Leadership Stairway to Heaven: 5 Principles
I was in a meeting a while back with a group of respected Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs). Jeffrey Pfeffer, distinguished Stanford Professor of Organizational Behaviour, had just finished explaining why he thought that today’s leadership development is “BS”. The audience cracked up when he told them that his publisher had made up a customized “BS” stamp, with a big, red “BS” that graced his book cover. A couple of people at my table said, “Hey, I wish I had one of those!”
Yes, leadership development is in some trouble these days. There is a lot of BS out there.
But we’ve got to move past this and get into action. In a chat I had with Jeffrey the next day, I asked him, “So Jeffrey, you’ve thrown the gauntlet down and am I reading it right that you’re asking people like me to take a fresh look at how we practice and measure leadership?” He smiled and with a twinkle in his eye, said, “Yep, it’s up to you guys. Good luck!”
And here’s the thing. We’ve done a great job asking what I call “W questions” in leadership – who is leading, what they are doing, where and when they are leading, and significantly, why they are leading. These are, and always will be, vital questions.
But in this era of digital leadership, it’s time to ask a different kind of question: we need to ask “how?” How leadership happens is the least understood and least researched area in the field today. It’s what I’ve spent the last five years working on during my Ph.D. studies.
What I learned is that when we unpack how leadership occurs, a new portal of action based learning opens up. We learn how to make decisions faster, accelerate strategy and drive innovation. When we ask how, we can achieve a higher level of performance because we become more attuned to relational processes and practices of leadership. The very glue, if you will, of making leadership come alive.
There are 5 principles that illuminate relational leadership.
Principle 1: Focusing on others first, last and always
Contemporary leaders no longer position themselves at the centre of organizational structures, problems, teams, ideas and realities; they place themselves at the edge to better appreciate context – this supports more informed decision making
Principle 2: Upholding ethical and moral values
Relational leaders own high standards and hold teams and peers accountable; they encourage multiple perspectives to build trust and transparency – this facilitates doing well, by doing good
Principle 3: Making sense of our world
Absorbing, distilling, and curating incoming intel represents some of the heaviest lifting in digital leadership. Relational leaders facilitate catalytic a-ha’s, developing new language and meaning around bits and bytes – this drives greater innovation through gathering fresh perspective
Principle 4: Discovering relational processes and practices that build speed
Bringing to life 7 relational processes and 5 practices revealed through my research moves leaders to more holistically coach and support their teams -this strikes at the heart of being able to take the right action, at the right time with the right people
Principle 5: Being a results-driven change maker
With mastery of these four principles, leaders create portals for action and change – this facilitates collaboration, earned trust and the tenacity that drives results.
When we ask “how” questions, we develop new “know-how”. This new language helps us connect context – from which all practices emanate.
Re-imagining a world that is centred on these practices will deliver development programs that are for the good of everyone – the individual, the team and the organization. Ask yourself the pragmatic question, “Who is making this difference in practice right now in our organization? Who is asking “how?” They’re there – probably right under your nose. It could be you.
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