WHAT IS ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP?

Organizational leadership is a dual focused management approach that works towards what is best for individuals and what is best for a group as a whole simultaneously. It is also an attitude and a work ethic that empowers an individual in any role to lead from the top, middle, or bottom of an organization. While discussing every component of organizational leadership would be well beyond the scope of this document, five key components of organizational leadership are identified below.

Worldview

Organizational leadership requires developing an understanding of your own worldview as well as the worldviews of others. Worldview is a composite image created from the various lenses through which individuals view the world. It is not the same as identity, political stance, or religious viewpoint, but does include these things. It incorporates everything an individual believes about the world, combining the tangible and the intangible. An individual’s worldview is defined by that individual’s attitudes, opinions, beliefs, and the outside forces the individual allows to influence them. Worldview is the “operating instructions” for how the individual interfaces with the world. One who does not take into consideration how individuals interface with the world is in a much weaker position to lead these individuals. Furthermore, organizational leadership requires an understanding of the composite worldview of the organization, which consists of the many diverse and sometimes conflicting worldviews of the individuals within that organization.

Strengths

Successful leadership requires capitalizing on strengths and managing around weaknesses. Strength can be defined as consistent, near perfect performance in an activity. An individual should perform an activity at around a 95% success rate in order to consider their performance of that activity a strength. Strength is not necessarily the same as ability:  an ability is a strength only if you can fathom yourself doing it repeatedly, happily, and successfully. The building blocks of strengths are:

  • Talents – naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior
  • Knowledge – facts and lessons learned
  • Skills – the steps of an activity

Developing strength in any activity requires certain natural talents. Although it is occasionally possible to build a strength without acquiring the relevant knowledge or skills, it is never possible to possess a strength without the requisite talent . The key to building a bona fide strength is to identify your dominant talents and then refine them with knowledge and skills. 

One need not have strength in every aspect of a role in order to excel in that role. That excellent performers must be well rounded is a pervasive myth. Excellent performers are rarely well rounded; on the contrary, they are sharp. One will excel only by maximizing one’s strengths, never by fixing one’s weaknesses. Excellent performers find ways to manage around their weaknesses, freeing them to hone their strengths to a sharper point. Excellent performers do not ignore their weaknesses; they work on them just enough so that they do not undermine strengths.

Ethics

Organizational leadership requires ethics. Ethics aids leaders in balancing truth and loyalty, individuals and communities, short-term and long-term, and justice vs. mercy. Ethics is not an inoculation or a compromise. It is a process and a lens by which leaders approach a problem situation. Ethics call on us to be impartial, yet engaged. Effective leaders utilize ethics to look for the “hidden alternative” in ethically questionable situations. It is the compass by which leaders navigate not only right vs. wrong, but also right vs. right.

Communication

Communication is a tool for individuals to interface with one another, with groups, and with the rest of the world. It is not a text, email, phone call, or personal visit: these are methods/mediums of communication.  Effective communication requires an understanding of the VABEs (Values, Assumptions, Beliefs, Expectations) of those whom with we communicate. Understanding someone’s worldview and VABEs enables leaders to acknowledge but look past differences, focus on areas of agreement, and to effectively listen for and hear the messages of others. Leaders are able to move beyond communication barriers (appearance, vocabulary, stutter, lisp, accent, etc) and focus on the message of the speaker.

Leadership

It is often the case that people don’t want to be leaders for fear of rejection. Leaders are able to rise above this natural fear and lead by the example of adding value to an organization. Managers and leaders are not the same. Leaders possess strategic thinking and not only an understanding of the vision of an organization, but also the ability to effectively carry out and communicate that vision. Anyone, anywhere, at any level can be a leader. The cornerstones of leadership are:

  • Truth telling
  • Promise keeping
  • Fairness
  • Respect for the individual

These four cornerstones combined will determine how the individual leader is perceived by others, and in the case of organizational leadership, perception is reality for all effective purposes. A manager may have been delegated responsibility over many individuals, but in failing to exhibit the cornerstones of leadership or not possessing the requisite strength, ethics, communication, or grasp of worldviews, that manager is not a leader. In fact that manager may very well manage a leader who does possess leadership traits. A simple test of leadership is to “look behind yourself, do you see anyone following you?” If you do not, you are not a leader! 

While there are many theories of leadership, Douglas McGregor, a social psychologist and Management Professor at MIT, identified two prominent management approaches/theories which he coined as “Theory X” and “Theory Y”:

  • Theory X – “Hell or high water, we’re going to get it done!” Assumes that workers are largely motivated by the lower order needs of Maslow’s hierarchy (physiological and safety needs) and that effective management requires strict and often punitive micromanagement.
  • Theory Y – “I need your help…how are we going to do this?” Assumes that workers are largely motivated by higher order needs of Maslow’s hierarchy (belonging, esteem and self-actualization) and that effective management requires creating the right conditions and organizational culture which motivates workers to pursue those needs by adding value to the organization.

Effective leaders identify the appropriate leadership theory for a given situation. In some instance a leader may use a combination of Theories X and Y. This determination is context sensitive. Consider the following levels of James G. Clawson's “Level Three Leadership” and associated tactics:

  • One – visible behavior: Orders, commands, threats, intimidation, incentives, bonuses. This level is purely theory X.
  • Two – conscious thought: Arguments, rationale, data, citations, references, evidence, manipulation. This level can be a combination of theories X and Y.
  • Three – VABEs: Visioning, purpose definition, honesty, openness, emotional storytelling, anecdotes, tender emotions. This level is purely level Y.

Leaders may employ various methods of leadership. Some of the more important methods are:

  • Model the way (set the example)
  • Share your vision (enlist others)
  • Challenge the process (look for ways to grow)
  • Enable others to act (empowerment)
  • Set goals/build trust (direction)
  • Encourage the heart (positive reinforcement)

Key takeaways

Successful organizational leadership includes:

  • Working to understand the worldviews of others
  • Recognizing and develop your own strengths
  • Looking for the “hidden alternative”
  • Focusing on the message, not the messenger
  • Appealing to the VABEs of others
  • Applying the appropriate theories and methods of leadership to a given situation
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