The mountain of articles, posts and books written on leadership every year reflects two realities. First, people are very interested in how to be an effective leader. And second, leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The lessons mined from one leader’s experience may not be applicable in a different context. More than offering leadership development, organizations can address this reality by creating a culture of leadership.
Creating a culture of leadership has four primary components: Self-mastery, Action, Relationship and Context.
Self-mastery is the power to control one’s actions, impulses or emotions. Leaders who are focused and motivated tend to achieve their goals, steer their teams, and ultimately their companies, to success. An orchestra conductor is a good example of how the ability to communicate in both verbal and non-verbal ways can transform a performance. Conductor and musicians are able to connect to one another to achieve cohesion. The gestures of the conductor get the best playing out of the musicians. This is very much the essence of leadership. The goal attained is directly related to one’s ability to practice self control and be able to share values with one’s teammates in order to affect sustainable change and success.
Action is essential in leadership. Leaders must walk the talk. No matter the place, within a family or in business. one’s word must reflect in actions or be demonstrated through priorities. Our activities are to be designed to influence and motivate those we lead, otherwise our talk becomes ineffective and will bear no fruit. Great leaders cast a compelling vision for the change they expect to see in the world. They lay out a purpose for the organization and then set the context for the business with a clear and compelling strategy. They help to nurture the individual and institutional belief that anything is possible, and they effectively harness the collective capability and skills of the group to achieve results. Teammates care about leaders’ conduct, their decisions, how they treat those around them, the language they use, especially in bad times, and their credibility during a business transaction and more. Actions show who we are and inspire others to follow.
Relationship is the essential heartbeat of leadership. The level of effort leaders make to connect with people determines the extent of the lasting impact of the organization over time. People are not perfect and the building of relationships can have its challenges. Lead with purpose and others will follow the patterns you have sewn. In our digital environments relationships can be built effectively. And recognizing talents, no matter where they may be geographically within an organization, is now much more possible than it was a few years ago. Take as an example a global company like GE that developed a digital platform called GE Colab designed to facilitate global teamwork and collaboration.
In an interview by MITSloan with Ron Utterbeck, CIO of GE, he explains how GE Colab combines the capabilities of Facebook, Twitter and other social applications, allowing networking, communication, search and video blogs as part of its many functions. Such a platform and concept for collaboration can offer a good opportunity for leadership development or to recognize the leaders within one’s organization.
Context. In the corporate setting it is important to match leadership skills to the right circumstances. A great deal of academic research has shown that leadership is determined by its context. Given the pace of change today, the ability to nurture a leadership culture that is able to adapt to external competitive challenges or the shifts to business models is critically important. As the needs of a business change over time, so do the qualities required for leadership. Some years ago while working in Asia for a global bank we realized that it was best to train local leaders to address our new regional business model. Our strategy proved to be a good one for our customers and product development for that marketplace. One size doesn’t fit all in leadership, there is no silver bullet. Recognizing change and adjusting accordingly requires a high degree of insight and a continuous learning-mindset.
Creating a culture of leaders is a continuous process that requires leaders to move away from the day-to-day routine and become internal change agents not simply role models. To achieve this, a company must develop the necessary roadmap that outlines how it will meet that objective —placing a focus on leadership behavior—and like GE, create the supporting systems that can inspire all employees to think and work in a more engaging way.