18 December 2005

Leadership an interview for example

Starting point Voordaan
On the Dutch weblog by Daan (Voordaan) a start was made with a snowball interview. Her idea and execution has created a flood of loggers writing about themselves.

Other web logs and Volkskrantblog
I have chosen to use Volkskrantblog and Blogger to put down my ideas about leadership. My other thoughts and writings are saved at web-log en punt weblog. The reason to choose for one subject on a weblog, is something that other people might want to know. So lets start writing about the reason or reasons.

A few reasons
First there was a conference about leadership, that I started organizing. My Vk and Blogger weblog gave me the possibility to order and write down my own ideas about leadership.
My opinion about leadership is rather clear cut. I think that every human kan en should lead himself. That does not mean that I think that leading yourself is easy, but then neither is learning to walk.

Secondly I heard more and more people call out for leadership, but nobody really tells what is meant with leadership. I think, that as long as people are not able to lead themselves, they will receive leaders that will not do what is best for everybody.
I do not mean to say, that leadership is useless, but when an individual is not able to lead himself, he should certainly not ask others to lead him.

To me leadership means taking responsibility for ones actions. And to me that is not the same as being accountable. In the end one can only be accountable to oneself. It is off course possible to state, that one is accountable toward others, but maybe this simple question will make it clear what I mean.
Assume that some ones action are detrimental to others, but that he dies during that action.
  • To whom will he be accountable?
  • Is he accountable toward a higher being, that shaped everything?
I do not think so, because I have to assume that this higher being knew, that it would happen, even if I take free choice into account. In that case the responsibility is not with the perpetrator, but with the creator.
Although humans like clarity about guilt and responsibility, we do not know why. Is it is something that is part of our nature or is it nurtured or maybe both.
My question about the responsibility of the leader could also be worded as following:
  • Can a leader be held responsible for mistakes made by the cleaner, even if he did not personally see what happened?

Personally I do not think, that a leader can be personally responsible for the mistakes others make. He can be held accountable though, for how he handles the mistakes of others. Is he playing “pass the buck” or does he try to find a solution that fits the problems, that were created by the mistakes? In that last case I would call someone a real leader. His solution is not finding someone to blame, but to find a suitable solution.

Thirdly writing about leadership gives me a possibility to create a structured image of leadership. I mean a structure that answers questions like:
  1. What is leadership?
  2. How does one become a leader?
  3. What is that leaders do?
  4. What influences do leaders have?
  5. By what are leaders influences?
  6. How can leaders have influence?

To end
Writing about leadership makes it clearer and clearer, that leadership is the easiest thing to do. In the end it is bringing together all kinds of abilities we use daily. The difficulty lies in conquering our fear and taking our responsibility.

14 December 2005

Leadership and judging

A major ability for a leader to posses is judging without condemning.
Most people learn throughout life, that being judged is a denouncement of ones personality. They often only have experiences with judging, but most of all condemning, statements. For example, what does the statement: “You have to work smarter.” mean? Or a judgment stated in the form of a question: “Do you know what you are doing?” Or the deathblow condemnation: “Why do you do that?” Often spoken in a tone of voice that makes clear that the question is rhetorical.
The motivation for such condemning behavior by the judge or condemner often is discontent with the overall situation. This discontent however creates a reaction, that creates resistance within the recipient of the reaction. In the end the judge has transported his discontent to the judged. The reaction of the judged is not to ask himself the question: “What has been said?” but just reacts. And the original problem, that needed a judgment, is never solved.
For a leader such behavior will signal the beginning of the end of his leadership. Where the beginning is his recognized, respected leadership and the end is a leadership in name, not respected and without influence.
How can a leader prevent that his judgment become condemnations?
First by looking at his feelings.
What does he feel for the situation he needs to judge? Is he irritated, because it does not function or does not function in the way it should? Is he angry, because the person to be judged does not do, what was asked of him? Is he sad, because the situation will be less effective than possible? Every feeling will create its own reaction, but they will create condemnation if they are not recognized as the basis for the reaction.
Secondly the leader can look at what the recipient of the judgment needs and adjust to that need. This strongly compares to what Blanchard and Hersey mean with situational leadership.
Thirdly the leader can look at how he wants to communicate his judgment. And even there it sometimes can go wrong. Because some people will think, that the used medium is a judgment about their personality.
Special is that a leader who gets to know and understand his feelings and emotions, gets better at understanding others.
But maybe the most important activity of judging is, the guts to admit that you as a leader are only human. So when giving wrong judgments, you are also willing to admit, that you made a mistake and will correct it.

Leadership and double loop learning

Learning may be the most important thing a leader can do. I am not talking about learning new knowledge or skills for your job or professional background. I am talking about getting to know yourself. Getting to know the people around you, with whom you work together or cooperate. Learning about the new developments within and without your organization. Learning from the mistakes you make yourself, those that your colleagues make, those made by your organization and found in its surroundings.
With learning I do not rote learning, often negatively described with repository learning. You could compare this repository learning with Argyris’ single loop learning. I am talking about double loop learning. Learning by looking at what happened and comparing those outcomes with the goals that where set. And if necessary adjusting or changing those goals.

Why should leaders learn in double loops? Argyris gives a few reasons:
  1. Past knowledge creates a model of the world. If this model is not adjusted over time, you will try to fit the changes in your surroundings into this outdated model. When this fails it could lead to a feeling of personal failure. Lots of humans however have trouble admitting they make mistakes, based on values they use. Something that could lead to denying that there is a discrepancy between reality and model. By keeping an open mind to differences between model and reality, you create the possibility to adjust the model to reality.
  2. If this model becomes the core of ones professional activities, you slowly start to identify yourself with it. Every critical reaction to the model, from your direct surroundings up to the changing reality, can be seen as a threat to your personality. Suddenly the solution is no longer changing the model, but removing or denying the critique. A reaction could also be to focus the attention on something or someone else. By looking at the model as a instrument, to create a clearer few of reality, it does not become a burden but a tool.
  3. The fear of critique, created by identifying oneself with the model could lead to the fear of having created a imperfect model. One no longer tries to look at the model objectively, but sees every flaw in or fault created with the model as a personal mistake. By constantly comparing the model with reality, one keeps in mind that the model is not the reality. Also the possibility to adjest the model to keep it useful is kept open.

If I had to sum everything up to one scentence, I would say: Keeping an open mind for information out your surrounding and comparing that with the ideas one has based on a model, could help a leader to become a better leader.