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Leadership is....

Feb 03, 2022

There are many definitions of leadership.  According to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), "Leadership is a social process that enables individuals to work together as a cohesive group to produce collective results."

While this seems pretty straightforward, the idea that leadership is a process suggests that it can be continually improved upon.  I believe this.  Those who are serious about becoming better leaders need to commit to continuous learning and improvement.  When you are dealing with people, there are many variables at play.  Interacting with others can be a challenge, for sure. 

Think of yourself at your leadership best.  When you are at your best, what are you doing?  What are you thinking?  And what are you saying?  What does it look like to others?  And what are the results? And how does it feel to lead as your best self?

In contrast, think of yourself at your leadership worst.  What are you doing, thinking, saying and what is the impact on yourself and others?  What is the cost - to your team, your organization, and to your own sense of confidence and self-respect?

As a member of the senior faculty for the Leadership Development Institute at Eckerd College, I have been teaching a framework for leadership that was developed by CCL that includes three elements:  Direction, Alignment and Commitment (DAC).  And while this framework seems simple, it is not easy to achieve.  Like a three-legged stool, any loose or missing element will create instability or collapse.

Setting Direction is the process of achieving agreement within the group on the overall goals. There is a clear vision for the outcome you want. Everyone understands what the priorities are and what success looks like.

When direction is missing, the team lacks purpose.  They are uncertain about what they are trying to achieve. They may feel pulled in different directions and unable to make decisions.

Creating Alignment means that each member has a role and understands how it contributes to the overall goal.  Team members work together, and their work is coordinated.

In the absence of alignment, there may be duplication of effort, or important tasks that fall through the cracks.  People work in silos, without understanding how their part impacts others or the whole.

Building Commitment leads to a sense of mutual responsibility for the result and the welfare of the team members. The best interest of the group is more important than individual interest.  Setbacks are faced together, as a team.

When commitment is absent, team members lack energy and a sense of responsibility to achieve the goals.  People don't help each other and fail to deliver.

While this framework may seem simple, it is not easy to achieve.  The leader is responsible for setting direction, creating alignment, and earning - and re-earning - commitment.  If your team or organization is not reaching its potential or failing to accomplish the expected result, think about which of these elements may be missing.  Note that it is an on-going process and not a one-time effort. 

In other words, direction needs to be communicated and reiterated on a regular basis.  It needs to be part of a two-way dialogue to ensure clarity and full understanding.  Leaders build alignment by explaining the rationale for decisions and seeking input for how best to make it all work.  This requires a willingness to be flexible about the path to achieve the goals. And commitment only happens when there is clarity and buy-in.  People tend to support what they help create, so making sure there are opportunities for team members to have input to the process leads to a better result.

Leaders have different styles and approaches to leadership.  And all styles have strengths and limitations.  For example, a leader who is commanding and resolute may set direction with crystal clarity, yet may be challenged with creating alignment because of perceived impatience and insensitivity.  On the other hand, a leader who is energizing and inclusive may create excitement and enthusiasm for goals, and struggle with disorganization and follow-through.

For this reason, any leader who is trying to perform at his or her best needs to build self-awareness through reflection, seeking feedback and regular measurement.  This may sound simple, but we all have blind spots, and we can’t improve what we can’t see.  Unless you operate in an environment where feedback is welcome and expected – and people have the skills to deliver it effectively – what you get may not be that helpful. 

If you are committed to continuous improvement as a leader, let me help you learn about the tools that are available to build a culture of useful feedback and measure leadership effectiveness.





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