A Tour of Leadership

On the whole, I’d rather be the boss than the bossed, the leader rather than the led. But being in charge is not bed of roses, and only those who’ve been there know that leadership can be slightly overrated. As one company president said to me, “Whoever has had the notion that leaders can easily effect change through blowing the bugle of mission and vision, hasn’t been forced to sit in deadly silent conference room at 7.30am on Monday morning listening to executives serially fumble their presentations.”
I recognised what he was talking about. We’ve all been there, to that special place reserved for CEOs. There you are, chained to rock, watched by apathetic employees too uninspired to hand you that glass of ice water perched on the shoreline.
That apathy is why leadership commands such high price in the marketplace. Apathy, myopia, envy, herd mentality – these are the stops on guided tour of Hades CEOs would have to make, among others. Let’s look at these four destinations on our tour.

Circle One: Envy
When you’re in charge, you find out soon enough that surprising number of people who should know better will be prepared to believe you’re living life of reckless irresponsibility. To them you’re Nero, reeling off orders to assistants while juggling your luncheon and evening social plans, and tuning your fiddle.
The funny thing is to watch one of these people when they’re given modicum of authority. Suddenly the air is tense with orders cracking out, fists being pounded on tables, telephone receivers slammed down.
The fact is, you can’t be good leader unless you’ve first been good follower, an enthusiastic team player, and an unselfish employee ready to put what’s best for the company ahead of your own resume.

Circle Two: Myopia
The short-sightedness of the salaried is truth almost too profound to be repeated in polite company, but here it is: people would rather not have to think for themselves. Many can point correctly to goal, but rarely can an employee trace the steps needed to be taken to reach it. As for the will to take those steps, forget it.
Training can always supply the methods, and even the motivation to follow plan in logical order. But usually that’s only after the entire process has been rendered on blueprint by leader. Initiative and imagination are always in short supply. That’s why, in this place on our tour, the leader is stranded behind locked door while squinting, mole-sighted minions search for set of keys that hang from nail in plain sight.

Circle Three: Apathy
Apathy is endemic in organisations. It seems to show up hand in hand with the security that an organisation brings to many people. That’s why many (not all) people, as soon as they become employees, downshift couple of gears to cruise speed. Once they get the job, their productivity dips until the period preceding an evaluation or raise. The unfortunate result for company is that peak performance, as unit, never occurs naturally. When someone is up, someone else is down.
In this destination of our tour, the leader is chained to an oar on slave galley that is headed for waterfall – and all the other slaves are either flailing away or snoozing. As result, the galley is going in circles.

Circle Four: Herd Mentality
Finally, there’s the herd mentality. Despite the inability of people to synchronise their optimal performance levels, they seem to have no problem at all finding their lowest common denominator. That’s why effecting change in company is so often compared with turning an ocean liner around, although in truth ocean liners are infinitely more manoeuvrable than masses of employees. It’s probably more apt to compare employees to herd of ruminants which has to be nudged, nipped, and even shoved in the right direction.
The thing to understand about any herd is that it has centre of gravity, and tipping point. The centre of gravity is fairly far back. That’s why leaders are defined, by critics, as those who are the most successful at positioning themselves in front of existing movements. While this may be true in politics to degree, in business leader has far more responsibility for the herd’s direction. He or she can pick path, nudge the front of the pack into it, and set the rest of the herd in motion.
At some point momentum is achieved, you reach the tipping point, and the movement becomes an unstoppable mass. The problem is that sometimes the lead sheep or cattle swerve unexpectedly off the main path, while the leader’s attention is elsewhere. After you’ve organised everyone and got them on the same track, you’ve pushed and prodded them up to top speed, only to have your executives take their eyes off your trail blazes and go off in the wrong direction at the last second.

Mark McCormack is the founder of International Management Group.www.successsecrets.com

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