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COMMENTS | Blog Digest March 29, 2006

Leadership 101

Author: Douglas K. Smith [www.douglasksmith.com]

Among the principles of Leadership 101 are two critical aspects of effective communication. First, effective communicators tell the truth and listen. Second, in their communications, effective leaders are grounded (listeners have a sense the leader is on solid footing; that his or her messages are deeply rooted in strong beliefs) and clear (listeners can easily make sense of what the leader says — the messages hang together).

These two pairs of Leadership 101 intertwine. Effective leadership means that, in his or her communications, the leader is grounded and clear about the truth — and that the same is on display in how well the leader listens. It is not enough to get these two pairs half right. A leader who is grounded and clear about untruths and doesn't listen, for example, is a leader likely to take an organization over a cliff.

As described in Taking Charge of Change, leaders who face the daunting challenge of leading organizations through a period of profound change must lay out a clear vision for what the change is, why it is important and necessary and how it will be brought about (including the goals by which success is indicated).

Through telling the truth and listenting — and through being grounded and clear in doing both — leaders achieve the understanding and support needed. Those following the leader can articulate the what's, why's and how's of change. They understand and can easily articulate the vision, the strategy and the earmarks or goals that indicate success and drive the enterprise forward.

None of which means there is an absence of disagreement. Quite the contrary. Through being grounded and clear in how well they listen, leaders invite disagreement so they and others can learn from it and adjust. Effective leaders seek commitment to the vision, strategy and goals by all who will hold themselves mutually accountable for delivering the vision, strategy and goals. But, because the world is dynamic and changing, effective leaders do not confuse such commitment with agreement in every particular. Again, quite the reverse.

One way of evaluating the effectiveness of leadership in an organization involves assessing the quality of understanding and commitment of those who are following. Because people are wonderfully differentiated, it's a mistake to expect 100% uniformity when asking those who work in an organization about their understanding and commitment to the vision, strategy and goals of the organization. Still, effective leadership inevitably generates such shared understanding and commitment in at least 70% to 80% of any organization.

So, what should we interpret about the quality of leadership in the following organization facing profound change:

  • 42% of the employees are foggy about the mission and strategy
  • 58% are clear about the mission — but 85% of them attribute the mission to an untruth
  • 72% of employees support terminating the change effort even if the goals have not been achieved
  • 51% (out of these 72%) believe in the rapid termination regardless of goal achievement
  • 37% of employees believe that customers who seek such rapid termination without goal achievement consider those customers as bad people

These 37% were not asked about their moral assessment of the more than half of their fellow employees who agree with those customers.

What can we learn from this survey of employees about the effectiveness of their leaders?

Have their leaders told the truth and listened? Have their leaders been grounded and clear?


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