Leadership: It’s All In Your Head

We call it vision when it works. But what possessed the leadership of Volkswagen to systematically falsify emissions reports? What drives a magnate with unruly hair (so much so that it has its own meme) to toss his pompadour in the ring and make a loud bid for the presidency? Why would the CEO of a BigPharma company think a five thousand percent price hike on a medication was justifiable? Is it really the same impulse that prompts a smiling, trailer-dwelling CEO to transform his online retail site into a model of the workplace 3.0? I’m of course referring to Tony Hsieh’s holacracy in the place of hierarchy strategem: Think Different circa pretty much now.

What drove Hsieh, as the press gushed (drinking the punch), was a fear of being bored. To me his biggest legacy is not everyone getting to feel the veneer of equal, but that a mindset does indeed drive leadership. But also: the perception of what is good leadership and bad leadership is inevitably measured by results. If the results are devastating, that same sense of derring-do becomes a characteristic of the damned. Volkswagen’s CEO is out and there are more than 600,000 employees whose level of engagement has just plunged to zero.

What drives leadership is neuroscience; wiring. That’s what drives leaders to be an inspiration to the rest of us or an utter head shaker, or both. It’s their own psychology that brings down a company (and loses it $7.3 billion and a widening, enormous share of the global market) or changes the political game, to the benefit of a nation or not. But there are still two key traits of leadership that will make a workplace instead of breaking it, and we still need to hew to them:

Transparency. Among the forces that cause insomnia in leaders is rigidity. There are leaders who are, simply, too proud to be responsive or adaptive. They refuse to change for the sake of the workplace or the mission; hewing to a dysfunctional model because it is the status quo but also their very survival is entrenched in it. Our brains have built in ways of fighting change, one reason “think different” still seems so radical a concept. But this kind of gravity is the enemy of transparency, without which disasters happen: as well as being unable to adapt to change, they are unable to respond to problems in an innovative way. It’s not innovative to lie. It’s not visionary to be obnoxious, unless it part of a very long, very annoying corporate con. 

Emotional intelligence. Buzzword it may be, but another key marker of dysfunctional leadership is crowded out vision entirely. There are leaders too busy to win: those too trapped in the forest to see the trees; overwhelmed, constantly connected, unable to turn off and therefore preventing themselves from being able to work at peak performance or productivity — or inspire the engagement and confidence of their workforce. The whole “I live in a trailer, and it’s really cool” ethos that Hsieh transmitted had an underlying message: being too busy to live is being too busy to lead.

I’ve seen organizations dovetail their internal culture and functionality beautifully only to have a leader quash the effort: there are countless surveys advocating the adoption of tech, for instance, and lamenting the gap between recommendation and implementation. We also know leaders with such a precise and confidence instinct for the next zeitgeist that they simply leapfrog over recalcitrant boards or management strata — and that can work as well.

Now, though, perhaps more than any time before, there are global consequences to faulty leadership — just as profound, if not more, as to good leadership. And if we’re touting talent; the human factor; as the new currency in the world of work, let’s take a page form our own playbook. Opaque leadership is a paradox and a contradiction: Volkswagen’s leader made a travesty of the value of transparency, and probably ruined a legacy brand. So if the new world of work is still based on the same classic, sacred geometry: leaders, and followers, perhaps its time to delve into leadership analytics as well as talent analytics, and make sure we’re all aligned. We can’t change our brains, but we can certainly manage the consequences better.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

Photo Credit: communicationspcor Flickr via Compfight cc

The Importance of Leadership in the Workplace

Higher education, known as continued education in the US and further education (FE) in the UK, is greatly in need of leaders. College, like any businesses, needs driven individuals to help it succeed. Yet, many don’t really appreciate the importance of leadership in the workplace, in roles in further education, or how important finding these staff members is for the all businesses in every industry.

Here, we look at how the FE sector in the UK is finding the best leaders, what the benefits are for them and how leadership can change a business.

Leadership needs industry experts to fill valuable roles

While leaders form an integral, internal role. That doesn’t mean they should always be found and fostered from within your current staff. Leadership roles are abundant in many colleges in both the UK and US and so roles are ripe for the taking. But if they are so abundant, why aren’t they being filled? Well, in many instances, it’s because potential hires don’t realize how suitable they can be for these roles. Many follow a linear career path, coming in as juniors, working up to management and then either moving into ownership or the same role in another business.

Outside experience leads to new perspectives and ideas

Leaders in colleges form part of the integral growth of the college. Modern models for college success are increasingly based on distributed leadership. Hence, leadership roles are prevalent at every level and every department.

Distributed leadership requires informed, motivated and dedicated individuals to drive progress, new systems and offer innovative ideas in each of their specialist areas. Together they can transform schools into even great places of learning for college students.

This is the same for any business. Leaders create new opportunities by thinking outside the box. With internal training, especially of those staff who have stayed within the same company for many years, they will have been ingrained to think a certain way, making it more difficult to innovate.

Colleges look for leaders who have real world experience, for example in mechanics, to advance their engineering departments by laying their real world knowledge over the college structure. These leaders add a new perspective.

So, what would attract someone to a leadership in FE or your business?

Leaders get new challenges and promote business growth

The career pivot, from one industry to another, helps you find the best leaders for leadership roles. This is because those seeking new challenges are best suited for these roles. Leaders are required to innovate and affect change within departments. It’s not just a job, it’s a driving position with a college or company.

The best leaders are the kind of people who want to seek a new challenge and are eager to find solutions, ways to improve already existing frameworks.

This is why FE colleges look for those with plenty of years experience, especially those who are ready for a career pivot.

Along with new challenges, leaders from other industries can affect real change across departments, seeing improvements and growth at their colleges. All this contributes to a positive work environment, which leads to further improvements.

Additionally for many, especially those heading for retirement, not having new ways to use their skills can be a disappointing prospect. Moving into a leadership role, which can be managerial in administration or more directive in certain course subjects, offers a less pressurized environment, but where the new leaders are considered invaluable.

Finding a leader for your businesses is not simply about finding someone to fill a role. The potential of the candidate has to be clear, with their knowledge offering your business or department skills that you don’t have within. Be prepared to let them make significant changes. Leaders, by definition, shouldn’t be happy with your current framework, they should want to make improvements and tweaks, changes that may seem rash, but will benefit your business in the long run.

Photo Credit: isolandic_official Flickr via Compfight cc