Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Got Leadership?

Do you know that expression, "people don't care what you know until they know that you care?" Well...are you a believer? A 2007 study of leadership attributes suggests that this sentiment may be somewhat misleading. Those who ascribe to it, may be doing so at the risk of missing what employees truly value in their leaders.

This often quoted and widely accepted leadership philosophy suggests that what matters most in leadership are the soft skills, things that provide comfort to employees and a belief that their leaders have their best interests in mind. Makes sense, right? It's about the people, isn't it?

So where then do things like listening, encouraging, coaching, and dependability rank in this survey? Important...but not at the top. We value these skills but don't necessarily rank our leaders based on their strengths in these areas.

So what is important? The top 3 leadership attributes, according to this survey, are credibility, trust, and vision. Here's how I interpret them:

-- Credibility (71%). Far and away the #1 component. It suggests that in fact we DO care what our leaders know! Competence -- technically and as a leader -- matters. The ability to deliver, to get the job done, to execute the mission, is vital. Same for our knowledge and understanding of how to set priorities, make decisions, and align resources. Our teammates want leaders with the credibility that comes from a balance of competence and confidence. And not one of these...but both. Confidence without competence obnoxious fool who believes his own press clippings. And competence without confidence engineer! (Ha! I can say that because I am one!). But competence and confidence together, earned every day, not by hype but by results, is the total package and combines to create the credibility as leaders that our employees value.

-- Trusted (58%). People want to know that they can trust their leaders. This means they not only want to believe that their leaders CAN do the job (credibility)...but that they WILL. They want their leader's actions to align with their words. They want them to be values-based, mission-focused, and selfless. People want to trust that their leaders know what they are doing and that they are doing it for the right reasons.

-- Farsighted (54%). We want leaders with vision, to be able to see over the horizon, to steer the team toward goals and objectives while avoiding obstacles along the way. We value leaders who see the big picture, who can put problems in context, and who are leaning forward to see not only the current battles but the ones to come. (Note: this is #3 on the list! We don't want leaders who say, "I'm a big picture guy. Don't bother me with the details." You show me someone who says this and I will show you someone who doesn't understand the business, who freezes when it is time to make difficult decisions, and who lacks the credibility we seek from our leaders. Vision is important but...people want more...and they can see right through this smokescreen!)

Here's the entire list:

-- Credibility (71%)
-- Trusted (58%)
-- Farsighted (54%)
-- Listens well (51%)
-- Encouraging (46%)
-- Dependable (46%)
-- Focused (43%)
-- Good coach (40%)
-- Experienced (36%)
-- Perspective (35%)

Aha, you say. There's the soft stuff -- listening, encouraging, coaching. All important things. But number one, by far, is that we want leaders who can do their jobs, who know the technical underpinnings of the business and who know how to lead. Those whose top line on their resume reads, "I'm experienced" or, "I'm dependable" and not "I know what I am doing and I get the job done" aren't what we are looking for in our leaders.

You see, our teammates DO care what we know! They want us to care, too. But first, they want us to know what the heck we are doing! That makes it Leader Business.

This is the first in a series that I will periodically post on various leadership themes under -- "Got Leadership?" Do you have a relevant hot leadership topic or a challenge at work that I might explore with you? Shoot me a note. I'd love to hear from you. You KNOW that I CARE! Hooah!


Sunny said...

Although, I don't agree with the statistics shown in the reference, I like your intrepretation of it. Here's why I don't agree, the reference states a survey taken of 3,200 people in which not all of them answered the questions. It also states only one sample group: the early Xers, what about the late Xers (that would be for people like me), in fact what about the rest of the group? It seems a tad bit subject to the opinion of the author.

Your analysis on the other hand is very robust and sensible. I would rank farsightedness/vision higher though. Last thing I want to do as a leader is sweat the small stuff and meddle with the nitty gritty details of the job (that's where trust and belief in a qualified staff kicks in--yeah the soft stuff) and moreover I certainly don't want to follow the lead of someone who micro-manages or has issues with release of control, to me that's an insecure and weak leader.

Thanks for another awesome post!

Tom Magness said...

Good thoughts, Sunny and thanks for the feedback. And while these statistics may not necessarily represent the entire workforce, they do likely represent a large percentage of the overall team and most of our middle managers. I wouldn't discount what they are telling us here.

As to vision -- don't think that I'm saying that it isn't important. But show me a "vision guy/gal" who doesn't understand the underpinnings of the company...and I will show you a recipe for failure. All the vision in the world, without the credibility to communicate it, won't go anywhere!

It is my experience that if you want to tell people where you are taking them, they better believe that you know where you are going...and that you will lead them from the front. That is the credibility that is necessary to implement an effective vision! They definitely go together!

Thanks for your feedback!