Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Leaders lead. They do not follow opinions.

Leading others is indeed a complex task. It’s the supreme discipline one can master. The more people you lead, the more complex the task becomes. There is no ‘one certain way’ of leading one would wish for. Instead, you deal with complexity issues, with uncertainty, with ambiguity, with volatility. In other words you deal with people.
What you are up against:
The assignment you have might already be quite a challenge from a functional point of view. It often is. Yet, that’s the easier part. Leading a group of people you need to achieve the assignment’s goal will take it to quite another, much higher dimension of difficulty.
Who are the people you lead:
Your Team:
You lead your team. The people formerly known as ‘direct reports’. Yet, nowadays these people are much more independent. Independent in their thinking, Independent in how they do what they do. Specialists of their own right. Hopefully, critical thinkers and troublemakers. Those are the ones you want in your team.
Each one of your team is an individual human being. And as such each one perceives the assignment in a different way through different personal filters. Each one has a different background, personally and professionally. Each one has a different story to tell, different experiences made. Women and men think and feel differently. Add to that different cultural backgrounds. That’s what ‘leading one at a time’ is all about.
Your team is your first stop, the core if you so will. The people you trust and who trust you. Openness, directness is of the essence. And that requires mutual trust. Yet, avoid fraternizing and always keep a proper, neutral distance.
Your ‘Extended Team’:
Those are the people you need within your organization to get the job done. Often other leaders at different levels within the organization. You must earn their trust and their support. They might or might not follow your lead. It depends on your ability to lead. Depends whether you have what it takes, mainly character. Skills alone won’t suffice.
The ‘extended team’ varies depending on the assignment. Yet, exceptional leaders always have a support group within the organization. A support group that is also built upon mutual trust. Mind you, these people do not take orders. You are not their ‘boss’. But lead you must!
The Stakeholders:
On top of that, especially when it comes to larger scale projects, you have to lead a lot of stakeholders. People not belonging to your organization. People in local governments for instance. Or people of other organizations whose interests might be directly or indirectly affected. Or different interest groups and so called ‘activists’.
Leading stakeholders is a formidable challenge to any leader. Often, they don’t give a damn about what you want. Even if this might be for the general benefit of the population. You gotta understand power and how it’s used. And power you need to create the influence to make them want to listening to you. Aligning stakeholders behind one common goal is usually beyond just difficult. It’s the mastery of leadership.
Here’s an example:
Take, for instance, the European Union. A Union of 28 sovereign countries. As diverse as diversity can get. They all want the benefits of the Union. Yet, they neither want to give up their very own interests, nor give up power.  And it’s not the countries, it’s the people. It starts with the leaders of the countries. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The people of their governments. Their parliaments. The lobby groups of their particular industries and other organizations. Just imagine it would be your leadership task to align all those behind one common goal. And you thought your job is difficult. Think again.
The Leading:
Leading is not a democratic exercise. Yet, you must carefully listen to what people have to say. You need as much data / facts as you can get. Only then you can figure out together with your team what your options are.
Leading is always future-driven. You lead towards something that lies beyond the present, lies beyond the experience of the past. That’s the crux with the future: no one can know what it might have in store. And for many people that’s a frightening perspective. It always comes down to you as leader to make the decisions. Deciding which option to take. And trust me, the moment it becomes difficult no one wants to lead. They will all look for you.
You will not know for certain whether the option you decide will be any good, will deliver the desired result. Neither does anyone else. Hence, you run a risk. Trusting your critical thinking, and sometimes trusting your gut feeling, is the foundation you build upon.
Listening to all the naysayers won’t get you anywhere. There are always more than enough sheep, sheeple I should say, who want you to stay in the mainstream. Want to keep you at the status quo. That’s where they feel safe. They always follow the herd. And change their minds accordingly. Critical thinking, thinking for oneself, is a foreign concept for them.
Leading comes always down to decision making. Often, that is a lonely place to be. And everyone will be watching you. A leader cannot afford to worry about what others might think or not. Ignore them. Don’t base your leading on following opinions. You don’t need confirmation from anyone. Sheeple base their opinions on the opinions of other sheeples and adjust accordingly. They only know what everyone else thinks is right. And that might be hard to accept for many. Well, tough it out.
Coda:
It would be great to find that one wise person who could tell you exactly how to lead. Unfortunately, that wise person doesn’t exist. Hence, I learned during my life to trust myself. Going where no one else has gone before is next to impossible with advice from others. Trust me, during all these years I have gotten my share of crap and criticism from others.
Leading is an art, not so much a science. Leaders are more like artists, inventors, open to new things. Often warriors. Leaders are taking risks most others refuse to even consider. Leaders have character and a strong backbone. They stay in their own power. They ignore the mainstream. They have to in order to get things done.
Leaders lead. They don’t follow opinions.

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