Leadership trends LO12759

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@CompuServe.COM)
04 Mar 97 21:40:34 EST

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Re Leadership Trends

I have not participated much on this thread because I am not overly
comfortable with the term 'trends.' I think what we know about leadership
has not changed a great deal over the lat 10-15 years or perhaps longer.
I could be wrong, but let me cite some thoughts.

We recently went through the following experience. We took 600 people
ranging from front line supervisors to senior vps, and broke into groups
of 8 each person in the group rected an event that in their mind
demonstrated good leadership, and then with those 8 stories the group
constructed a list of the characteristics demonstrated that were a part of
the leadership. As a consequence we got 75 separate lists of the
characteristics. The similarity among the lists was astonishing. I am
confident that with a little work you could identify 10-20 characteristics
that most of these groups would have agreed on.

Kouzes and Posner will give you 5 practices of exemplary leaders, the 10
commitments, and the 6 small win rules. Very useful, but the problem is
that until you get it you don't get it. It is just words that have no
meaning until you have been there and done it.

This meeting I am describing had, as I said, a broad range of levels
within the company. The alignment of what we thought was remarkable, but
also remarkable was the level to which we all thought we had achieved it.
Still lots of opportunity, top to bottom, throughout the organization.

Amazingly enough, none of the criteria for leadership included anything
like "MUST BE A SENIOR MANAGER OR PRESIDENT". So apparently the role of
leadership is open to everyone, and yet no one feels particularly good at

I bring this up because I hear too often that someone cannot be a leader
because senior management will not be leaders. Nonsense. Consider any
leader you want to think about. I will use Martin Luther King, but he is
an example you could replace with hundreds or thouands of other
alternatives. At one time in his youth, he was exactly nobody with far
less opportunity than most of us here. Some kind of passion motivated
him. Some kind of deep caring grabbed him. Some other things happened as
well, and anyone can read about it.

One of the things that emphatically did not happen was that his boss or
the authorities gave him permission, or somehow empowered him. No, on the
contrary, he did what he did not because someone in a responsible position
gave him permission, but despite their interference. You know, the man
just didn't know that he couldn't do it. He took responsibility, it was
not given him. He empowered himself, no one did it for him.

I hear all the time that he was different, and what happened in his life
does not apply to normal people. Today I sat in a small group, and heard
8 small stories of leadership, and each had the same message. It was not
done for them, they did it themselves. Despite fear, despite lack of
experience, despite resistance at times from others, and eventually they
built with others a shared sense of purpose through grit, and doing it
wrong, and learning from it, and doing it again but better.

Now, I will be the first to say that self-protection is absolutely
necessary, and I am not encouraging you to do anything that will get you
fired. But I also have some experience in companies that were and are
heavily authoritarian. Everything I know is that you may have to make
compromises, but even there, even protecting your job, you can be a leader
for those who work for you, and for those who work with you. You can make
it fun, gratifying, scary, and ultimately very fulfilling.

Something that you need to know about the process of becoming a leader is
that it gets worse before it gets better. The learning curve is alive and
well, and practicing a new set of desired skills is tough. You may not be
good at it at first, but every day will have little victories if you keep
at it.

Final message, it is this -- fear of failure and the difficulty of
learning something new -- that can keep you from becoming a leader. It
can not be lack of permission. Put that myth behind you.


Rol Fessenden LL Bean 76234.3636@compuserve.com

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>