Monday, November 16, 2009

Responsible leadership

Recently one of my golfing partners queried whether leadership being the process of creating an environment in which everyone can be successful meant that a leader should be "all things to all people" - in other words should a leader seek to be liked rather than to achieve results.

God forbid!

Over this past weekend, the Premier of New South Wales (Australia) made some changes to his Cabinet. This was not an automatic process - in order to do this he needed to first obtain authority from the NSW Labor Party Conference as, up till then, most of the real control was exercised by various party lobby/influence groups.

I am not commenting on the political rights and wrongs of any process of any party and neither am I seeking to make any political statement. However this action illustrates a key aspect of "leadership creates an environment in which everyone can be successful". Prior to this, no matter what the Premier may have wanted to do in order to maximise the probability of success, his hands were tied by a culture that needed change. Almost immediately after the Conference had agreed to the change in practice, he sought and obtained the resignations of at least two Ministers.

While it is true that a leader must work with the people who are in his or her organisation, the leader (and the leadership overall) have a prime responsibility to achieve desired results. In so doing they will have best chance of success if they can harness the energies of every person and have them all working together towards a common goal in which they all have a vested interest. However achieving desired results can require some very tough decisions up to and inclusive of the need sometimes to remove people who are perceived to be persistent non-performers or disruptive influences from either their role or from the organisation. A leader must not avoid such issues because failure to address them will have a debilitating impact on everyone else in the organisation as well as impacting on how the organisation is perceived to its customers/clients and other stakeholders.

The critical thing for a leader is not whether or not such speople should be moved or be dismissed: it is why it is done and how it is done. The implementation of such actions by pretext and/or "constructive dismissal" to justify one's own prejudices or discomfort at being held accountable or being challenged by alternative opinions is never warranted.

There are organisations whose current CEOs have career backgrounds that include working for someone who would not tolerate dissent or discussion that challenged his opinions - he was the "my mind's made up: don't confuse me with the facts" sort of person. These CEOs have been strongly influenced by this experience and they seem to operate in the same way. My observation is that such organisations experience high staff turnover (especially at senior levels) and the general feeling of people is that their CEO is manipulative and ineffective. There is a strong feeling that they mistake bullying and power for leadership.

Mentoring and coaching can help leaders become more effective and can facilitate their growth to effective people who genuinely create environments in which success is normal rather than being a random variable.

Fortunately here are a number of very good mentors and coaches available from a wide variety of sources. All you have to do is to contact them for an initial discussion.

More information about Douglas G Long at

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