My latest Real Life Leadership column - Personal initiative sets apart leaders - is online.
What brought me to this conclusion? What do I mean by this?
Over twenty years ago, I took my first leadership seminar. Seventeen years ago I began a collegiate student leaders program. Ten years ago I started my leadership consulting practice. In much of this I have followed the experts. I've read more books that I can recall.
I've led workshops, conducted vision processes, developed strategic plans, mediated conflict resolution, helped form new organizations, and led a variety of efforts and organizations. I've looked for ideas, models, methods, and systems for leading organizations. I've talked with all kinds of leaders about their experience, their ideas, what works and doesn't.
The current thinking about leadership can be classified in two ways, and then those can be distinguished in two ways as well.
Most leadership writing is either about working with people or about managing organizational structure and systems.
Most of the writing about working with people is about how to develop teams, how to communicate, etc. Most of it is excellent material, but it does not distinguish leaders from followers. It is purely about how to work with people. It is worth reading, but in my estimation it is not primarily about leadership, but about the people side of management. The material is valuable whether you are in a leadership position or not.
Writing about management focuses on the mechanics of organizations. Again, the ideas are valuable, but not necessarily about leadership. The ideas are valid whether you are in a leadership position or not.
I make this distinction because what I don't find in virtually all this literature is an emphasis on personal initiative. I do see this in ways in texts about entrepreneurialism and in descriptions of historical and contemporary military leadership. Why? Because both organizational ventures are obsessessively focused on outcomes or impact.
Did I have a bias toward this when I began? I don't think so. Twenty years ago I had no interest in business or military subjects. I was a associate minister in a large downtown church primarily concerned with serving poor families and homeless people.
So, over the past two decades what has emerged in my own thinking is more of a classical understanding of leadership with a contemporary twist. Reading Aristotle and the Stoics, and more recently Plato and Xenophon has clarified for me what I've seen missing in most leadership literature. The importance of leaders taking the initiative to build trust and commitment in those that follow them. The twist is that in the past, there was always a hard distinction between leader and follower. Today, I believe that distinction is blurred. Today, organizations need to fill their employee ranks with leaders who practice take personal responsibility to take initiative to create a positive impact for the organization.
My Real Life Leadership column today gets at some of this in looking at the nature of personal initiative. But it is not simply personal initiative, but the focus of that initiative. I divide it four categories of initiative. I'll be brief here, and write more on this later.
The first category for personal initiative is the Self. Taking initiative concerning the Self entails developing a clear understanding of human purpose. That purpose is tied to the nature of the impact we are to have as people, and is determined by the character of the lives we live. As a person whose perspective is formed within the context of the Christian tradition, I view that purpose as divinely imparted in who we are as individuals. That each person is a unique being whose gifts,talents, background and life context provide insight as to the purpose of our lives that is realized in a specific kind of impact.
The second category for personal initiative is People. No one lives in total isolation. Leaders lead people, not organizations as Peter Drucker says. So we initiate toward people. It begins with our own honesty about our selves, and respect toward other people. We don't use honesty as a weapon, but as a tool for creating a relationships of openness and mutural respect, trust and participation. Part of a leader's focus in developing these relationships is to foster the same kind of personal initiative by others in their organization.
The third category for personal initiative is with Ideas. There are two levels to this area of initiative. The first is realizing a clarity and coherence of thought that ultimately is a vision for the impact that is desired. The second level is the ability to articulate this vision or these ideas so that others will share your perspective. Involved at this level are the tradition skills of communication. And I include within that the ability to market ideas for impact.
The final category for personal initiative is organizational structure. I view the structure of organizations as that which enable people in relationship with one another to acheived a desired impact. In this instance, leaders focus on organizational design to enables a wider spectrum of the organization to practice personal initiative for fulfilling the organizations purpose. By widening the leadership base of the organization, a greater scope of impact is possible.
Leadership initiative is the will of the individual in action to achieve a specific impact. Without initiative, there is no impact, only a passivity that waits for other to do it. I'll say more about this in future posting.