Show Summary: A review and discussion of interesting leadership-related articles featured in the media.
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VOCL Resources and Articles
This week – a random selection of articles on different aspects of leadership. For me, many of these have an international feel. Several of them made me think of Haiti, a place that significantly changed my life four years ago today.
“Leading can be silent” by Susan Mazza at Randomactsofleadership.com
There are many articles written about the need for leaders to communicate: this article highlights that there are times that silence is the better path for leaders. Some of the mechanisms include:
- giving someone your full attention
- lending a hand
- helping others develop their leadership by not stepping in too early (that’s a tough one for me)
A few others are found using the link to the article.
(The link to the original article is no longer available)
“The #1 Problem Every Leader Has But Isn’t Aware Of” by Mike Myatt at Forbes
A fairly lengthy article on the issue of problem-solving, including 15 lenses with which to look at problems to ensure that your solution is the best one. My favourite quote is:
“… the purpose for leaders developing sound problem solving acumen is not to solve the problem by themselves, but to identify, recognize, and understand the problem so they can lead others in developing the best solution.”
“The 4 Most Effective Ways Leaders Solve Problems” by Glenn Llopis at Forbes
“Problem solving is the essence of what leaders exist to do.” This quote from the author is what kept me reading to the end – it is so true! But problems should be viewed as an opportunity to improve – your product, your process, or even yourself. Although the article states there are four ways to solve problems, the article is more accurately focused on 4 aspects required to effectively solve problems.
This involves: transparent communication, breaking down silos (that’s a biggie…), working with open-minded people, and having a sound foundational strategy.
“With Challenges This Big, We Need Women Leaders to Fix Them” by Howard G. Buffett on LinkedIn
Discussing how leadership in 3rd world countries would benefit from having women leaders. Based on my time in Haiti, I would have to agree. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, I thought that the women were doing a great job in overcoming the numerous obstacles, all while dealing with small children, meals, etc.
(Original article has been deleted)
“The ABCD’s of Leading with Trust” by Randy Conley at leadingwithtrust.com
Leadership has a foundation of trust that leaders and followers build upon – without trust, you won’t have the engagement of your followers. If they follow at all, it will be through some sense of obligation (paycheck, no other choice, etc.). To keep it simple, the author provides the ABCDs of leading with trust:
- A is for Able – you have to be competent at doing your role
- B is for Believable – you have to tell the truth
- C is for Connected – showing care and concern for your followers
- D is for Dependable – you have to keep your promises
For me, being connected is more of an “S” for soft skills, but then that would make the article the “ABDS of leading with trust”, and that would be confusing… Also, I consider Dependable as a subset of Believable – people won’t believe what you say if you don’t follow through on your commitments.
“Judge returns Butt to leadership of cab union” by Steve Arnold at Hamilton Spectator
The article focuses on the legal reinstatement of labour leader Ejaz Butt as the president of the Ontario Taxi Workers Union; the reinstatement is due to the union’s board of directors not following the proper rules in dismissing their president. I debated whether I was going to include this article since there aren’t any leadership lessons. I kept coming back to the article, though, since it focuses on someone who has been reinstated to a leadership position via legal means, and not through the desire of his followers. Although he may be a leader by title, in this situation it would seem to be a very shallow definition of the word. The feeling of the board appears to be clear – it would be interesting to see what a full vote from the union’s membership would bring.
The original article has been deleted.
“Five key leadership traits for 2014” by Joe Natale at The Globe & Mail
The author is the Executive Vice-President and Chief Commercial Officer at Telus – he wrote this article as part of the Globe and Mail’s new Leadership Lab series. He presents five areas where leaders need to excel:
- The ability to zoom (being able to quickly go from the big picture, down to the details, and then back up to the big picture again)
- The ability to lead in a complex environment (ideas, challenges and opportunities come from all aspects of the business)
- An exceptional ability to communicate (it lets people know what is important, and it can be a powerful motivational tool)
- The ability to learn and to teach (there must be a thirst for constant knowledge, but there must also be a desire to impart that knowledge)
- Be authentic (we’ve seen this before – people can easily spot and disregard a phoney. If you lie about yourself, what else will you lie about?)
“Adaptive leadership: can the one-trick CEO be retrained?” by the Australian School of Business at Leading Company
The main theme of the article is that no one leadership style can solve all issues – CEOs (and others in leadership positions) must be able to adapt their leadership style to the given situation. Most people tend to prefer using one style, but it is the leader that is able to adapt that is the leader that is most likely to prevail. The article also speaks to the need for leaders to create a culture that encourages “fearless feedback” – there’s no room for yes-men and yes-women.
Where the article really gains value is that page 2 has a section entitled “Throwing the switch” – this provides some steps and tools on changing a leadership style. My favourite quote is:
“The first step is to identify what needs to be learned. The more senior the individual is, the more qualitative and extensive the discovery phase will need to be, starting with a review of the skills and experience they have and the personal and business decisions they’ve made, followed by qualitative 360-degree conversations with a wide range of people who can share real insight into the leader.”
You’ll have to read the full article for some other thoughts on changing your leadership style.
(Original article has been deleted)
“Why taking a leadership role is beneficial” by Keely Grossman at Brock Press
This article is about the beneficial leadership experiences of a first-year student at Brock University (St. Catherines, ON), including her participation in a recent leadership summit. What I like about the article is that it sounds like she is starting to really understand what it is to be a leader and that she is taking active steps to both develop her skills and to make the world a better place – well done!
“Leadership needs a human touch” by Anita Bandyopadhyay at Business Standard
I always appreciate people writing articles on the subject of leadership – it is a topic that interests me very much. Unfortunately, this is an article that misuses leadership in the title. For me, this article is about management, metrics, and processes. Perhaps what I found to be most interesting was not the article itself, but rather the two comments on the article. The first comment by Hans Dholakia is largely supportive of the article – the first line reads “This is a very mature and insightful article.” The second comment by Ben Simonton is just the opposite, “Anita, you tell us that Leadership needs a human touch and then talk about setting up inter-functional processes. Is that really a human touch?” Personally, I am more closely aligned with Ben Simonton’s views – if you provide your vision and give people the tools and authority necessary to implement the vision, then you are far more likely to get the effort and results that you desire – people may even exceed your expectations!
Articles are good to read on their own, but where I find the greatest value is in the discussions surrounding an article. If you have a view to provide, whether on VOCL or any other topic, please do so – you are doing everyone a favour.
“The Leaders and the Left Out” by Rob Walker at the New York Times
In this write-in question to the New York Times, it would seem that an organization has overused the word “leader”. The issue raised by an anonymous person in a “Dear Abby:” format is that 35 people of an 80-person organization (44%) are on the company’s Leadership Council – this leaves the remaining 45 people feeling left out. Particularly humorous (although not for the person concerned) is that in the person’s department of 13 people there are “…one senior vice president, two senior directors, one director, one senior manager, four managers…and the rest of us.” For those of you doing the math, that’s nine people in management overseeing four “workers” – it conjures up the oft-used image of the stereotypical roadside construction crew. The workers are either incredibly well-led or, more likely, titles have simply become over-inflated over time.
Personally, I think this council is rather too large – I don’t know the company, but I’m certain that it could be pared down to less than 10. More importantly, however, is that I think the company may not be aware of the culture that it has created – at the nearly 50% mark, this situation seems to be a tug-of-war, with the potential to create a huge divide if it has not already done so.
“The Critical Role of Leadership in Driving Social Innovation” by Katherine Pickus at Forbes
Leadership is a key component of innovation, and innovation can be seen in many ways. This article focuses on corporate leadership in progressing social innovation. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement – the “cause” gets focused attention from capable people; the leaders and their companies get an opportunity to try out innovative processes (and get the satisfaction knowing that they have made the world a better place).
My favourite quote from the article:
“Today, leaders are increasingly realizing that the best way to drive social change is by moving beyond solely grantmaking and community volunteering to apply the power of their core business through collaboration. This includes shared value programs, which deliver benefits for both society and business, and catalytic philanthropic initiatives that are aligned with a company’s operations.”
“The High Price of Aloof Leadership” by Jack Zenger at Forbes
A quick article warning on the perils of keeping yourself at arms-length from your followers. Interestingly, the first example he gives of being aloof is that of the military. Although being aloof may be true in some branches in some militaries, it does not apply to all. My service in submarines (both Canada and Australia) would give many examples where the author’s statement is false. Yes, you can have friendly relationships AND still be the leader – in my experience, the hierarchy is still there, but there is much more camaraderie than imagined.
Having said that, I highly agree with the overall concept of the article. Some of the greatest success that the team and I have seen is when I’ve empowered the team by switching to a collegial approach –the team still knew who the leader was, and they did not cross an imaginary “barrier”. Finally, I must agree with the author on the segment on the creation of the presentation – I too have been part of a group generating many revisions in terms of getting the strategic messaging just right. In the end, the value of the end product must ultimately exceed the value of the time and effort placed into the product (in this case, the presentation) – if not, ask why.
“Global Leadership Challenges” by John R Ryan at Business Standard
The author is the President & CEO of the Center for Creative Leadership – his company did a survey of 763 leaders in seven countries (unfortunately, Canada was not one of them). He identified six leadership challenges:
- Developing managerial effectiveness
- Inspiring others
- Developing employees
- Leading a team
- Guiding Change
- Managing internal stakeholders and politics
Maybe it’s the “numbers guy” in me, but I find it surprising that how they came up with the chart figures is not well explained in the article. If you sum up the numbers, you go from 100% in India to 123.6% in the UK, so that can’t be it. Therefore, it seems like the respondents were given several options to choose from, and they could pick one or more “pain points”. Perhaps this is nitpicking, but I can’t help but wonder at how the survey was designed – did it arbitrarily force people down certain paths? In any case, the numbers in the table are interesting and are worth a look.
We need to develop leaders that can deal with diverse situations, especially those leading global distributed teams where the challenges are different.
“True leaders, like Mandela, change minds” by Julian Barling at Ottawa Citizen
An article composed in the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s funeral – he was an inspiring man who provided numerous leadership lessons on a global scale. Perhaps one of the reasons that he is seen as such an incredible leader is that he did not merely seek to boost his own supporters; he actively sought to tear down the walls that divide people and groups. From his experiences as a prisoner to those as a president, he was remarkably consistent (and hence reliable) at reaching out to others who had different views. Mandela had many reasons to be bitter, but his leadership, personality, and mastery of symbolism lifted his actions onto a much higher plain that transcended all walls and boundaries.
There are numerous articles about Nelson Mandela – what I really liked about this one is that it provides an achievable end-state for Canadian politicians. If Mandela was able to rise from the depths of bitter oppression and apartheid and embrace his former jailers, surely Canadian politicians can overcome their seemingly “childish” actions and work together to make Canada a better place – it’s all about respect. My favourite quote from the article comes near the end:
“…political divisions are solved neither by shouting ever-louder, nor by avoiding the other. Great leaders don’t demonize others and maximize divisions; they do what they can to create unity among all in the pursuit of their most cherished beliefs, knowing that this shows real strength, not weakness.”
(Original article has been deleted)
VOCL Closing Thoughts / Future Episodes / Call to Action
- I was in Haiti four years ago today, having arrived for a then-six month stint as the Chief Military Planner on 29 July 2009. The first five months were productive and interesting, but it’s the aftermath of the 12 January 2010 earthquake that has made it, without contest, the most rewarding period in my life. I have never worked and thought as hard, nor has the time gone by as quickly, as during those 3.5 months that followed the earthquake (due to my position I was extended in Haiti for an additional three months).
- There are a few interesting articles that I can recall regarding the earthquake and the aftermath. One is called “Canadian survivors relive their fateful flight to Haiti” by Sandro Contenta at the Toronto Star on 12 February 2010 (http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2010/02/12/canadian_survivors_relive_their_fateful_flight_to_haiti.html). It follows the tale of approximately 50 people on that flight, and the little choices that they made that resulted in their death from or surviving the earthquake. The second was my interview with Marty Klinkenberg of the Telegraph Journal (article titled: “Earthquake: Navy lieutenant commander saved from collapse on UN HQ by baggage mix-up”) regarding my experiences in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. The second article is no longer available online, but you can always send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will send you a copy.
- I have a new podcast that I am doing with Margaret, my wife – it’s called Noshing Nova Scotians, and can be found at noshingnovascotians.com (note: has been deleted since original publishing). We like trying out different restaurants. We love to support local businesses, so we tell our friends about our good (and bad) experiences. I have a lot of recording gear now to support the VOCL podcast. We are looking for more things to do together as a family. The Noshing Nova Scotians podcast is a great way of fusing all these various interests.
Takeaways and introspection
- You’ll notice that several articles have either specifically focused on or peripherally mention “problem-solving” as a form or subset of leadership. What strategies do you undertake in solving problems? Do you involve the team, or do you do this yourself? What communication strategies do you use in dealing with problems?
- A few articles seem to contradict themselves. There are articles that say that you have to be truthful and that you have to be yourself. Other articles have focused on how leaders need to adapt. If you are adapting, are you breaking away from your core beliefs (and thus lying to yourself and by extension to others), or are you simply growing into a better you?
- Finally, we talked about Nelson Mandela. He was a great man, but he is not the first nor will he be the last great man or woman. Who are the people that you look up to? Why is that? Are the traits that this person possesses something that you can personally incorporate?