|Focus on Leadership
By Kim McKinnon, PhD
Author's note: This is the first in a six-part series focusing on some of the latest things we know about effective leadership -
recent research, best practices and a specific approach leaders can use to improve their own effectiveness.
A trip to the library or the local bookstore quickly confirms that "leadership" continues to be a very popular topic. Row after
row of books - old and new - remind us that leadership must be important because authors have been writing about it - not just for
decades - but for centuries! Management guru Tom Peters has written about the value of leadership by suggesting that it is
becoming "the most important element in organizations - the attribute which is greatest in demand yet shortest
Part of the challenge for those wanting to improve their leadership skill isn't that there is a lack of information about what
to do - in fact, the opposite is true. We are virtually overwhelmed with books, DVDs, surveys and marketing emails with claims
that someone has finally discovered the easy-to-implement secret to becoming a great leader. However, the truth is, like most
worthwhile things, becoming a really good leader really does take time and effort. Fortunately, it is also true that there does
seem to be growing agreement about what constitutes good, and even great, leadership.
Noted authors like John Kotter (Harvard), Dave Ulrich (University of Michigan), Stephen R. Covey (Seven Habits author), Ken
Blanchard (One-Minute Manager and Situational Leadership) have all in recent times begun to describe similar attributes when
they write about effective leadership. Although these individuals use different descriptors, the essence of what they describe
is surprisingly consistent.
"The Fundamental Five" - An Overview of Coming Attractions
The goal of this series on leadership is to present five of these essential leadership roles - what we'll call "the Fundamental
Five" - and to suggest ways for leaders to use this framework to improve their effectiveness. The challenge to is not simply to
read or to remember or even to understand these best practices - but rather to actually use them in changing the way you lead.
"The Fundamental Five" are as follows:
The claim made here is that becoming an effective leader is a direct result of becoming effective at these five roles. Each one
of these five will be featured in the next five installments in this "Focus on Leadership" series - beginning with the "Guardian"
role next time. Included will be background information, some "role model" examples as well as the sharing of specific practices
used by leaders who are especially effective in each of the five areas.
- Guardian - establishing TRUST
- Navigator - clarifying PURPOSE
- Coach - building engaged PEOPLE
- Architect - strengthening TEAMWORK
- Revolutionary - leading CHANGE
Some Background - Four Things "We Know"
Before launching into our almost year-long journey exploring the five elements of good leadership, here is a short reminder of
four other important things we know about leadership - kind of a review.
#1 Thing We Know: Leadership is Really Important
Consider the following information from a recent Conference Board study:
These figures, taken from a broad array of enterprises, make it clear that leadership really matters in organizations -
all organizations and all kinds of organizations. Regardless of whether it is the result of changing demographics or other
less concrete reasons, we find ourselves seeking people who will take charge and who will take us someplace we need to go;
we are looking for genuine leaders.
- 82% of organizations report having a "difficult time finding qualified leaders"
- 70% report that leadership is the "most important people issue" they face
- 8% report that they have "excellent leadership"
#2 Thing We Know: Leadership is Really Difficult
Additional research findings:
Perhaps the most troubling of these figures has to do with the lack of attention paid to improving leadership skills -- less
than 10% of leaders with a development plan is a rather distressing situation. In all likelihood this means that most leaders
are too focused on running the business to get better at running the business. Best practice organizations always have a
structured, well-managed approach to leader development. Best practice leaders do too - even if they are forced to do it all
- 40% of new leaders fail within the first 18 months on the job
- 66% of leaders report "not liking their job as a leader"
- <10% of current leaders have a plan to help them learn and grow
#3 Thing We Know: There may not be an "i" in team - but there is in leadership
The "i" which is essential to good leadership stands for "INFLUENCE." In fact, the very definition of a leader is "a person
who influences others to get things done." Further, each one of the "fundamental five" is a different way for the leader to
influence others. In later installments of this series, we will examine a variety of approaches leaders use to influence others.
Whether it be "asking and inviting" at one end of the influencing continuum to "demanding and manipulating" at the other, some
approaches are very effective and others are not. Learning how to assess needs and use an appropriate influencing strategy is
something skilled leaders do well - and they do it a lot.
#4 Thing We Know: All really good leaders have two things in common
The short version of what good leaders seem to know and do is:
Other than these two fundamental characteristics (i.e., strong desire to do a good job), we find that leaders can use a
wide variety of styles, can possess unique personalities or even have unusual communication preferences - and they can still
be very effective. Part of what makes leadership so interesting is that there is not "one best way." There are, however,
specific behaviors and practices which can and do make a difference - in our case, "the fundamental five."
- Really Good Leaders WANT to be Leaders (not everyone with the leader title really does) and
- Really Good Leaders WORK at being Leaders (see #2 above)
In the next part of this "Focus on Leadership" series, we will look at the foundation role - that of the "Guardian." Although
a person may be very capable and possess a variety of impressive skills, without first "establishing trust" (the basic work of
the Guardian), he or she will not be successful as a leader.
Kim McKinnon, PhD is a leadership development consultant and executive coach in the Phoenix area. In addition to his consulting
work, Kim is also on the faculty at Arizona State University and the Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara. Kim can be
reached at: McKinnonConsulting@Cox.Net or through his website:
|Arizona City/County Management Association
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Phoenix, AZ 85007
Phone: (602) 258-5786
Fax: (602) 253-3874