Building leaders

The Macquarie Pocket Dictionary (4th Edn) identifies a leader as “someone or something that leads”. And the Macquarie Pocket Dictionary (4th Edition) has many different forms associated with the word lead, but the main feeling of the word is associated with guidance and showing the way.

Throughout history there have been many different forms of leadership ranging from weak to strong, ruthless to sympathetic, dictatorial to consultative, loved to hated, etc.

So a leader provides guidance to followers, but what makes an effective leader. Not necessarily what makes a good or a bad, a right or a wrong leader, but an effective leader. I believe  that:

  • Leadership is the provision of guidance to followers to enable those followers to generate sufficient organisational elements (structure, processes, and culture) to enable the development of an organisation to continue to require leadership input from a leader.
  • Effective leadership is the provision of guidance to followers to enable those followers to generate effective organisational elements (structure, processes, and culture) to enable followers to function as effective leaders to make decisions based around the organisational elements. An effective leader will facilitate continuous improvement measures to provide  the organisation with the greatest probability of achieving the necessary measure of success for the organisation over its identified life.

Basically a leader relies on themselves to build the organisational elements, while an effective leader looks to build others to handle decision making within the organisation (they can delegate decision making).


Leaders leading Subordinates

The ability to delegate within the workplace is not necessarily an easy skill to master. Sure there are your dump-and-run leaders who easily delegate all responsibility onto a subordinate, but often the subordinates are unprepared for the requirements placed onto them and their can be significant delays, resentment, inaccuracies, etc. Generally this wont lead to good outcomes and over the longer term is more likely to lead to disasters for the leader. I have even seen seagull leaders, who fly in, eat up all the praise, crap all over everything, and then fly off to leave a mess for others to clean up. There are better ways to delegate.

The better way to delegate is for leaders to have an sound understanding of all of the tasks that are related to their area of work. This high level of understanding us unlikely to happen overnight, but will take time to build. A leader who focuses on continuously identify their own personal areas of weakness in skills, knowledge and experience, and then focusing on ways to get their subordinates to help constructively build up those weak areas into a stronger understanding, are likely to achieve better workplace outcomes.

  • by having the necessary structure to compliment the leadership type you are more likely to get better outcomes. For example, an inclusive and consultative leader is more likely to want to involve as many subordinates as possible in the challenges of leading. So their leadership structure is probably more likely to be flatter. In theory this sounds great, but the practicality of having too flat a structure mean that engaging with people will take a longer percentage of the leaders time than if the structure was more pyramid in shape. The problem with a pyramid shaped organisation is that those furthest away from the leader often don’t feel significant real connection to the leader. So the structure needs to offset efficiency of the leaders time in engaging subordinates against the effectiveness of getting backing of the leader to achieve the leaders desired outcomes.
  • having the necessary processes in place to enable effective leadership of the organisation is very important. Processes are born, grow and some disappear over time. Processes are part of the way you reinforce the way that “everybody rows in one direction”. They provide certainty and allow an organisation to capture knowledge. There are two important factors to consider associated with processes. Firstly how effective the processes are in minimising waste and maximising performance of the organisation, and second how well the people are able to cope with utilising those processes to achieve minimum waste, and maximise performance. The second point may sound similar to the first, however the second focuses on the human factors side of using the processes. You could have the most efficient optimised processes, but if no one knows they exist, has difficult understanding them, cant find them easily, etc. Then your processes are likely to be letting your organisation down.
  • by having the necessary culture to engage with subordinates in a positive way, a leader is more likely bring about a culture of inclusion and discussion making. A positive culture is likely to lead to positive benefit like innovation and subordinate loyalty. This will likely lead to achieving a higher level of productivity than if there was a culture of separation and restricted discussion.

engage with their subordinates to ensure that they have a comprehensive understanding of the leaders and the subordinates requirements and have the commitment to achieve a good outcome from the work proposed using the necessary organisational elements (structure, processes, and culture) or the ability to adjust those elements to achieve the desired outcomes. A focus on reviewing the work produced at the end of the process and looking at practical ways to improve the outcome the next time the work is performed is a must.

The way to build effective design leaders is to focus on the way in which these up and coming leaders delegate tasks to their subordinates and to ensure they have measures in place that allow these growing leaders to implement the organisational elements necessary to enable their subordinates to also grow as future leaders. But you must start from the top of the organisation and work down rather than start from the bottom and work up.