Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Many Sides of Leadership

Leadership is often defined as a study in contrasts. One way of expressing this sentiment is thinking of knowledge sets as the science of leadership, and behavioral sets as the art of leadership. Said another way, knowing what and how is the science of leadership, knowing when is the art of leadership.

Like a pure diamond, good leadership exhibits many facets and clarity regardless of the environmental situation. Those who understand the art know when to turn each facet toward the light so that it becomes the one reflecting energy. Other facets fade to background as it takes center stage. They have not disappeared, they are simply waiting their time.

Strategic vs. Operational

There are times when planning for the future should be paramount and the leaders drive is a positioning effort. Long range planning, investment in innovation, merger and acquisition, R&D emphasis and new product development are hallmarks of the strategic planning phase.

In contrast, operational focus is centered on driving results in the near term. Understanding and managing the details of day-to-day operations is key. Project implementation, cost reductions, efficiency improvements and honing process systems become the order of the day.

Autocratic vs. Enabling

There are times when a forceful posture and behavior is both appropriate and needed. A classic example would be during a time of crisis, but there are others as well. Taking charge, making decisions and giving strong direction pushes the organization to perform at a higher level and/or accelerated pace. Leaders using this tool set high expectations of their staff and demand performance that matches.

The servant leader, however, focuses on removing obstacles so others can succeed. This may be an appropriate style after a change vision has been adopted and the leader is freeing others to implement the new strategy, for example. In this case what matters most is a common view of the big picture. The leader’s role once this is attained is to free others to implement the vision, giving them leeway in how they do so as long as the core tenants and outcomes are maintained.

The point is that none of these styles or behaviors is exclusive of each other. All have their time and place and just like the facets of the diamond each will have their turn in the light. As a leader one of your prime goals is to always know which is right for the time and situation at hand.

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