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Monday, October 12, 2015

WHAT ADMIRABLE LEADERS DO

At the opening session of a recent conference of top researchers and managers of scientific institutions from 15 nations spread across west, east and southern Africa, participants were asked to, “Share the attributes of a leader they most admired”. The spontaneous list of 17 items generated from the brief reflections of these institutional leaders who had never met before save for a brief interaction at breakfast in the hotel would suggest that the 17 items are the most immediate, common and overt qualities of an admirable leader. However, upon close examination of this seemingly random list of responses we find that three competencies emerge in equal measure as attributes of an admirable leader.

Though the question was used as an introduction to the topic of leadership, the reconstructed lists below to show a profound depth of insight to the personal, relational and situational competencies any (admirable) leader should work hard to develop.
The responses fall equally into three categories and would seem to indicate that leadership has three important perspectives of interpretation, perceptions and worldview. There are those who see leadership as embodied in the person. Others see its value in terms of relational competencies of the leader while still others judge leaders by their effect on situations. While the personal qualities listed above may have been the expected or “correct” answer to the question, the more interesting outcome of this exercise was the participants “forced” inclusion of these added leader competencies as “attributes” of a leader when in fact they may be beyond the leader’s direct control. For example charisma is not a personal attribute it only comes to light in the context of other people. A leader is also expected to be a problem solver of issues beyond his person!

The fact that participants listed these qualities in response to the same question may also suggest that an admirable leader should have and develop all three competencies in equal measure. The three circles should intersect and expand to create the (admirable) leader. From admirable leaders we get a clue of how to become an effective leader. It is remarkable that the respondents were willing to attribute the quality of relationships and achievement of outcomes outside the control of a leader to the person of a leader! In other words an admirable leader’s job is to be a good person, manage relationships of others and ensure successful outcomes of situations and circumstances they may enter or find themselves in. 

Good people
Leaders need to be good people. People will and want their leaders to be good people. People need to see some good in a person to prequalify them for leadership.  This “goodness” must be available to a level of perfection and elevation that the general population aspires to but does not normally achieve. There may be leaders who do not qualify as good (depending on the perception of good), but admirable leaders also score highly on relational and situational competencies.  

Relational ability
Leaders need to be effective relationship managers. They need to effectively manage relationships between themselves and the people, but must more importantly be able to manage relationships between people in the organization. They need to broker, manage and effect a sense of justice, equity and right in a team and institution. Leaders should have the ability to step outside themselves (personal biases) to create harmony and a sense of unity among a group of people.
Situational competence
Leaders must show themselves capable of handling situations they may not be “to blame for”. The need to be be willing to be accountable and dependable. They need to demonstrate an outstanding measure of competence in specific areas. Leaders are expected to take ownership of and change circumstances from disadvantage to the progress and benefit for the people they lead. These leaders are celebrated for the capacity they have to change the environment.

Conclusions
The admirable leader’s job then is to effectively control themselves, manage other people’s relationships and ensure adequate resolution of situations in instant and equal measure. That said, this article suggests that initial nomination for leadership positions may be based on the prevalence of these three “admirable” or “visible” leadership competencies. Potential leaders vying for promotion need to develop all three competencies.  While people who cannot control themselves, avoid managing relationships among other people and do not excel in what they do cannot expect to be recognized for leadership positions. Those already in leadership positions may want to do a quick check on how they are faring in the public perception of their leadership and make the necessary adjustments to secure and advance their status and position in the organization. Interestingly, while good leader’s master one or two circles of competencies, great leaders excel in all three!

Allan Bukusi
LEPARD Conference, Kampala 2015

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