Thursday, September 28, 2006

The One Thing You Need to Know - Buckingham - Chapter 2

I picked up this book on sale over the weekend and had skimmed it a few months ago. It was a good deal so I grabbed it. Tonight I read chapters 1 and 2. And it grabbed me. Look for more notes soon, but take a good read at some of the stuff here.

Chapter 2 - Managing and Leading: What's The Difference?
There is a vital distinction between managing and leading - they are not the same.

** On managing
...great managers are catalysts, and this analogy still holds. At their best, great managers speed up the reaction between each employee's talents and the company's goals.
The starting point [of the manager's responsibility] is each employee's talents. The challenge: to figure out the best way to transform these talents into performance. This is the job of the great manager.

** Qualities of leadership
When organizations say that each and every employee can be a leader, more often than not they are referring to those four behaviors: initiative, creativity, the courage of one's convictions and integrity. But they err when they label these behaviors leadership.
Yes, all leaders should possess integrity, but so should the rest of us. Integrity is not just a desirable leadership trait; it is a desirable human trait.
The same can be said of the other three behaviors. If you take initiative, improvise creative solutions to changing circumstances, and have the courage of your convictions, you will be a formidable and effective human being, and surely an asset to any organization, but you will not necessarily be a leader.

** The only satisfactory definition of leadership
Great leaders rally people to a better future.
What defines a leader is his preoccupation with the future.
You are a leader if, and only if, you are restless for change, impatient for progress and deeply dissatisfied with the status quo.
"I am not satisfied." This is the mantra of the leader. As a leader you are never satisfied with the present, because in your head you can see a better future, and the friction between the 'what is' and the 'what could be' burns you, stirs you up, propels you forward. This is leadership.

** The Leadership Talent of Optimism
If the core talent of great managers is an instinct to coach others toward success, then optimism and ego are the talents underpinning all great leadership.
The need for a talent for optimism is almost self-evident. As a leader you must believe, deeply, instinctively that things can get better.
When I say leaders are optimistic I mean simply that nothing - not their mood, not the reasoned arguments of others, not the bleak conditions of the present - nothing can undermine their faith that things will get better.
Properly defined, the opposite of a leader isn't a follower. The opposite of a leader is a pessimist.

** The Leadership Talent of Ego
However, no matter how reprehensible their actions [the recent spat of executive crooks - Enron, WorldCom, etc.] may have been, to explain their misfortune as a function of excess ego is actually a misdiagnosis. The reputations of these executives fell not because their egos were too strong but because their principles were not strong enough. They had too little integrity, not too much ego.
The key thing about leading is not only that you envision a better future, but also that you believe, in every fiber of your being, that you are the one to make this future come true.
Or think about Saint Paul returning to Jerusalem and informing the apostles that he, not they, knew what Jesus would have wanted for the young church, and that they should modify their practices to accord with his teachings, rather than the other way around. What gall. What ego.
This doesn't mean that they think they have all the answers. On the contrary, the best leaders have a strong expertise orientation.
Nor does it mean they are brash or abrasive. Nor does it mean they are egomaniacal. The difference between a leader with a powerful ego and an egomaniac is how the ego is channeled. The effective leader takes his self-belief, his self-assurance, his self-confidence and presses them into the service of an enterprise bigger than himself.
But this does mean that they make outstanding claims to excellence. It does mean that their self-worth is inextricably wrapped up in both their appetite to make such claims and in their ability to realize them.
So if you want to help develop a budding leader, don't tell him to deflate his ego into humility, to lessen his dreams, to downplay his belief in himself. This is confusing, negating advice. Instead, challenge him to be more inquisitive, more curious, and thereby more vivid in describing his image of a better future, and then encourage him to channel his cravings and his claims toward making this image come true.

** Leaders Are Born Not Made
They are born. A leader is born with an optimistic disposition or she is not. If she is not, then no amount of 'optimism training' is going to make her view the world in an overwhelmingly positive, opportunistic light. To lead effectively, you must be unfailingly, unrealistically, even irrationally optimistic. Like it or not, this is not learnable.
The same applies to ego. Through careful nurturing you can make a person feel more self-confident and more self-assured than he used to be, but nothing you can do will ever imbue him with the kind of powerful, claiming ego that so characterizes the best leaders. He either has it or he doesn't.
None of this implies that a person cannot be helped to improve as a leader. She can be helped to refine her picture of the future, even to change it entirely, and to employ ever more effective ways to present this future to her followers. But what you cannot help her do is see a better future, believe in this future and have faith that she is the one to create it. here, she's on her own.

** Summary
The manager's starting point is the individual employee. He looks at her palette of talents, skills, knowledge, experience and goals, and then uses these to design a specific future in which the individual can be successful. That person's success is his focus.
The leader sees things differently. He starts with his image of the future. Only with this image clear in his mind does he turn his attention to persuading other people that they can be successful in the future he envisions. But through it all, the future remains his focus.

A few things strike me:
1. The measure that I have been using to determine potential leaders [the qualities of initiative, creativity, the courage of one's convictions and integrity] is potentially not the right measurement.

2. The ego talent found in leaders [you believe, in every fiber of your being, that you are the one to make this future come true] reminds me of Waking the Dead - how we have a crucial role to play and how if we don't believe it, that's the beginning of losing our heart.
"I'm sorry if I'm the one to break the news to you: you were born into a world at war, and you will live all your days in the midst of a great battle, involving all the forces of heaven and hell and played out here on earth." - John Eldredge

3. I'm interested to read what else the books says about reproducing leaders since they cannot be made. I'm not totally sure that I agree with ego not being able to be reproduced - to a certain degree. I know people who have been transformed - they didn't use to think they would amount to much, but these days, they know they will mark human history.

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