Leading with One Hand Tied behind Your Back
Tuesday 5 August 2014
There's a few problems with the successful leadership lists that bounce their way around the internet. In my opinion they lack context - the reality check that only comes by having a full appreciation of an individual organisation's particular circumstances. Unfortunately many of these lists of 'required leadership behaviours' offer shallow quick fix advice that fails to address the difficulties of decision making in the real world
So can anything be done about it? You bet and my suggestions are contained below. As always I'd be happy to have feedback or extra tips you think might be useful to consider
When it comes to thoughts on 'leadership' or 'Leadership' there's a myriad of excellent and some less so articles to guide the soon to be, want to be, is currently, 'leader'.
There's thoughts about habits; thoughts about style; thoughts about followers; thoughts about command; thoughts about control; thoughts about engagement. You'll find conversations about culture; approaches of different sexes, ages and industries. In fact there's so many articles on Leadership that you could almost write a book about the subject.
ahem. An element consistently missing in these articles (or I might say 'lacking') is what I suggest is the 'real world context' of leadership which I've framed as 'leading with one hand tied behind your back'. Instead most articles that offer the 'top five ideas of successful this' or the 'key stages of powerful that' seem to by default, assume that the choice to take on board the ideas suggested is a fait accompli.
Simply stated, too many article on Leadership ignore context for action.
In my many hundreds of contacts with Leaders from CEOs and Boards through to Managing Directors; Executive Officers and senior Management personnel there is just ONE common challenge that is faced across all industries and organisational sizes - how to steer the organisation when constraints exist.
These 'constraints', be they a lack of suitable personnel, financial resources, increased competition, changing consumer demands, adjustments to legislative or compliance laws, market access provisions and cash-flow (among many others) are the real life challenges that in effect, see the vast majority of those in an organisational leadership position, feel as though they have one arm tied behind their back.
They just never fully feel that they have total control in a way that they'd like. Which brings us to the question - what can you do about it?
The easy fix answer which would ignore context is to say 'untie the arm and grab that wheel with both hands'.
I'd like to suggest something a bit deeper than the quick fix. Solving constraints issue is often a time based challenge. Focusing on removing them can happen sooner or later but there is no magic wand. When I consult to Boards about this issue I centre on three core questions to help 'unpack' the extent to which an organisation is being led by a one armed leader:
1: 'Have you an explicit and well articulated Vision of where you want to go?'
2: 'Have you identified the top three or four barriers that currently or will likely impede your journey towards that destination?'
3: 'Have you identified, explicitly, the capabilities you will need to have to address those barriers and whether or not those capabilities are available to you?'
If your organisation lacks a clear and articulated Vision it will never do much more than steer in circles. Most often however it will be pushed around by the tides of constraints and have minimal chance to steer a more direct and focused path.
If your organisation is unaware or has yet to consider the likely barriers then it is likely that even with a well articulated Vision, much energy (and resources) will be expended trying to push against immovable and invisible objects that prevent your progress.
If you have not identified the needed capabilities and whether or not you have them, then you will likely make calls upon your organisation that it just cannot deliver. The end result is the slow and ever certain draining of energy. It's like the fire that is left to burn itself out whilst everyone dances around it. No one works out where the next lot of wood is or how to get it.
The reality for leaders in real world organisations is that constraints exist and no 'do these things' or develop this mentality' can survive by ignoring the context for your specific organisation's situation.
You can, by answering those three questions listed, see many of the constraints become part of the landscape and not the 'success breakers' they are often allowed to be.
Leading with one hand tied behind your back is a common requirement. Doing it well requires a clear and compelling organisational Vision, full situational awareness, and well grounded assessment of what is and isn't possible given the capabilities you have available.
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