What Kind of Leader are You?
Updated: Jan 9, 2019
How many of you think you're leading your organization alone? Structurally, it may be very much like that, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The real question is how is it being led?
When it comes to organizational change, there are the overt leaders within the organization, and then there are the informal leaders. The overt leaders have the titles, the position, and the authority to make decisions on strategy, direction, and actions to get things done. The informal leaders are the ones who get people sold on the plan and get buy-in so that it gets implemented.
In the course of working with many different organizations and in many different industries, I have come across many leaders. Some of the most energizing, and yet the most exhausting, are visionary leaders. These leaders are the dreamers of the organization that see what can be, well in advance of the rest of the organization. They are constantly on the go, looking for the next opportunity, the next big thing, and are the drivers for the organization. These individuals move at a fast pace and, without a balancing factor, will create chaos and frustration for the organization.
So, who are the balancing factors? I always say, every great visionary needs 2 or 3 strong primary leaders. These leaders challenge the visionary around the direction, the ability to achieve the vision, and the operational challenges of execution. They are the group that wants to make sure that whatever vision is implemented can be of great success. In essence, they interpret the visionary for the rest of the organization.
But, this group doesn't get it done on their own either. They rely on those informal leaders, that have the pulse of the organization and are interested in the sustainability, safety, and security of their fellow employees. These are the leaders in the organization, that if they aren't on board with the "what", the "why," and "how" it will affect the "family," the ability to sell the plan within the organization will be harder, and take much longer, if achieved at all. These are the individuals within your organization that others look to, because they represent the thoughts and feelings of the majority of your organization, and their ability to get on board will make sure that the rest of the organization is aligned and moving in that direction. They sell the idea because they've been included in the "what" and the "why," and they are the trusted "leaders" who can communicate effectively to keep everyone informed.
Take a minute to think about your organization, and list those leaders that informally influence the success or failure of initiatives, and/or changes in your company. I bet it won't take you long to identify these individuals. You know that if you can include them in your change process, get them on board as to the "what" and "why", not only will the change be successful, but it will go quite smoothly. They are the ones who really lead the rest of the organization, create alignment, and generate buy-in.
Now, as helpful as this group of leaders can be, they can also move very quickly to naysayers, or sabotagers within your organization, if not identified and engaged in your change process. So, how does this work? Let's say that Steve, our visionary leader, is looking to grow the organization by expanding the geographic footprint of the business. He sees significant opportunity for revenue growth, job growth, and increased market share that would allow the business to achieve increased staying power. Steve has discussed this with the formal leaders within the organization and they are very much on board with the direction that he is going. Steve communicates this strategy to the rest of the organization and off they go, opening up a new manufacturing plant, taking on debt, and adding new staff. This growth begins to cause communication breakdowns, increased chaos in the organization, and turnover. Steve is wondering why this is happening. It should be seen as a positive, as this growth will provide additional career opportunities, increased earning opportunities, and also increased stability for the future. So, why doesn't the rest of the organization see this?
What Steve sees and what the rest of the organization sees, are two different things. As a non-formal leader, I see change occurring without understanding why. I see that growth is occurring with the opening of a new plant, and wonder what will happen to the jobs at the current location. I see that increased debt may increase risk for the business and threaten my job security and those of my fellow co-workers. As opposed to waiting for the pink slip, I will leave on my own.
Now, Steve had no intention of any of these things, yet he and his formal leaders made a significant mistake. They didn't include those trusted, informal leaders, in their process. So, instead of getting buy-in, they created naysayers that were going to sabotage any positive progress towards the vision. In fact, they were turning the majority of the organization into naysayers, and the morale quickly went down hill.
I'm sure you've never seen this in your organization? One fatal flaw of leadership is thinking that because you are the leader others will follow. The reality is, that you're only a leader when others allow you to be. Meaning, you're only the captain of the ship, if the crew and shipmates want to sail in the same direction. If not, you may end up on a different island.
"True leaders don't create followers....they create more leaders."
- J. Sakiya Sandifer
Before making any change in your organization, you first need to understand who are your informal leaders. Make sure they are part of the process. Not to slow the process, but to make sure that they are on-board with the "what" and the "why." These individuals have the greatest influence within the organization and will not only speed up the change process, but will greatly increase its success.
Jayne McQuillan, CPA, MBA, CEPA is a strategic management consultant, and the owner of Journey Consulting, LLC, in Green Bay