Monday, August 25, 2008

How Leaders Choose - Part II

The two FBI agents stared at me from across the table. The woman’s blue eyes narrowed and her forehead wrinkled as she aimed her next question, “If you teach leadership, maybe you can tell me how important all these leadership tests the FBI makes me take really are?”

Me, “Depends how they use them.”

Her, “They use them for promotions, reviews, screening… lots of ways.”

Me, “Well then, it depends how predictive the tests are. Many leadership assessments have not been well-researched; therefore they don’t have a high predictive value.”

Her, “What about the leadership courses you teach?”

Me, “My approach is to use an evidence-based approach that is flexible enough to allow me to adapt it to the clients I work with. I’ve spent the last few years developing my new eXpansive Leadership Model (XLM) to accomplish both.

Her, “Interesting.” Then she and her FBI-agent-husband took a bite out of their hotdog, and turned to watch their son perform a perfect cannonball into the swimming pool.

Our leadership discussion was over. The conversation drifted back to how we all knew the host of this picnic celebration.

As my wife and I drove home after the party, my mind wandered to my new leadership model. After all, there are many leadership models and assessments, several of which are quite good. Here are three reasons that came to mind that might also help you better lead your team.

1. Adapt to Many Situations. The XLM can be adapted to manage many situations more effectively. It consists of four interdependent leadership thinking styles positioned on the four ends on an ‘X’ (Visionary - upper left, Rational - lower right, Commanding - lower left, and Empowering - upper right). With this as a platform, it becomes easy for me to help clients expand their leadership capacity by stretching their leadership capacity.

For example, I’m working with a client that has a wonderful service-oriented culture. The problem is that employees are sometimes afraid to speak up for fear of being perceived as non-team players. Their servant-leader culture has also discouraged managers from holding individuals accountable for results. I’m are using the XLM to help them understand that they can stay connected to their wonderful “Empowering” approach to serving people AND, at the same time, stretch to access their “Commanding” to speak up on an issue. I’m also adapting the XLM to help their supervisors coach better, counsel under-performers, conduct excellent performance reviews, and create individual development plans. How adaptable is your leadership approach?

2. Lead by Managing Tension. Everyone seems to be searching for balance these days. The editors of one of my professional journals even dedicated an entire issue to this issue of balance. When was the last time you felt balanced? Balance is not always or easily attainable is it? Things are moving so fast these days and issues are so interdependent, that the question is no longer, how can I find the right balance? The NEW question is, how can I lead by managing the ongoing tension?

For example, how do you manage the tension between: Meeting the needs of the team AND Meeting the needs of the individual, the Vision of where you want to go AND the Reality of your budget, Improving service (Empowering) AND increasing productivity (Commanding)… The XLM helps leaders manage the tension among these interdependent and opposing imperatives. Think back to the ‘X’ in XLM, and imagine that the ‘X’ is real two rubber bands. Assume also that your job is to grow the ends of the ‘X’ away from each other. The tension you would feel as the ends stretched AWAY from each other is the tension of great leadership. Leaders in the past had great answers. The leaders of the future ask great questions. So, how are you leading by managing the tension in work?

3. Apply the Research. Many leadership approaches are based on a smart person or worse, winning coach, writing about how to get employees to do their work better, faster, cheaper, happier... Most of these approaches lack the research that demonstrates that if you follow their prescription, you will experience their results.

We need to apply the tools of science to leadership in the same way we apply them to medicine. The essence of science is prediction. If you apply a model based on solid science, there’s reason to believe you will achieve what the model predicts. The XLM accommodates new research.

For example, I worked with a client that wanted to connect the research on Emotional Intelligence (EI) and Lominger’s work at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL - which included six thousand managers from 140 companies) to the XLM. When I did an analysis, I found ten key competencies that predicted management success. This research predicts that leaders who possess or develop these “Top Ten” in this client’s organization should be very successful. The same may be true for you. Which few might you choose to help you apply this research and grow as a leader?

1. Increase self-knowledge

2. Gain perspective

3. Manage vision and purpose

4. Listen

5. Manage conflict

6. Have strategic agility

7. Deal with ambiguity

8. Effectively build teams

9. Motivate others

10. Manage Innovation

The XLM is one of many models that can expand your leadership capacity. I developed the XLM because it is adaptable, helps managers manage the tension among competing imperatives, and allows me to apply new research and learning. How is your leadership style and model doing the same for you?

See you on the mountain,


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