When we think of great leadership, we tend to think of qualities such as compassion, flexibility, understanding, honesty, trustworthiness, fairness, respect, integrity, trust in others, strength, and so the list goes on. But is great leadership really about possessing all of these qualities? Can one person be all of the above? What makes an extraordinary leader?
If leadership is defined as the creation of change, then a leader is someone who is working to move on from the status quo; someone who is working to “create a new future”. How would an extraordinary leader create a new future?
The book The Three Laws of Performance : Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan talks about how situations occur differently to different people. That is, how a situation occurs to one team member may be different to how it occurs to another team member, which may be different again to how that same situation occurs to a senior leader in an organisation. The first law that Zaffron and Logan refer to states that “How people perform correlates to how the situation occurs to them”. So, changing how the situation occurs to people will change their performance and changing their performance would then have an impact on the future that the leader is trying to achieve.
Assume that an organisation is going down the path of losing a key client. Teams aren’t delivering what the client expects them to deliver, and processes that the organisation is contractually obliged to follow aren’t being followed. To a team in the organisation, this may be occurring as though the senior leadership team is not prepared to support their teams by fixing broken processes. To a senior leader in the organisation, this may be occurring as though the team is recalcitrant because they were failing to follow processes that, to them, are in place and working well. The senior leadership team may want to change the future so that they don’t lose client. Based on the way the situation is occurring to them, they may order the team to start following process and threaten repercussions if they don’t. After all, from their perspective, the team is being recalcitrant.
In this situation, the way in which the situation is occurring to the team would be reinforced, providing the team with more “evidence” that the senior leadership team is not supporting them in fixing process. The best that could be expected would be that the team would continue to perform as they were previously. The organisation would still be on the path to losing the client.
What would have happened if the senior leadership team had tried to understand how the situation was occurring to those involved, and then worked to show the team that they were willing to address the process issues? Would this have changed the way in which the situation was occurring to the team? It most likely would have, and, with the situation occurring differently to the team, everyone would have been better placed to work together on effecting the change – ie maintaining the client.
Understanding that situations occur differently to individuals requires awareness. If a leader has no awareness of how a situation is occurring to the people around them, and no awareness of the impact that their behaviours are having on those people’s interpretation of the situation, how can they confidently and competently move towards changing the default future? The above example suggests that they can’t.
What about all of the other qualities that we normally attribute to great leadership; the qualities that were mentioned at the beginning of this post? Although each of these qualities is important, they would not have been enough without awareness. Having a level of awareness that is sufficient enough to call upon these qualities as required would be more effective. Additionally, a leader who is aware enough of their own limitations would also know when they have to call upon these qualities from other resources. For example, the leader may not need to have a strength in compassion; knowing that compassion is required in a situation and knowing where to call upon in order to be in a position to apply compassion may be enough.
Extraordinary leadership, I believe, is about extraordinary awareness.
What are your thoughts on extraordinary leadership? Have you ever had an extraordinary leader?