An old military handbook once stated that, ‘No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and hearts of all his men’. It must be old as in contemporary terms that statement would certainly be gender inclusive. However, the statement holds true. Authoritative leadership doesn’t need to concern itself with engaging the ‘hearts of the followers’ but ‘authority’ and ‘leadership’ is not the same thing. One can lead without authority and there are many such cases within corporate ranks and teams in general.
In their book, Leadership Matters, authors Cronin and Genovese suggest that if one defines leadership as, ‘a process of empowering a group to adapt wisely to change and achieve its goals, then leaders must have a solid grasp of what their followers wish to achieve’. They go on to suggest that leadership also entails setting goals that their followers might not appreciate and in all of this smart leaders are those who listen well.
Smart leaders intentionally ensure that they engage both heart and mind. What this looks like and how best to achieve it would be context specific and there can be no ‘A,B,C’ or ‘3 Easy Steps’ type formula toward this end. Of course there can be suggestions as how best to start this process but it is something that will ultimately demand an authentic engagement on the part of the leader as opposed to simply applying some or other ‘formula’ to achieve the goal.
At the risk of repeating a well-worn story it reminds me of the curious onlooker who was making his way around a building site of old asking various workers, what they were doing. “I’m mixing mortar,” said one; “I’m cutting the stones – I’m a stonemason,” replied another. Several other site workers provided answers that detailed the specific nature of their task until he got to one worker who simply replied, “I’m building a cathedral”. Here was someone who saw the bigger picture and his contribution in achieving that goal was superseded by that bigger, more compelling end result.
This old story holds an important lesson for all leaders – your people need to know what it is ‘they are building’. This goes beyond the usual vision, mission, purpose statements that adorn the walls; it is about giving meaningful expression to those well-intentioned words. It is to be expected that those within reach of the ‘top’ within your organisations would ‘get’ the, “I’m building a cathedral” response; the real question is, ‘how deep into your organisation would that insight permeate?’
It wouldn’t be hard to test would it? Ask around and what you might find is that you (and others in your team) have some work to do!