Last week, while working with one of our mining clients in the Free State, I was channel-hopping as I lay on my bed relaxing after a day of facilitating leadership sessions. As I was changing channels, a movie caught my attention. In one of the scenes of Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven”, a young blacksmith is given the opportunity to join his estranged father on a journey to Jerusalem in the Holy Land. Although Balian (the blacksmith) decides not to take up the invitation, his father gives him simple instructions on how to join them on the journey if he later decides to do so: “If you ever want to find Jerusalem, go to where the men speak Italian, then continue until they speak something else.”
In the scenes that follow Balian is compelled, because he kills someone in his village, to join his father on this journey.
To highlight the principle I would like us to consider from this story, and perhaps bring it a little closer to home, think about the last time you stopped and asked someone for directions. Because it is obvious that if one is stopping to ask for directions he or she is unfamiliar with the area in which they find themselves, few people will refer to street names to guide them. Instead, the lost are given landmarks to assist them to find their way to their destination.
Leaders often find themselves in unchartered territories or waters. These areas are not necessarily unexplored, but in reference to an article I wrote about the confused state the leadership development industry is in, we seem to be struggling to find a map that gives clear markers that show us the way.
Today, whether you are a young, wet behind the ears, journeyman leader, or a leader who has been walking the road for a while now, I would like to offer three leadership landmarks that will assist you to know whether you are travelling in the right direction. They are:
This first landmark is all about being able to show those around you that you know and understand what you are doing. The absolute best possible way to do this is to NOT steamroll the section, division, or area you have been given the task to oversee and lead. Too often a new leader is appointed and because they lack a certain kind of leadership confidence and understanding, they feel they need to make their mark by taking the apple cart and turning it over. Not only does this spill the contents all over the place, but it makes people upset and resentful.
Rather, a surefire way to gain acceptance from those you are now leading is to offer yourself as a guide and aide to them. If you are able to support and advise them as they are working through problems or dealing with problem areas, they will not only see that you are technically able, but they will buy into you as their leader.
Gary Kirsten has won an ICC Cricket World Cup, and assisted the South African cricket team to be the number one test match team in the world using “What can I as your coach do for you?” as his guiding modus operandi.
We would do well to follow his lead.
This landmark highlights one’s ability to create consistent performance. Consistency results in trust because it shows that whatever circumstances have been encountered, you have been able to meet the requirements of that situation and prevail.
Of course, one can be consistently poor, in which case you will have to carefully review the various processes you and your team use within your specific area of influence.
Credibility implies that the consistency one is producing is positive and potentially follows an upward trend.
How does one do this as a leader?
“Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.” Peter Drucker
There is a huge difference between management and leadership.
However, as leaders we do need to know how and when to manage. During the credibility stage of your leadership journey it is most definitely required that you step in and manage the movement you are creating. As we do so, we are able to create structures within which performance occurs, and then go on to improve or refine these structures. This is really what management is all about.
Said in another way: “When we manage situations based on previous experience and usage of authority and power, we are in ‘management’ mode. All good leaders need to be good managers as well. Management confidence is based on trust in structures that work.”
A sure way to identify a leader is whether or not they allow the areas they once managed to now function independent of him or herself. The leader pulls away and trusts that the structures that are in place and the people trained are going to do what they need to, only calling upon the leader when leadership is then required:
“Leadership kicks in when we ‘don’t know the answer’. By this we mean that as soon as a perceived obstacle, problem, resistance, contention, or challenge arrives on the scene, this is when good leadership kicks in.
Leadership confidence is based primarily in processes that work. In practice the leadership instinct does not baulk at perceived obstacles, but focuses on processes that invariably arrive at answers.” Louis Groenewald
If we are able to maintain performance while leading, we have achieved this milestone.
“The greatest legacy is that which benefits the widest number of people for the longest period without limit to value.” Cat Stevens
This third landmark is arrived at only as a leader has the courage to share what they have learned whilst on their journey. They set out to deliberately empower those around them so that they are able to pick up the reins and continue to drive their organization or division without impacting performance.
Most leaders will be required to leave a legacy a number of times throughout their careers as they move up into positions of increased responsibility and influence.
Whether we have been compelled, like Balian, or have chosen to take this journey, one cannot leave a worthwhile, lasting impact and legacy without having first passed by the landmarks of Acceptance and Credibility, and ensured that what is left behind is an empowered, credible successor.
If we are able to do this, we ourselves may become human leadership landmarks.
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