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Face The Challenge - Sample Section, Chapter 4

Chapter Four - Leading by Example

"Leading by Example" defines what leadership traits separates those who are leading from those who follow; and significantly expands this classic, time-honored advice by illustrating how Leaders cannot intentionally or unintentionally escape leading by example. It also defines leadership and closely examines a broad array of behavioral elements and traits that are specific to every Leader and which give definition to the very nature and quality of his or her Subordinate relationships.



4.1 Leadership Defined.  "Leadership is the ability to influence others in such a way that they will be motivated to accept and achieve the Leader's decisions and goals as their own" (HGH 1988).  Leadership emerges as an essential element of human interaction as the need for coordinating the actions of those involved in any undertaking becomes increasingly more crucial to a successful outcome.  With the coordination function itself becoming a progressively more decisive determinant of the end result, as the necessary degree of cooperation and the number of individuals involved increases due to the magnitude or complexity of the task to be accomplished (Barnard, FE p52).  Thus if there is no commonly accepted goal involving the efforts of two or more people, there is no opportunity for leadership.  But whether the goal involves repeating a successful behavior, implementing change, improving operating results, or conquering new horizons; leadership involves purposefully steering those who are led in a specific direction; not just getting in the driver's seat, giving the group free rein, and going along for the ride; or scurrying to the front of an inexorably moving mass of humanity and claiming to be their Leader.  And to maximize the end result, leadership must include a continual monitoring system to determine whether the group's productive output is progressing on course or if the objective is likely to be achieved within the allotted time frame.  However, the parameters and demands of leadership are not static; but vibrant and ever-changing, as the strengths and weaknesses of both the Leader and his or her Subordinates evolve over time.  Leadership is not a subject that one can simply read about or study to assimilate or comprehend its elements; it must be practiced for an individual to attain both improved understanding and proficiency, much in the same way that a Labrador retriever must be trained, for its genes alone are no guarantee that the pup will ever fetch a thing.  In addition, Leadership is not a "one size fits all" interactive format.  Leadership is an application of motivational principles delivered through the Leader's own unique style which must be adapted to meet his or her Subordinates' strengths and needs, both individually and collectively.  Thus leadership skills must be exercised regularly or they tend to waste away or decline over time, unlike knowing how to swim or ride a bicycle.  And while leadership contains many scientific elements that are quantifiable and which cannot be responsibly overlooked, it is generally considered to be an art; as it relies more heavily on the qualitative aspects of human interaction than on statistical analysis.  However, there is absolutely no justification for dismissing a "critical examination of the theoretical assumptions underlying managerial [leadership] actions by placing reliance on intuition and feelings, which are by definition not subject to question….  [and] To insist that management [leadership] is an art is frequently no more than a denial of the relevance of systematic, tested knowledge to practice" (McGregor, HSE p8) by the motivationally inarticulate; or an excuse for maze-dull organizational stewards to obstinately charge ahead without adequate preparation or awareness.


(A) "Lead By Example."  This quintessential old bromide of leadership wisdom should be amended to read: "lead by good example," for it is absolutely impossible for a Leader not to set either a positive or negative example by his or her decisions and general deportment.  As Subordinates are constantly interpreting everything a Leader does in any manner, way, or form; and based upon their individual motivations and assessments will modify their own behavior accordingly.  Thus most importantly, Leaders must project an unshakable belief that the objective can and will be accomplished, or greatly risk reducing their motivational impact.  Subordinates will also naturally seek to emulate the behaviors of a successful Leader, and try to equal or surpass his or her accomplishments or skills at their respective level.  Consequently, the possibility of leading effectively or being taken seriously with a "do as I say, not as I do" leadership attitude is highly remote.  For "effective leaders deal not only with the explicit decisions of the day…but also with that partly conscious, partly buried world of needs and hopes, ideas and symbols.  They serve as models; they symbolize the group's unity and identity….[as a result] Their exemplary impact is great" (Gardner, OL p29) and unavoidable.


(B) Success or Failure.  Though often taking on a multitude of superficial differences, successful relationships between Leaders and their Subordinates are essentially very similar from situation to situation, from task to task, and from company to company.  There is also a striking similarity of elements comprising successful leadership profiles; and an equally striking dissimilarity of elements comprising unsuccessful leadership profiles.  An even closer review will show that successful Leaders succeed by following a very narrow band of successful behaviors, while unsuccessful Leaders fail by engaging in a kaleidoscopic array of unproductive, ill-founded, imprudent behaviors.  As "…all good leaders resemble each other, while each bad leader is bad in his [her] own way, just as there is only one kind of good health but many kinds of sickness" (Jay, MM p140).  And while many Leaders attempt to justify their eccentricities or unproductive behaviors by insisting that there are many leadership styles, they just as consistently fail to acknowledge the fact that a vast number of these behavioral models do not produce satisfactory results.  Thus Leaders who are either unable or unwilling to continually monitor their own behavior so as to improve their leadership skills will inevitably fail to achieve the level of success that they are usually seeking.  For an almost universal attribute of successful organizations is a Leader or senior leadership team with an aptitude for continued personal growth and a willingness to assimilate new ideas or concepts.


(C) To Lead or To Manage is a Redundant Question.  The traditional view is that things are managed and that people are lead.  Or that accomplishing the same goal in the same manner is to manage, and that accomplishing the same goal in the same manner but with somewhat greater efficiency is to manage better.  Whereas to lead is to change what is being done for a different and hopefully more desirable outcome, or appreciably improving the method by which something is being accomplished.  Managers supervise what exists and get things done, while a supposedly higher life form known as Leaders create new potentials and greatly impact what is to be.  Or in more prophetic terms: "management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things" (Drucker).  However, the dividing line which separates Leaders from managers is not so clearly etched; and this whole line of inquiry is based upon the false premise that it is somehow desirable or beneficial to separate intense cranial activities from those considered more mundane or physical.  But in reality, all managers must possess a minimum degree of leadership skills and creativity to accomplish their goals; and all effective Leaders must be able to competently manage routine activities as well as being able to administer those which are more intellectually challenging.  Both must possess an above average degree of drive, as the deciding criterion of either noteworthy leadership or management is the individual's personal willpower, determination, and perseverance in overcoming uncomfortably long odds under difficult circumstances.  And to ultimately prevail, both Leaders and managers must be able to endure extended periods of criticism, self-denial, or discouragement that are invariably associated with positions of increasingly greater responsibility.  In identifying the often contentious perspectives that commonly exist between the executive and operational sectors within many organizations, Warren G. Bennis, author of Why Leaders Can't Lead (p78), succinctly defines the administrative mind-set that has traditionally viewed leadership as being a distinctly separate function from management: (i) Leaders are (again) concerned with "doing the right things," managers with "doing things right," (ii) Leaders "take the long view," managers "take the short view," (iii) Leaders focus "on the what and why," managers focus "on how" and when, (iv) Leaders have "vision," managers have "hands-on control," (v) Leaders think in terms of "innovation, development, and the future," managers are busy with "administration, maintenance, and the present," (vi) Leaders set "the tone and direction," managers "set the pace."  And further that: "management has to do with the organization's processes…leadership has to do with an organization's purposes" (Sullivan & Harper HNM p43).  Thus this conventional, time-honored dichotomy between thought and action separates leadership functions from those deemed managerial; and most likely results from entrepreneurs or kindred big-cheeses down through the centuries attempting to mainline the new and exciting, while extricating themselves from the boring or mundane by assigning such day-to-day grunt work to Line foremen(women) or shop managers, and only concerning themselves with activities on a much higher plane (e.g., designing promotional T-shirts or redoing the corporate logo).  But regardless of its origins (e.g., owner ego, entrenched Staff, or faulty organization structures), this elitist unwillingness to share the planning function with the hired help is a major underlying cause-and-effect supervisory pattern that has fomented the growth of the much maligned, passionless, bureaucratic, middle-management underclass; and a highly disassociated, uninterested work force.  However, both the cerebral and functional are so inextricably interwoven into the fabric of both management and leadership as to be as thoroughly incapable of being separated as trying to intellectually partition the human mind from the body.  And contemporary management-leadership theories or recommendations that call for a reintegration of the essential leadership functions at each echelon combined with extensive decentralization and empowerment of Subordinates are made in recognition of this practical inseparability.


(D) Leaders Must Have Followers.  To successfully rally supporters around their flag, Leaders must possess a host of exceptional character qualities including: (i) an elevated sense of commitment, (ii) abundant physical energy, (iii) a desirable vision, (iv) an uncommon level of diligence, (v) great passion for the objective,  (vi) a high degree of ambition, (vii) above average communication skills, (viii) a clearly manifested veneration for their followers, (ix) superior analytical and problem-solving abilities, (x) imposing technical skills and knowledge, (xi) unquestionable integrity, and  (xii) a level of personal confidence that their followers either admire or wish to emulate.  Without which, the Leader's performance parade will be very short indeed; as potential followers universally seek someone who paints a more attractive panorama of the future and who instills them with great confidence in his or her personal ability and commitment (given the freedom of choice to make such a selection).  Additionally, Leaders accomplish their objectives by facilitating the efforts of their Subordinates; not by working as hard as they possibly can and having their Subordinates helping them out.  And though almost too elementary to mention, this basic leadership premise is commonly ignored; as initially only hard workers are promoted from the rank and file to supervisory positions; and consequently, these compulsive overachievers often attempt to maintain this measurable work-output ethic as they make their way up through the managerial ranks.  Thus there is a general tendency for Leaders to do too much themselves; and a chronic call for them to delegate more and to further develop their Subordinates.  For ideally, the most proficient Leaders eventually work themselves out of a job and have nearly nothing to do when everything is proceeding as planned (i.e., the "unparalleled exuberance under restraint" profile).  However, a word of caution is in order, as there are far many more cocky, disengaged Leaders who act as if they have a handle on the situation than who can competently monitor the controls.


(E) The Vision Thing.  Leaders must have sufficient foresight to anticipate what may come about or what is feasibly possible, or have a reasonably clear picture of the greater potential that the future could offer, as "the very essence of leadership is [that] you have a vision.  It's got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion.  [but] You can't blow an uncertain trumpet" (Theodore Hesburgh, American Clergyman & President Notre Dame University 1952-1987, 1917-20??); as you cannot expect others to follow you without giving them a rather solid idea of where they are supposed to be going.  Therefore to be most effective, the Leader's vision must provide a promising definition of how things could be that is capable of exciting a large percentage of the Leader's followers and describe what must be done to realize this expectation; not some vague, meaningless promise that the Leader will "fight" for his or her constituents as an "outsider" against the ever lurking special interest groups that have a strangle hold on the omnipresent bureaucracy (e.g., the predictable, quadrennial chant of presidential candidates), or perpetually ranting on and on about the alleged character flaws or failures of the incumbent.  As "when there is no vision the people [organizations] perish" (F. D. Roosevelt, drawn from the Book of Proverbs), or at the very least fail to achieve anywhere near their full potential.  So in essence, leadership is always about improving the existing order of things in the search for a brighter or more productive tomorrow.

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Copyright 2006 by H. Garrett Hayward from Face the Challenge: The Leader's Success Handbook