Through the years I have seen a number of people who hold high ranking roles, CEO’s, VP’s, and other “C” suite titles. I admit the titles led me to think of them as leaders, as the people creating the change of a new tomorrow. A funny thing happened along the way, I found many were just managing the changes that today brought to them. What’s the difference? Plenty!
As we emerge from the recession years most organizations have found new ways to streamline processes and we all wear multiple “hats”. Organizations that have grown have discovered we need to work differently in a fast, information filled environment filled with ambiguity. Organizations that are thriving have leaders, of all levels, who demonstrate humility, shared decision making and flexibility as key components of the management process. These are the new skills that are vital to successful leaders. Strategic thinking may be the most critical leadership skill needed, to be successful one must be able to anticipate, think critically, be open to discussion, to interpret different viewpoints and make decisions. Most importantly, leaders demonstrate to those around them their ability to learn, relearn, and make new decisions when new information becomes available.
I fully expected the “C” people I was interacting with to be forward facing and to encourage others within their teams to bring forward game-changing information. I have watched how real leaders built, and shared, personal learning networks across organizational lines to help them look ahead while the managers kept a tight control on who members of their team could talk to internally as well as externally and what information and topics could be discussed. Leaders valued new facts while managers seem to value cultural “norms” and “standards”.
It has been interesting to observe how critical thinking is used. The manager thinks critically when questioning anything that challenges the current “norm”. Leaders question everything and approach problems focused on the root cause to better understand if the current situation is being caused by a conflict of the “norms” and whether the new market changes being faced by the organization might be reflections of advances in technology, the impact of new regulations, or changing consumer needs and desires. Leaders are open to the idea that they may be a part of the problem and review information holistically to accurately identify the problem(s) slowing the organization down and make the decisions that are needed to allow growth.
A unique skill leaders have is the ability to collect data from multiple sources and interpret the trend and make a decision. I’ve watched managers make quick decisions based on the data they already had and most of the decisions tended to support actions already taken – often the data supported a decision already made. Managers would choose to take little action because they didn’t have enough data however there was not a chance to hear new information from external resources or from their own teams closest to the situation because of how it might look to those further “up the chain”. It was eye opening to watch leaders make people wait as they collected new information, evaluated and synthesized this information framed with the rubric of what future success would look like. I learned a lesson from a leader as they listened to key members of their team present many data points, discuss what trends they might mean and create a pattern from this. The leader brought in internal and external experts to hear insights, question prevailing assumptions and test multiple solutions before making a decision. It sounds like the process took months but this was within two weeks and the team was completely invested in the recommended solution for while the proposed solution might not be perfect it was good enough for now and everyone knew the leader was willing to make a change as new information became available – the focus was to reduce the time to an effective solution that would meet the need of the organization.
Leaders are active learners and challenge people to teach them new ideas. The best leaders I observed have asked their team for ways to change, sought and made the feedback received a part of their action plan. Decisions made that had not been wild success, even failures, are examined and lessons learned shared with everyone. Leaders know that learning and transparency work best when everyone is involved. Leaders conduct after action reviews and integrate those lessons into the next situation or make the changes to current processes that are negatively impacting the organization. I watched managers strive to never fail while leader never failed to strive. Seemingly simple but which mindset so you think creates success for an organization to grow?
So are you a leader? Google “tech trends 2015” and common themes include increased mobile and anytime access and the Internet of Things (IoT) will expand expectations of support and service. Will your teams, using the tools they already have, be able to grow and change and meet the need or will they get past by? How are you developing your supervisors of today to be leaders for tomorrow? And how are you coaching your managers to grow and transform to be leaders? Are you supporting their chances, their failures, leading their learning?
Are you leading change or managing?