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What Do Leaders Really Do?

June 20, 2018

Leaders give us a new view.Change:

What do leaders really do? I don’t think the old definitions work any more. As I was learning the leadership ropes, the saying was, “Leaders make sure we’re doing the right thing and managers make sure we’re doing it right.” There is still a bit of truth in that statement. And, both jobs have transformed and evolved as technology has disrupted the scene.

“[Leaders] don’t make plans; they don’t solve problems; they don’t even organize people. What leaders really do is prepare organizations for change and help them cope as they struggle through it.” — John P. Kotter

I agree. Today, leadership is about instigating, responding to, and managing change. And change is trending toward ever more complexity in our organizations and processes. We deal with  global markets, business at internet speeds, and expanding corporate sprawl in the global neighborhood. Leadership is setting direction and making the complex simple. It is defining the “Why” of the organization.

Intent Based LeadershipInternal Change

Our organizations are evolving. Companies large and small are moving toward Intent Based Leadership (IBL — David Marquet) in which leadership is developed throughout the organization — at every level. In IBL companies, employees enjoy what Daniel Pink described in his excellent book, Drive, as autonomy, mastery and purpose.

The skill and/or education level of employees must change to meet the demands of an IBL company. Internal processes and tasks are more complex than in years past. The tools are more complex (think of adding machines and typewriters versus computers, tablets and smart phones).

All of this adds up to significant internal change to the leadership/management model.

External Change

From an employment point of view, the U.S.A. economy has shifted dramatically from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge worker economy. That doesn’t mean that we no longer produce products. We are producing more than ever and have been for many years. What it does mean is that we use fewer human employees to produce those goods.

Technology advancement is rapid and that means we will always be faced with the threat of a disruption of the market, product, and/or business model. It’s true that technological change tends to move in fits and starts. However, it is undeniable that at this particular point, change is accelerating.

This too adds up to significant change to the leadership/management model.

Summing It Up

Inevitably, leaders use their power to influence the thoughts and actions of others. Leadership is about coping with both internally and externally generated change. Leaders set a direction for the organization. This doesn’t imply just creating a long term plan. It implies a vision, a “why” for the organization. Highly successful leadership requires a bit of management skill as well.

So the bottom line here is that leadership requires that we actively manage the corporate culture as well as actively lead the never ending change process.

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