Lead now or forever hold your peace – Mark Smith

imagesPrisitne leadership provides us with an opportunity to grow our businesses in far better ways through the powerful development of our people, a shift in the way we operate and a surge in the direction of what will sustain us into the future. It will not be a minor task, so what could the strategic inflection point be? A missed opportunity will lead to the same old repetitive processes and command and control mechanisms we have been used to, which in turn will lead to predictable results.  If we stand still we will be overtaken.  That is a given. We want to lead well and that is what drives us to want more, better, different results.  The question is are we going about it in the right way? It is time for a change if we are to stand on the world stage and be counted.

Our very own Springbok Rugby Team and the 2010 World Cup soccer are enough reason for us to gloat, yet the aftermath of the 2007 Rugby victory left a bitter taste. What happened there?  It was bizarre, we all said Jake should have been treated better and yet they, the leaders, were not held accountable. They were not even asked to answer for their actions.  Where does that leave the team?  The ones who carried out the victory were not considered when the decision to remove their leader was made.

I saw the shocked expressions of business owners, friends of mine, as they shook their heads, appalled at the lack of leadership.  What they do not see is that some of their own decisions and strategies have had a similar fall out effect leaving their management team shaking their heads in disbelief.  Of course their focus is their immediate circle of influence.   They do not even see the effects on the coal facing sales staff for example.

I question whether true leadership is being demonstrated as often as it could be, or whether we read the Walsh, Peters and Covey books, talk intelligently at dinner parties about the leadership styles that work then, when back at our corporate or SME desk, slip into our old bad habits.

Habits, which may not be great, but give us the satisfaction that we have shown strength and resolve and at least make us feel like leaders.  Habits like, wresting control halfway through a process when we see a project going off track, or employing a manager rather than seeing the potential we have in situ.

If a process is not working we flog it until it hurts our budgets then we have to answer for that error.  If our sales are not good enough, we employ various training methods to promote a sales star into management, and when that does not work out; he becomes a sales star for the opposition.

I have seen the cycle repeatedly from the outside and yet the leaders in those businesses cannot. Let’s call our style of leadership what it is; control, nothing more.  It certainly does not look like the leadership that we read about.

Why do I say that?  It is a matter of life and death, that is why.  If we do not evolve into the leaders the future demands, we will become extinct. I have come across many examples of truly disastrous decisions and I wonder… Is it due to leadership being the loneliest job you can imagine?

We are often surrounded with advisors yet alone in our challenge to steer the ship and make enough headway to ensure success. My take is that when you are at the top, you seek another peak, or you stagnate. That is the crux it seems, as whenever there is movement there is friction.

The thrill is often tempered during the build up to the next deal, acquisition, promotion or World Cup.  It is during these times that we need to think smart and strategise for the next assault on the summit, all the time making sure our team is there, with strength, resources and resolve.

Can we call ourselves great leaders?  Are we leading the way for future generations?  Are we creating sustainable results?  Are we making this a better place to work and live? Yes, leadership requires many diverse skills and huge character.

I am talking of corporate CEO’s division heads and SME owners.  We know who we are and we profess to want to have the world at our feet, but are we prepared to do what it takes, and at what cost? So what will it take to put true leadership into practice?

According to James Flaherty, author of ‘Coaching: evoking excellence in others’. “…command and control organisations cannot bring about the conditions and competencies necessary to successfully meet the challenges holistically.” In short our lack of willingness to try a new approach or to get advice is costly.

Reaction under stress are costly.  Decision without consultation, is costly. All these are areas which can be minimised and in some cases eradicated, are costly. We constantly look at processes, errors, people and re-engineering.  When are we going to stop and look within?  When are we going to be brave enough to ask ourselves the questions that really matter?

“If we do this, what impact will it have on those who come to work every day looking to us for leadership, looking to us for a sign of greatness?” This is a call to those who are in leadership roles and who are growing into leadership positions:

  • Firstly, to recognise the errors of the past and present.
  • Secondly, to stop and consider what can be done differently.
  • Thirdly, to take the initiative, do something sincere and proactive to change, first looking to yourself before you look to others.

How anyone remains sane with a multi-million Rand budget and so many staff, with all of it resting on one set of shoulders is a mystery. We put ourselves in positions of power and have a team who supports us. That is the problem. They are not an objective group.  They are there to back us.  Their backing in turn will depend on how we have led them.

Do you ever get an answer you want, and know that you would much rather have been challenged or made to think? It is a frequent occurrence that we find ourselves in the middle of a project and something blindsides our plan and derails our budget.

So not everything is within our control and yet in many cases we can impact the outcome of our decisions and choices, by engaging a professional with a truly objective point of view. Do you ever feel that you would like a sounding board who has no political or power based agenda?

Many of the Fortune 500 CEOs have this resource, a trusted individual they can work with. They employ someone who adds value by being truly neutral and having a definite purpose, to challenge thinking, to question them to the point of clarity and to inspire greatness and that form the clarity of distance.   A coach is able to help you see your blindspots and reflect them back to you in order for you to gain traction where otherwise you would not. Have you have considered this option?  Is your trusted confidant truly objective?

If you take on a coach, your thinking will be clearer, your planning will be better and your actions more focused.  The coaching profession is relatively new and there are some who call themselves coaches who are really mentors.  However, you can check credentials and the philosophy of the individual as well as who they are accredited through.

It is a brave move, for a good coach will challenge you to be a better leader and achieving greater heights.  It may not be comfortable, though the benefits will outweigh the difficulty sometimes faced when we take a look at who and what we are truly being.

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