Creating a Place for Individuality (Leadership Practice 5)

Individuality !, Craig Sunter - Thanx 2 Mil..., Flickr

Individuality !, Craig Sunter – Thanx 2 Mil…, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

The second grouping of servant leadership practices presented in the model emphasizes the importance of understanding the priority of people. In this second cluster of servant leadership practices, leadership behaviors associated with effective teams include: (1) valuing and appreciating, (2) creating a place for individuality, and (3) understanding relational skills. Last week, we highlighted Valuing and Appreciating People. This week we take on Leadership Practice 5—Creating a Place for Individuality.

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

There is a tendency in some organizational circles to simple view people as cogs in a larger organizational system. But who likes it, and flourishes, when they are viewed in such a mechanistic and replaceable fashion?

Beyond the Cog

In contrast to this approach, servant leaders help to Create a Place for Individuality in their work with their teams. Outcomes matter in organizations. So does holding followers accountable to these outcomes—a point emphasized in this larger research study. But it is also vital to recognize that outcomes are not necessarily achieved in a uniform manner.

Beyond Uniformity

In contrast to approaches that emphasize follower uniformity, this leadership practice emphasizes allowing for individuality of style and expression in followers as well as accepting followers for who they are as individuals. In contrast to the overly mechanized systems encouraged in some twentieth century managerial models, this study challenges twenty-first century leaders to remember the individual and to create space for individuality in work performance.

Beyond Micromanaging

Research participants note the importance of simple expressions of individuality. Of the expressions noted were dimensions of flexibility such as work style, clothing, and office hours. Participants also noted that flexibility for follower expressions of individuality are best supported through the avoidance of micromanaging leadership behaviors.

Moving Toward Common Culture over Uniformity

One participant noted, “Set strategic goals, but allow individuals to engage in creative processes to get there.” On the theme of how follower individuality coincides with organizational unity, participants noted that commonality at the level of mission, vision, goals, and values provides “the glue that holds the organization together,” and that “under this umbrella there is ample room for individuality.”

Arguing that great leaders find ways to meld the needs of individuals with the needs of an organization, one participant argues that this “requires the leader to take an active interest in the capacity of those under their leadership.” They continue noting the importance of assigning responsibility and delegating authority “based on the giftedness of the follower in alignment with the project or task to be completed.”

Moving Toward Individuality and Individualized Consideration

All of this requires an individualized consideration similar to what Bass and Avolio put forward in transformational leadership theory. This calls leaders to a higher level of investment in creating space for individuals to work uniquely toward common goals. While it is sometimes easier to mandate uniformity and conformance, taking the extra time and effort to create space for individuality is a valuable leadership practice that is significantly related to effectiveness in this study.

While a focus on outcomes is important, how are you creating a place for individuality in your work with followers? Think through a step or two you can take in appreciating and providing space for the individuality of your team members.

————————-

Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

————————-

Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

9 Effective Leadership Practices

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

Servant leadership is a good idea. The core of servant leadership is about leaders placing follower needs at the highest priority level. Most would agree this is a good idea. The question many do raise, however, is whether or not this good idea is also effective?

Thankfully social science research methods can help us. One of the benefits of social science research is its capacity to confirm the utility or effectiveness of practices that are inherently valid philosophically or biblically.

Good Ideas that Work

For instance we do not need research to inform us that humility is important for individuals and leaders; this is an argument that may be made practically, philosophically and biblically. The validity and importance of humility may be argued apart from research. However, research can come alongside logic and experience to confirm the utility or effectiveness of an idea like humility. This is what was found by Jim Collins in his research on Level Five Leaders. Not only is leader humility ethically-good and biblically-consistent as an idea—an argument that may be made biblically, philosophically, and practically—Jim Collins found through research that leader humility is also effective.

Servant Leadership: An Good Idea Whose Time Has Come

A similar argument may be made for understanding servant leadership. The importance and validity of servant-oriented leadership practices can be argued ethically, morally, philosophically, practically, and biblically apart from questions of its utility and effectiveness. However, it is powerful when leadership practices that are ethically-good and biblically-consistent are also found to be effective.

While servant leadership is a good and values-based model of leadership practice—and this alone is enough for leaders to utilize servant leadership practices—it is also helpful to know that servant leadership is effective. And indeed it is. Servant leadership is not only a good idea. It works.

9 Effective Leadership Practices

So what characterizes servant leadership? What leader behaviors are consistent with servant leadership practice?

Here are 9 core leadership practices that I’ve identified as not only good ideas, but also as effective.

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

In the coming weeks, I’ll unpack each of these practices and provide reflections both on why they are important and how leaders may use them to effectively guide their followers.

For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

Leader Resiliency … Face Reality, Find Meaning, Forge a New Path

by Arya Aiai, Flickr

Photo Credit: Image by Arya Aiai, Flickr

One of my areas of research is examining the role of resiliency in leadership. Here’s a link to an overview of one of my recent academic articles focused on the role that obstacles and resiliency play in the development of leaders (Management Research Review, Vol. 37, Iss. 5, pp.466 – 478).

In our research, we found that a variety of developmental assignments, relationships, experiences, and training were associated with increased levels of leader resiliency. Often, these developmental variables take the form of personal and professional obstacles that build resiliency in leaders.

What is Resiliency

Resiliency is about the capacity to bounce back after difficulty. Resiliency is about the capacity to persist through and overcome diverse challenges in life and leadership.

In this day and age, resiliency is increasingly important for leaders. Our world abounds with uncertainty, and it is individuals and leaders who are able to bounce back and make the best of difficult circumstances who will thrive in the days and years ahead. This is what resiliency is all about—persisting, or even thriving, in the midst of difficulty.

How Resiliency Works

Engaging the theme of How Resilience Works, Diane Couto argues that resilient people possess three defining characteristics.

  1. Resilient People Face Down Reality: “…coolly accept the harsh realities facing them.”
  2. Resilient People Search for Meaning: “…find meaning in terrible times.”
  3. Resilient People Continually Improvise: “…have an uncanny ability to improvise, making do with whatever’s at hand.”

These characteristics are vital for leaders today. Facing down reality means accepting the harsh realities and facts in front of us, but doing so in a way that finds meaning and purpose in the chaos.

The Stockdale Paradox

Jim Collins referred to this tension between facts and faith as “The Stockdale Paradox.” The Stockdale paradox, named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, is based on the observation that those who survived in the most difficult of circumstances (such as prisoners of war) do so by both confronting the most brutal facts of one’s current reality AND retaining faith that one will prevail in the end. It is not merely choosing optimism OR pessimism—it is the experience of embracing BOTH difficult facts along side optimistic hope.

Brakes Break for a Reason”

My wife took me to a movie last night entitled The Hundred-Foot Journey. It is the story of the Kadam family who left India for a new life in France. As the story unfolds, this new life begins in a French village due to their vehicle breaking down. Overlooking this village, and through the events that follow, the family embraces their reality that “Brakes break for a reason.” Through embracing the reality in front of them, the Kadam family finds meaning in the moment and forges a new and hopeful future for their family.

It was a beautiful movie, and in a simple way depicts this tension between facing down reality and finding meaning in the midst of reality.

Purpose in Leadership

This tension is one of the reasons I’m passionate about “Purpose in Leadership.” Leaders who are able to make sense of the world around them—to find meaning in the face of the mess—often are characterized by a resiliency that allows them and their organizations to thrive in the midst of great difficulty.

Creative Improvisation

This blend of finding meaning in the face of reality sets the stage for Couto’s final observation—the ability to improvise and make do with what is at hand. Resilient leaders face reality from a place of purpose and meaning, and from this place engage the resources around them (human, physical, structural, financial, etc.) to resolutely move forward toward their driving purpose.

Because the future is always being created as we go, leaders learn to improvise along the way. They respond to the needs around them. They collaborate with the people and resources at hand. They find unique and creative pathways forward to accomplish their goals in new ways.

______________

How are these characteristics of resilient people at work in your life? Are you nurturing this capacity to (1) face reality, (2) find meaning, and (3) forge a path forward through creative improvisation?

10 HBR Must Reads: THE ESSENTIALS

I’ve become a fan of HBR’s 10 Must Reads series. This series provides an efficient way to access key HBR articles on a variety of subjects such as teams, strategy, and change management.

Perhaps the best volume for getting started is their “The Essentials” volume. It is entitled HBR’s 10 Must Reads: The Essentials and provides what they say is “an introduction to the most enduring ideas on management from Harvard Business Review.”

Here’s an over of the10 articles in The Essentials for HBR’s 10 Must Reads. I’m putting in bold my favorites from this list:

  1. “Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change,” by Clayton M. Christensen & Michael Overdorf, (orchestrating innovation within established organizations)
  2. “Competing on Analytics,” by Thomas H. Davenport, (using analytics to determine how to keep your customers loyal)
  3. “Managing Oneself,” by Peter F. Drucker (managing your career by evaluating your own strengths and weaknesses)
  4. “What Makes a Leader?” by Daniel Goleman, (using emotional intelligence to maximize performance)
  5. “Putting the Balanced Scorecard to Work,” by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton (measuring your company’s strategy with the Balanced Scorecard)
  6. “Innovation: The Classic Traps,” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter (avoiding common mistakes when pushing innovation forward)
  7. “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” by John P. Kotter (leading change through eight steps)
  8. “Marketing Myopia,” by Theodore Levitt (understanding who your customers are and what they really want)
  9. “What Is Strategy?” by Michael E. Porter (creating competitive advantage and distinguishing your company from rivals)
  10. “The Core Competence of the Corporation,” by C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel (identifying the unique, integrated systems that support your strategy)

Check out this resource when you get a chance!

C.S. Lewis on Empowerment — Exploring Leadership Development

C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Photo Credit: C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Empowerment is vital for effective leadership. It is core to most of our relationships…from teaching, to parenting, to leading.

Leading People to Not Need Us

In discussing love and giving, C.S. Lewis implicitly engages the practice of empowerment. Lewis writes:

The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching.”

Celebrating Growth toward Independence

This principle is not only essential for effective parenting or teaching, it is also essential for effective leading. It raises a heart-searching question for us as leaders: Are we leading our people to dependency on our leadership, or are we leading them to a place of independence and interdependence?

Recognizing Leader Struggles Along the Way

Organizational leaders who hunger for power and position will have difficulty leading followers to a place of independence. Organizational leaders who struggle with personal insecurity will struggle to free followers to this place as well.

Secure and follower-focused leaders recognize that it is a win for both their followers and their organizations to create pathways where leaders may be both developed and empowered for service.

Finding the Reward of Empowerment

Lewis continues to press his argument:

Thus a heavy task is laid upon the Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say ‘They need me no longer’ should be our reward.”

All too often, our saying “they need me no longer” is viewed as a threat rather than a reward. But true love—love that holds the importance of others and their goals alongside our own goals—will lead in such a way that both leader and follower values, goals, aspirations, and dreams may be pursued.

Developing and Deploying Emerging Leaders

In reality, leaders who get the concept of developing and deploying their people do not work themselves out of a job, for such leaders are constantly creating new opportunities for new developing leaders. Great leaders create space for others to flourish. Great leaders identify potential, develop this potential, and release this potential into new roles and opportunities.

Leadership development does not need to be a zero sum game. Thriving organizations and entrepreneurial communities benefit from a regular flow of developed and empowered leaders released into new opportunities.

_______________________________

How are you wired as a leader around these themes? Do you tend to hold onto authority over others, or are you wired to identify, develop, and release talent in the cause of your organization’s mission? Great leaders empower their people!

8 Core Leadership Abilities

Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

Photo Credit: Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz identifies 8 abilities that the best leaders possess. Here is the list, along with a brief description and summary of each item on the list.

  1. Strategic Orientation: The capacity to engage in broad, complex analytical and conceptual thinking.” The new realities surrounding organizations demand that leaders have a capacity to engage in strategic thinking in the face of complexity.  Are you thinking about your organizational realities through a strategic lens?
  2. Market Insight: A strong understanding of the market and how it affects the business.” Along with increased complexity, the world is more connected to our organizations than ever before. Are you paying attention to the environment surrounding your organization and how this environment will shape the way your organization goes about its work?
  3. Results Orientation: A commitment to demonstrably improving key business metrics.” Increases in complexity and connectivity in our world translate into increased competition. This increased competition necessitates that leaders pay attention to performance for the things that matter to your community. Are you measuring what matters most to your organization?
  4. Customer Impact: A passion for serving the customer.” In-grown organizations will struggle to thrive in the changing economy. Who do you serve as an organization? Do you have a passion for providing the best possible service for these individuals and communities?
  5. Collaboration and Influence: An ability to work effectively with peers or partners, including those not in the line of command.” Leadership in today’s organizations is not simply about individuals getting individual work accomplished. Complex problems require complex solutions that are often worked out in collaboration. Do you possess a collaborative orientation?
  6. Organizational Development: A drive to improve the company by attracting and developing top talent.” Finding, recruiting, and retaining top talent is a substantial need in the coming years. Factors such as globalization and demographic shifts are making this need more pronounced. How are you leading your organization in a path of intentional leadership development?
  7. Team Leadership: Success in focusing, aligning, and building effective groups.” As noted above related to collaboration, it is no longer about individuals accomplishing individual outcomes. Organizations today require effective groups or teams working together to accomplish increasingly complex outcomes. Are you developing your capacity as a team player?
  8. Change Leadership: The capacity to transform and align an organization around a new goal.” Our changing world translates into dynamic and changing organizations. How are you developing your change leadership capacity? As a community this will be essential as you lean into these organizational and environment transitions?

As the world around us changes, a capacity to adapt to new environments is critical. As you consider these 8 Core Leadership Abilities, what are your strengths? What are your growth edges? Are you committed both to developing yourself and those around you to meet the demands of leadership today?

Effective Leadership = Effective Self-Leadership

Reflection "I", VisualAge Flickr

Photo Credit: Reflection “I”, VisualAge Flickr

There is one prerequisite for managing the second half of life;
You must begin doing so long before you enter it.”

– Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker brought an insightful voice to management studies in the 20th century. One of my favorite articles by Drucker is a Harvard Business Review piece called “Managing Oneself.”

Drucker argues that there is an explicit connection between excellence in management and the cultivation of understanding of oneself. To extend this, we might argue that effective leadership begins with effective self-leadership. Or, put as a question…

How can I lead others well if I am not first leading myself well?

A commitment to such a question leads to critical self-management questions. Drucker raised the following self-management questions in his article:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. How do I perform?
  3. How do I learn?
  4. What are my values?
  5. Where do I belong?
  6. What should I contribute?

Of these questions, I would argue that knowing ones strengths and values is a top priority for leaders.

Attending to Our Strengths

Regarding strengths, Drucker notes, “To do things well, you’ll need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself,” and “only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence.” Understanding strengths allows us to build on the positive dimensions already present in our lives rather than working to improve deficits. On this point Drucker notes, “It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” In the pursuit of leadership excellence, building on strengths is a first order priority for those engaged in self-leadership.

Attending to Our Values

But strengths are not the only story. Strengths must be grounded in the things that matter most to us and our communities—our values. On this point, Drucker notes, “What one does well—even very well and successfully—may not fit with one’s value system.” Strengths and skills must be guided by values. Values should form the basis for understanding and applying our strengths. Strengths applied without values can quickly lead to ethical and moral violations in leadership. Strengths applied in congruence with deeply held values provide a basis for our natural talents to serve rather than abuse the communities of which we are part.

Effective leadership begins with effective self-leadership! Are you attending to your strengths? Are you attending to your values?

______________________________

I’d love to hear how you have engaged effective self-management and self-leadership in your life and work!