Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When Leadership Fails

The current disarray in the Liberal Party of Australia illustrates the problems that occur when a leader fails to fulfil one of his or her most critical functions.

In my mentoring of leaders I stress a lesson learned by me many years ago: unless a leader develops at least 2 (and preferably 3) people who are able to step in when the leadership becomes vacant for any reason, that leader has failed. The true measure of whether or not a leader is successful depends on what happens to the organisation after he or she is promoted or moves on. If the unit or organisation degenerates into chaos then, no matter what happened during his or her incumbency, the leader has failed.

Over the years I have seen this scenario reenacted time and again. Think of the businesses that grew and returned good dividends and stock prices under one CEO, only to be broken up within a short time of a "strong leader" leaving - for those of us old enough to remember, IT&T under Harold Geneen is but one example. Of course political examples when a party leader retires or is "retired" are even more frequent.

One of the problems we face today is that, all too often, success is measured by the wrong things. If a person is perceived to have fame, power and/or wealth then they are portrayed as being "success stories". The cult of personality or power takes precedence over long term effective and successful leadership. This is readily seen by a simple examination of people to whom the media afford high visibility - many of them have done little or nothing for the betterment of any organisation let alone of our world. Such a scenario encourages "leaders" to be ego driven and to place more emphasis on "how" they are perceived rather than that for "what" they have done to grow their organisations or to improve things around them. The result can be an emphasis on style rather than on substance - we get "show ponies" rather "race winners".

As a mentor, I challenge the people with whom I work to answer the following questions:
  • What is your vision - in other words, what is the ideal state for your organisation in, say 10 years?
  • What are your compass bearings - in other words, what are the very specific strategies and objectives you have set for the next 2, 5, and 7 years?
  • What are the current capabilities of your organisation?
  • What are the capabilities needed in your organisation for your dream to be realised?
  • What do you need to do in order for these additional capabilities to exist?
  • Who are the people you are developing in your organisation so that these capabilities can be optimised?
  • How effectively are you communicating all the above to those involved?

You might like to answer these for yourself. They are keys to creating an environment in which people are set up for success.

More information about Doug Long and how I may be able to help you at http://www.dglong.com

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