The difference between management and leadership is often debated. The two terms are often transposed and may simply be a matter of semantics.
From research and practical experience over the years we come to the following conclusion:
Leadership kicks in when we ‘don’t know the answer’.
By this we mean that as soon as a perceived obstacle, problem, resistance, contention, and challenge arrives on the scene, this is when good leadership kicks in.
When we manage situations based on previous experience and our usage of authority and power, we are probably in ‘management’ mode. All good leaders need to be good managers as well.
Management confidence is based on trust in structures that work. Leadership confidence is often based primarily on trust in processes that work. In practice the leadership instinct does not baulk at perceived obstacles, but focuses on processes that invariably arrive at answers.
The Sipcom model states that there are five commonalities in life that all of us have to face every day. These are situations, people, choices, obstacles and movement. Our attitude towards these commonalities determines our leadership effectiveness. This is especially true when we come across perceived problem situations, confrontational or unwilling people, difficult and confusing choices, sudden obstacles that threaten to destroy or hurt, and uncontrolled movement or lack of movement around us. This is typically what happens to most of us every day!
The deception of certainty
It is perfectly normal for us mortals to expect order and certainty in life. But as leaders we seldom find it in the way that we would like to see it. If all situations in life were ‘perfect’ then we would have no need for leaders. The feelings of tangible certainty that we desire is a deceptive thing. Situations change all the time. People change, Choices change. Obstacles change. Movement is change by its very nature.
Visionary leadership is often a matter of faith or trust in processes that impel us through misty and even dark futures. It is based on confidence developed in the past by mastery of processes that work for us. Leadership kicks in when momentarily it is not clear what we should do about the situation.
Practical examples of applied leadership processes
We are approached by readers of the column with requests for answers to difficult situations. We regularly receive comments revolving around confrontational perceptions. This often is about work situations and about problems people are experiencing with their bosses and colleagues. This past week I had occasion to discuss similar situations with several individuals (names changed).
Sam has an inspiring attitude towards differences of opinion in his work situation. He often comes across confrontational differences but in general he finds these situations to have a positive impact on the ability of the organization to make things happen. Although on occasion he finds it painful when colleagues disagree with him, in general he finds it invigorating. One can feel the passion and positive momentum of this young leader in the work place!
Like all of us, he comes across many ‘I don’t know’, or ‘now we have a crisis!’ situations, but he is learning the invaluable lesson of embracing these situations as necessary elements of positive movement and successful leadership. Sam is learning that good leadership kicks in when differences and confrontations occur. He is on course to becoming a seamless leader who is empowered to move barriers to potential within him self and within those around him.
Hendrik works in the same organization and also holds a responsible leadership position. Hendrik is a diligent worker and a good manager. His biggest stumbling block at present is his deep rooted anxiety when faced with differences of opinion with his colleagues and with his superiors. This is a fear that he has carried with him since youth. It causes considerable stress and loss of focused energy. Yet over the years Hendrik has demonstrated courage and tenacity to work though his challenges. His leadership journey will be boosted by his willingness to let go of old habits of fearing confrontation. As he continues to apply a simple and universal process in facing confrontations he will in time let go of his fear and even learn to laugh a little at the blown up emotional value he attached to such issues in the past. Leadership kicks in when we feel threatened!
The psychology of threat
When we are faced with a situation that is perceived to be a wall or obstacle of some kind, we tend naturally to feel threatened in some way or other. We feel emotionally threatened when our sense of belonging or possession is threatened. This is very often an emotional reaction that has not stood the test of mature realities. In many instances the application of the common wisdom of ‘counting to ten’ will alleviate the threat. As a bigger value context emerges in our thinking and feeling, so also does the tendency to feel threatened dissipate.
Good leaders who are endowed with seamless attitudes tend to reject first impressions of fear and resentment until they have processed the situation mentally and emotionally. All of us leaders need to work constantly on taking possession of mental and emotional processes that wipe away the inclination to feel threatened.
The spirit of ‘seamless’ leadership
Recently I was party to a meeting where one of the people present told of a traumatic confrontational experience she was exposed to. She was involved in a large fundraising activity where she offered to help man some of the tables where considerable cash was changing hands. She is that kind of helpful person. During the evening she arrived home and received a very agitated telephone call by one of the organizers of the event accusing her of stealing twenty thousand rand from the tills. She was in shock at the accusation. A few hours later the same organizer called back and apologized profusely. A proper audit had picked up that they had missed counting the credit card payments and this explained the R20 000 rand deficit. That person then traveled all the way from Krugersdorp to Centurion to apologize in tears once again and brought a nice gift of chocolates as a peace offering. All’s well that ends well, but what struck me were the reactions of the people in the group who were listening to the story. Most of them went into a reactive mode demanding more suffering from the accuser. One of the party went into leadership mode by reacting with appreciation for the sincere efforts of the accuser to make up for his mistake and for the accused person’s positive reaction to the incident. This experience once again reinforced the principle that good leadership kicks in when we come face to face with perceived barriers and threats to our sense of belonging and possession.
Few things generate more satisfying results than the courage to face perceptions of crisis or problems in life with faith and endurance!
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Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Louis on email@example.com for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.