Real Leaders

The Leadership Chain

My purpose for writing this on-going column about conscious leadership is nothing less than to promote a shift in the thoughts and mindsets of leaders; ensuring organizations are run more effectively. By that I mean that organization becomes more fluid and productive in the long run, and that it contributes to a healthy, sustainable planet (socially as well as environmentally).

The shift requires that leaders fully understand a simple yet profound chain of logic, that if embraced to the full extent of its meaning, points to the type of leadership that will make a difference in organizational life and more importantly, on the planet. It’s based on a huge and growing amount of research around each element of the leadership chain. Each piece of research cannot stand on its own, and yet the totality of the research is both profound and compelling.

It tells us there is, irrefutably, a direct linkage between a leader’s mindset and an organization and its results. It tells us, in effect, that the leader casts a wide shadow – she leaves an enormous impact in her wake, whether she is aware of it or not. In other words, the quality of the culture is a reflection of the consciousness of the leader. It is the leader’s shadow reflecting back the best and worst of whom he or she is as a leader. This means that the attitudes, beliefs, personalities and inner paradigms that the leaders hold will inevitably show up in the organization and its culture and ultimately shape its dynamics. You can see it in almost all organizations.

Steve Jobs was brash, bold and creative and so, too, is Apple. Bill Gates is brilliantly strategic and aggressive and so, too, is Microsoft. Herb Kelleher is quite playful while his COO, Colleen Barrett, is quite organized; Southwest Airlines is a rare combination of the two. The chain of logic is simply this. What you want as a leader is extraordinary and sustainable results. While many factors contribute to this outcome such as market timing, strategy, product excellence, operational efficiency, the quality of people you hire, and luck, the biggest factor that contributes to your long term results is the quality of your culture.

And while many different factors contribute to your culture such as geography, history, the industry in which you reside, etc., by far, the single greatest factor that contributes to your organizations culture is your leadership behavior and that of your leadership team. In fact, research shows unequivocally that as much as 50% of an organization’s culture is directly a result of the quality of the leadership of that organization.

Without a doubt the environment affects one’s behavior, as does good old fashioned training and know-how, yet the biggest factor affecting a leader’s behavior is his or her mindset — beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and ways of seeing and being. As a consultant to businesses, I’ve been asked by leaders to fix some part of their organization. “Those folks aren’t working hard enough,” or “they’re confused,” or “we just don’t hire the right people.” They might say to me, for example, “Keith, I’m troubled by how so many people don’t take initiative. Would you help me create an organization guided by a greater sense of personal responsibility?”

What they often don’t understand is that the dynamics they seek to change are a reflection of their own leadership patterns — more often than not toward a command-and-control style of management where their micromanagement tendencies snuff the life force out of the very culture they want to change. They create organizations centered on themselves and wonder why people don’t take more initiative.

Or consider the charismatic leader filled with vision and wonderful ideas:   underneath the organization’s brilliant marketing machine is a culture of scattered initiatives where so much falls through the cracks and a lack of coordination runs rampant. Simply put, it’s the mindset of the leader that profoundly affects the culture and ultimately its results, for good or for bad.

Take a moment to consider a problem you might have in your organization. Be sure to pick a problem that appears to be impervious to change. Now consider how this problem may be a reflection of you. In other words, look in the mirror and ask yourself, how do my leadership traits and I cause this? What don’t I see that may cause this problem? If nothing comes to mind, ask some trusted members of your team. You know, the ones who’re not afraid to tell you the truth about you!

As difficult and painful as it might be, all leaders would benefit from looking in the mirror when they feel frustrated with their organization, the results or its counterproductive patterns. This is what conscious leaders do. This column, The Conscious Leader, is dedicated to stories, ideas, research and insights to pique the imagination and help cultivate the great leader inside.

In this column, I will share what I know and what I believe to be true about remarkable leadership. Having worked with well over 350 companies and leaders of all types, and having coached literally hundreds of top level executives, I seek to share the stories and observations I encounter along the way. All this is done in the interest of supporting an ongoing examination of the most important variable to your organization’s success, or lack thereof — YOU!


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