develop trust in the relationship. It is important to note, say Hyun and Lee, that neither style is right or wrong. As you catch yourself making judgments, it’s the ideal time to try and flex your style. Remember, someone has to initiate the conversation, and you can’t expect someone else to take the first step. When you remain observant, stop making assumptions, and have a conversation, chances are you’ll get a more complete story with new insights that can help you and your teams create more innovative solutions.
The most flexible/agile leaders lead unselfishly and empower greatly. While most of what has been said has an “Emotional Intelligence” resemblance, the one area that deserves distinction is the ability to consistently “INSPIRE”. A leader’s ability to listen, support, develop, and of course lead their employees takes more than just adjusting leadership styles…it takes commitment that’s unimaginable & flexible.
Leadership in my eyes….NOT YOURS!
Take a look at our whitepaper: Cross Functional Leadership….”Leading across the Ambiguity Aisle”
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AH2 & Beyond Consulting
 Develop Flexible Leadership Skills for Better Business Relationships (June 10, 2014 Microsoft for Work)