Leadership and how not to do it

If you type the word Leadership into the google search engine you get about 496,000,000 results.

Amongst the front page entries are definitions, training courses, news articles and an intriguing placement from christianitytoday.com.

Leadership is one of these topics about which everyone has an opinion and it’s a fair bet that every one is different. You’d think that this would make my task this month easy, but sitting here with a blank piece of paper in front of me and the requirement to produce a 1,000 word article the scope of the topic is daunting rather than comforting. What makes an effective leader?, discussions of leadership styles, gender differences are all interesting candidates but I have decided to take a sideways look at the topic and consider what happens in the absence of leadership.

I will make a confession here. I have never been a big fan of the vision thing. I think that this this is partly due to the 80’s fashion for posting fatuous posters all over the walls of every corporate office block with things like “Our vision is to be the global leader in customer value”, “Our vision is to be the best company in the world, in the eyes of our customers, shareholders, communities and people.” Aren’t these things true for most companies? Do the people who have to realise the vision actually read the posters? My thought had always been that if everyone knew what their job was, were properly managed and supported then the success of the company would tumble out without having to post some bland vision statement.

However, it’s never too late even for an old campaigner like me to acknowledge a mistake. While I still retain the belief that it is probably not necessary for a leader to post their vision on every free space on the wall, I am now utterly convinced that it is vital that they have one. I have seen what happens when there is no vision. What replaces vision is a wish list. An idea appears, becomes the most important part of the project but is quickly superseded by the next new thing. Each of the ideas may, or may not, be good ones; the problem is the shifting between ideas.

When this happens there is often no agreement on what the project is actually about. That is not completely true, actually people often do have an idea what the business they work in is about, but it is their idea, not a shared vision. Everyone one has a different idea about where the project should be headed and so no headway is ever made. There may be regular planning meetings where everyone agrees priorities, and tasks are created and allocated. The problem is that none of the tasks are ever completed as the priorities have changed even before the printer has printed out the latest task list. There is frustration and time is wasted in starting tasks that are never finished and in heading towards a goal that is always shifting. As Phil says in his article this month, you can run a hobby in this way but not a business.

The really odd thing is that the oft-stated reason given for why projects fail or stall is that the workers don’t share the owners/board/management vision. The unfortunate truth is that there often is no vision. People perform their tasks in line with the latest addition to the wish list.

So back to the vision thing and leadership. Put simply – the leader needs a vision.

That vision should be consistent, concise and clearly communicated. It should not change quickly and should not change without good reason. I don’t think it needs to be put up around the place on posters – these just become wallpaper. If the leader knows where they are going, keeps heading in that direction, communicates it clearly by word and action then everyone will be able to follow.

It really is that simple.

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