Leadership: Responsibility With Ability
“Leadership is not about ability, but responsibility”.
The Commander of the Space Shuttle directed these words at his frisky, technically competent Major who wanted the joystick. In the sci-fi movie ‘Core’ the young Major feels frustrated because she’s confident of her abilities. But policy states that the Commander always lands the ship!
Oh the horror! As if to say, good salespeople don’t make good sales-managers, or good technicians cannot make good plant managers. Yet, with due respect to the technically proficient, there could be a bit of truth here.
The I-can-do-it, attitude is always appreciated. However things change when it also involves getting others to do. And keep doing. And keep doing better. That’s a skill that comes primarily with experience (okay the case studies do help). And the experience must begin early.
Typically, high performers are defined by the number of widgets they deliver. However, some also demonstrate a natural flair for leadership. They learn quickly, are happy to help, mentor and teach those who need help. Leaders need to identify and nurture these traits – by gradually adding responsibility to ability!
Invest in the first line: First-time managers need special attention! The leadership skills they pick-up at this stage will likely stay with them forever. And no, they cannot ‘wing it’. Soft skills, conflict management and handling the performance management process for their team must be the very basic training they should receive. And just because these leaders are low in the hierarchy, doesn’t mean that the training budgets should be low too. First-line managers will become tomorrow’s top leaders – invest in them today!
Give space: New leaders must be given the space to put their learning to use. To be able to take decisions and implement some of their own ideas – all within the framework of their role, that is. Mistakes, if any would be low impact and, then again, that’s when seniors should come to the rescue! Setting clear expectations on performance, behaviour and defining overall success gives a good framework for a new leader. Once in place, walk away and let the magic happen.
Be ready to let go: That’s why a new leader has been created, right? To relieve those higher up of certain activities. This means prioritizing, redefining and letting go. Passing down activities, putting them into the individual’s goal sheet, and looking at them only when discussing progress. If they step up to the plate, the selection process has worked. If not, correction can happen early enough not to cause any major damage!
Micro-managers are killers: Micro-management is the single biggest initiative-killer – even if no one admits it. But when applied to first-level leaders, it turns them into corporate zombies for the longest time! There! I’ve said it upfront: Folks, you know who you are, everyone hates working for you! When we leave you we pity you – and laugh at you too! You need some faith in your lives.
Early Feedback: Maybe it’s a budget thing, but organizations tend to limit upward feedback processes to leaders higher up in the hierarchy. It’s one reason for the shock and surprise that wracks every manager when they see their report! Fact is, upward feedback is most relevant and effective when implemented early in the leadership journey. It is less traumatic and develops into a good habit: that of listening and owning responsibility for others’ perceptions.
Ability doesn’t automatically imply responsibility. It’s just one of the many traits a leader must demonstrate. For commitments, team delivery, motivation. Culture.
The good news is that responsibility – that vital part of leadership – can be taught to those who demonstrate an eagerness to learn. Whether it is through formal channels of education or tactical training programs targeted at specific skill gaps. The rise of the MOOCs has only improved the opportunity and broadened the spectrum of freely available knowledge.
Yet again, just a good education isn’t the only thing that helps new leaders. A good education only inculcates the theory. Only the workplace can make a good leader – with a lot of help from the individual herself. After all, before the advent of B-schools, this is how people learned their responsibilities – on the job.
Following the learning, actual responsibility then needs to be delegated to those with proven ability. By doing so, leaders higher up in the hierarchy are actually giving away parts of their own portfolio. And that often causes them some fear. A baseless fear, because in reality, the best leaders are those who avidly work towards making themselves redundant!
The more leaders delegate responsibility, the more it grows. There will always be responsibility – for those with the ability and guts to let it go!
Disclaimer: This is a contributed post. The statements, opinions and data contained are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of People Matters and the editor(s).