Leadership (further) Defined

My last post has inspired dialogue on this blog, other blogs (here, here and here), and on Twitter.  Obviously, the definition of leadership, and the debate over what is the best, or most proper, definition continues.  If you haven’t read my last post, please read it before reading this post.  Here’s the link ==> Leadership Defined.

Once I publish a post, I share it on the various social media platforms I participate, such as on Twitter and in various discussion groups on LinkedIn.  I posted Leadership Defined in the LinkedIn group, Brilliant Manoeuvres[1]: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles, which was started by Richard Martin, author of a book by the same name as the group; Richard also has a blog, Exploiting Change, and can be found on twitter @boldleadership.  Soon after I shared my post in that group, it was commented on by Ned Gravel, who is principal at MOTIVA Training, a Canadian company, and was a Major in the Canadian Armed Forces, where he served for 21 years.  What transpired, as a result of his comment, has become the premise of this blog post.  My reply elaborates on the discussion of the definition of leadership, and expands on the post I wrote last week.  It is an important postscript.

Below is Ned’s comment, and my response to his comment.  Once I replied to Ned’s comment, I realized the breadth and value of this discussion he and I had, and the answer I provided Ned according to his opinion.  Here is that conversation:

Ned GravelI am going to have to disagree with you on some of this. I think you may have overextended the definition I, and many of my colleagues who wore a uniform for a living, grew up with. For us, leadership is: “the art of motivating people to achieve a common goal.” Nothing about obedience, or command, or directing thoughts.

It is only about the people and the goal is a common one, sometimes developed commonly, sometimes not, but motivated to be accepted by the entire group.

A common misconception about military leadership is that everyone will simply obey orders and that is that. Orders delivered to motivate team members so that they become the common goal is the focus of good military leadership. Orders delivered to simply direct others is a failure of leadership. If we have kept our team abreast and engaged them in what we are trying to do – the orders issued can already be understood and accepted by the majority of our team members. They can then succeed without our further involvement.

Even beyond this, good leaders do not just create successful teams and followers, they create more successful leaders from within their teams.

I apologise [sic] for the apparent disagreement. Just my 0.02.

Below is a modified version of my response:

Dale R. WilsonNo need to apologize, Ned.  We’re having a discussion to share ideas.  I tried to write my blog post at a basic level to define leadership.  Maybe this reply to your comment can clarify my philosophy.

I agree with what you are saying.  But, my definition is based on intent…that leads to action…to improvise, adapt, overcome…to change tactics, without changing vision; to achieve ultimate victory.

Leadership is taking your vision and intent as a leader, sharing this vision with your team, motivating and inspiring them to execute the plan, and empowering them with the resources to achieve victory.  I’ll direct you back to my blog post for further discussion on this, as I break it down concisely.  But, for this discussion, I am talking about:

1) Getting the team (organization, company, platoon, crew, etc.) to clearly understand the mission (goal, objective, sales target, profit requirement, etc.) ~ the image that the leader has for the outcome.

2) Ensuring the team understands the leader’s intent, and has the exact same vision, while clarifying with them by asking questions and providing feedback to their questions, and verifying that there is a clear understanding of the end state.

Along with this is the ‘buy-in.’  The people have to not only see the intent/vision/desired outcome, but they must see in themselves the absolute ability to accomplish the mission.

3) Provide the team the resources (tools, training, equipment, information, etc.) to ensure they can conduct operations to their fullest effort to achieve nothing less than victory.  Having discussion is important.  But, in the end, the leader’s vision and intent (with modifications to tactics, from the discussion) remains firm and unchanged.

4) To afford each individual the latitude to improvise, adapt, and overcome; to change tactics, without changing vision, according to the situation on the ground (or at sea, or in the air, etc.).

When the terms ‘obedience,’ ‘command,’ or ‘directing thoughts’ are mentioned, they are discussed in the context of having the absolute necessity to conduct actions, tasks, operations (etc.) towards the goal/objective, without argument, dissention, or modification to the goal.  People cannot change the desired outcome, as it is a fixed ‘destination’ determined by the higher echelon leadership (board of directors, CEO, CFO, CinC, Commanding Officer, Brigade Commander, etc.).  However, when I mention ‘without argument,’ previously, I don’t mean that a discussion shouldn’t be conducted to ask questions, clarify information or offer alternative tactics (or strategy).  Having such discussion is NOT disobedience.  And, ‘directing thought’ is simply ‘selling’ the vision/intent that drives to the shared goal and objective.

I agree with your assessment about the misconceptions about military leadership.  If a leader is simply going to say, ‘this is what I want to see happen…no questions…no discussion…,’ then that is poor leadership, indeed.  As you say, “…orders to simply direct others is a failure of leadership.”

It is because of those misconceptions that drives to the very reason why I write about the topic on my blog (and on Twitter).  My purpose is to write about the subject of military leadership in an effort to change those misconceptions that exist in the minds of those who do not understand the true synergies between military and corporate (private-sector) leadership.

I appreciate your feedback on this.  It is important to share these ideas to provide us the opportunity to dig deeper into the subject.  It is constructive and educational.  In fact, in writing this response, I found it quite instructive and fulfilling.

I want to invite you to read three blog posts I have written that relate directly to our discussion here.  Please read the following:

Leading the Charge: Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom (no need to watch the video…I’ve broken it down on the post)

Decision-Making in the New ‘Leadership Organization’

Improvise, Adapt and Overcome ~ Changing Plans, But Not Changing Vision

Employee Empowerment in the Decision-Making Process

Leadership is a very popular subject, and discussions like this happen quite frequently in LinkedIn groups, on Twitter, and elsewhere on the internet.  Having these discussions, and engaging in conversation with people about leadership, is quite constructive (and instructive), and can help to broaden your knowledge and ability to become a much better, more effective leader.  I encourage you to find a discussion and join in.  Everyone will benefit from your contribution.

I wanted to use this opportunity to thank Ned for having this conversation with me, and his gracious approval to allow me to use our conversation on LinkedIn as a lab excercise on my blog.  I hope that you found value in having this dialogue with me.

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“Leadership is understanding people and involving them to help you do a job.”

Admiral Arleigh Burke

(TWEET THIS quote)

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Soon after I posted Leadership Defined, I posted the following Tweet, which sums it all up nicely.  Within this Tweet, click on the link to a related Tweet, to keep it in context:

Copyright © Dale R. Wilson

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Share on Twitter

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Related Articles -

Modern Leadership (brassbugles.wordpress.com)

What Is Leadership? (landauleadership.com)

How Do You Rate Yourself? (leadershipquote.org)

What Leadership is Not (stevekeating.me)

Footnote -

[1] ‘Manoeuvre‘ is the French spelling for the word maneuver (US).  It is sometimes considered misspelling.  Because the LinkedIn group was started by someone in Canada, the French version (spelling) of the word is appropriate.

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5 Responses to “Leadership (further) Defined”

  1. [...] – By Dale R. Wilson « Pithy Points to Ponder (A Leader’s Moral Compass) Leadership (further) Defined [...]

  2. Dale:

    Fruitful conversation indeed.

  3. MAJ Dan Wood Says:

    Great discussion! Leadership is definitely important to all organizations, at all levels. It is actually so important to the Army, that it invests time and money for mid grade Officers to refine their Leadership skills in preparation for larger, more strategic roles. I myself am currently receiving these benefits by attending the Command and General Staff College (CGSC). Leadership has always been a primary virtue in Army training from ROTC, to Officer Basic, to Captain’s Career Course; all at the tactical, more personnel level. Now in CGSC, majority of the Officers by now have served 10-14 years, most have served in combat, and are preparing themselves for greater roles and responsibility to take Battalion Commands, Brigade Commands, etc. This investment of time is highly crucial to the future profession of the Army. The dynamics of the world’s culture continue to change and being able to adapt to these changes is crucial. As Leaders, we are designed to ‘influence’ people, whether they are superior or subordinate, and adapt and overcome all changes. The US Military, as well as the rest of the nation, entrusts us (Leaders) to do what is right, lead by example, and lead the charge through battle. This is why is signed up for this higher calling!

    MAJ Dan Wood
    Student, Command and General Staff College
    U.S. Army Combined Arms Center
    Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Major Wood. I appreciate hearing the thoughts of those who are leading in the military as you are. If corporate America would invest in developing leaders at every level, like each branch of the military does, those with great potential to lead organizations and grow would blossom nicely. Best of luck to you at the CGSC. My thoughts are with you. Please come back to this blog for any research you think will help.

      Dale

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