Extraordinary Times Demands Extraordinary Leadership

We were by the extraordinarily beautiful Lake Malawi, it was November 2016, the auditorium was silent and thoughtful, as all 40 attendees reflected on the 90 minutes they had just spent examining what is meant by Authentic Leadership. Here was a gathering of some of the most progressive leaders in Malawi, with an appetite and ambition for continuous development.

I had just shared some emotionally charged stories of the greatest Leader of our generation, Nelson Mandela. It was high octane stuff; video clips, recordings of his early speeches, and many moving insights of the times when I was so privileged to have been in the presence of this unique and special Son of Africa.

Leadership At Its Best

The intention was not to have just an intellectually stimulating and theoretical workshop, but to demonstrate that Leadership at its best is much more than just intellect, it is an emotional and visceral connection.

Having explained with vivid examples, earlier in the day that Management, whilst being vital for all organisations, when unchecked, could be quite a blunt instrument.

The science of Management has not changed much since its inception over a century ago. It was invented and designed to get more productivity out of the organisation’s workforce. It is necessarily fixated on efficiency, and when boiled down to its core essence, it is based on ensuring that employees do exactly what they have been told to do.

Management Is About Control

Management is about control and therefore demands ‘policing’, to ensure that everyone is doing what they said they would do. It lends itself to an ‘auditing’ approach, and consequently, is rarely a ‘bag of laughs’. It is no fun at all to receive nothing but a strict diet of ‘management’, and be checked up on all day.

There tends to be only one way to do Management, and as an experienced visiting Professor at Cass Business School in London, lecturing on the MSc in Management course, we deliver many first-class Managers.

Fear Of Failure

If organisations didn’t practice Management, they would go out of business tomorrow. For far too many, it is only ever Management. This tends to be the case because their organisations are far too cautious and inward looking. In many respects, their fear of failure is greater than their desire for success.

Living In VUCA Times

Prior to 2007/8, when the Global Financial Crisis hit all of us very hard indeed, the world was a much more consistent and predictable place, and therefore many organisations got away with just practicing Management. Now that the world has changed so radically, that we now live in VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) times, we are having to learn to cope with eternal uncertainty. This means Management alone will not get us there.

Many are able to lead AND manage. The trick is to understand when to manage and when to lead.

Management Is Still Essential

Here are some clues to when you are managing:

  • Preparing the detailed plans and activities that require delivery
  • Checking that everything and everyone is on track
  • Measuring the outputs of the team and providing feedback on any shortfalls
  • Determining the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for members of the team
  • Ensuring that the correct processes are being followed
  • Being clear on what is precisely expected from the team this week/month/year

Extraordinary Times Demand Extraordinary Leadership

If Management is all about IQ, then Leadership is all about EQ. We call Management the ‘hardware’, as it has become commoditised and everybody practices it now. We call Leadership the ‘software’, as it has seriously become the biggest differentiator between the winners and the losers. And when we say Leadership, we mean Vision, People, Teams and Culture. And when we say Management, we mean Strategy, Tasks, Plans and Measurement.

Management is “doing things right”, and Leadership is “doing the right things”.

So, back to my friends in Malawi. I had just shared with them during the summary of the Mandela session, the great quote from Maya Angelou; “Not many will remember exactly what you said, but everyone will remember how you made them feel.”

Leadership Is Not Management, It Is How We Energise Our People Towards Our Vision.

Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.

Leading a Little More

Some situations that should trigger your switch into Leadership mode:

  • Morale is not where it needs to be
  • The team is not aligned
  • The ‘fear of failure’ has become palpable
  • Some are retreating into their silos
  • People are feeling ‘lost’ and uncared for
  • There’s too much focus on performance and not enough on values

We closed off a fabulous couple of days by them challenging me on what they could actually do differently. We talked about mentoring, and the power of close proximity role models.

The Best Organisations Have Leaders Everywhere

Everyone can be a Leader if they choose to be, and the best organisations have Leaders everywhere. One of the huge misconceptions playing itself out across the African continent, is that Leaders are only at the top of organisation. In the most progressive companies in the world, Leaders are everywhere; pump attendants, cashiers, till operators all in the vital frontline could all be Leaders. Those with the most Leaders — will achieve so much more, and win.

My 40 attendees left as inspired Leaders, and their mission was to go where many Malawians had not gone before — in search of more Leaders.

And I can guarantee you they will find them — as Leaders are not born or made — they are found.

After all, good leaders create followers and great leaders create Leaders.

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle”.

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