Welcome to the Innovative Leadership Newsletter brought to you by the Innovative Leadership Institute, where we strive to bring you thought leaders and innovative ideas on leadership topics each week.
This week’s article is written by Gary A. Bolles, author of “The Next Rules of Work: The mindset, skillset, and toolset to lead your organization through uncertainty.” It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Embrace Your New Mindset that aires on May 31st, 2022.
The 2-minute video below gives a brief example of Gary’s conversation.
Quick: How many essential skills are there for leadership?
We should have two takeaways from these conflicting messages. The first is that leading people is hard. The second is that “leadership” has lost much of its meaning.
Leading is hard because as a species we are complicated, often differ dramatically from each other, and we frequently do things against our own best interests. And because the world around us is constantly changing (sometimes exponentially), and the problems it throws at us are often complex (sometimes wicked), our ability to solve problems one day can be deeply challenged the next.
“Leadership” has lost much of its meaning because it is highly variable (two “leaders” can have widely different qualities), deeply subjective (my leader isn’t your leader), and annoyingly elusive, as evidenced by the endless flow of books on the topic. Although like Justice Potter Stewart we know leadership when we see it, we have a hard time agreeing on what it truly is, and whether a particular person has the leadership qualities that each of us individually prizes.
However, Leading is something anyone can do.
Part of the problem with Leadership as a noun is that it immediately invites definition. It tends to solidify into binary analysis: Is this person a leader, or aren’t they?
But Leading, as a verb, is a set of behaviors. It’s highly situational. And it’s unquestionably teachable.
Leadership often devolves to problem-solving. A group of people is in a room, and they have a problem. The problem has been sitting around for a long time, and someone needs to make a decision. So the Leader steps in and solves the problem, and everyone can move on.
But is that the way it should be? Should the person with the highest title in the room be the one who always solves the problem?
The default state of Leading is encouraging others to solve problems themselves. It’s not about shirking responsibility, nor about doing the least work possible. It’s about a mindset that says the best problems are those you don’t ever see.
Novartis, the 100,000-worker pharmaceuticals company, calls this process “unbossing.” The norm for the organization is to have teams walk into a conference room or hop on a Zoom call, and for the person with the highest title in the room to ask, “How can we unboss this meeting?” That is, How can the person who is best equipped take the lead to solve this problem?
Or look at Buurtzorg, the Netherlands-based 10,000-worker distributed healthcare organization. There are no middle managers, and the central team of just 50 people performs mostly administrative work. Community-based teams run their own local market and rely on the central organization only when needed.
Leading in its most basic form is a mindset, empowering each individual to continuously function as a problem-solver. That requires a significantly different role for those with the most responsibility in an organization, who might have formerly thought of themselves as The Leadership Team.
So what is that next role? The Team Guide.
In her book “Moonshots in Education,” author Esther Wojcicki says that the old role of the teacher — “the sage on the stage,” the one with all the right answers — must be transformed into “the guide on the side,” the one with all the best questions. The same is true for Leaders, who need to become Team Guides, asking questions so that others are empowered to learn how to solve problems.
There is no static skillset for Leading. Core behaviors of Leading include sensemaking, communicating, and showing courage. Leading also requires demonstrating humility, the ability to accept that you don’t have all the answers, and exhibiting transparency, the ability to admit that you don’t have all the answers. These are not weaknesses. They are strengths, skills that require a deep knowledge of what makes you tick, and a strong commitment to modeling the kinds of behaviors you want to see in others, even at the risk of having others temporarily believe that you are uncertain or indecisive.
Finally, leading requires new metrics of effectiveness, different ways of thinking about how we accomplish our goals. Rather than judging your own achievements by how many times you made a tough decision, inventory your accomplishments by how many others solved a problem that you didn’t have to, and by how many times a problem was effectively solved that never reached your desk.
So, whether you think there are one or 25 skills for Leadership, and whether you believe that Leaders are born or can eventually be made, we should all be able to agree that Leading can be done by anyone. We all just need to embrace that next mindset.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Gary A. Bolles is the author of “The Next Rules of Work: The mindset, skillset, and toolset to lead your organization through uncertainty.” He has nine popular courses on LinkedIn Learning with over 1 million learners, including “Leading Change” and “Strategic Agility.”
Ready to measure your leadership skills? Here is a free assessment provided by the Innovative Leadership Institute that will measure the 7 leadership skills required to succeed during disruption and innovation. Click HERE
If you completed the Leadership Mindset Assessment and want to explore additional resources to develop your leadership, we recommend you:
- Read the Forbes article Are You A Future-Ready Leader – free
- Purchase the short video course, Leading during Disruption, for $29
- Purchase a comprehensive online course ILI Leadership Mindset Program for $174.99
- Purchase a comprehensive leadership development program – see options in the Innovative Leadership Course Library
Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, iHeartRADIO, and NPR One. Also, stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.