• The Leadership Love-in

    by  • January 2, 2012 • Human Resources, Leadership, Life, Strategy

    I’ve read scads of books, blogs and journals on leadership. Everything I read has been said before – maybe in a different way and usually with different supportive examples; yet, I can’t seem to stay away from the subject. Apparently, neither can others. Leadership books, blogs, and tweets continue to command an impressive share of human interest as expressed by various readership analytics.

    Why the fascination with leadership? In my view, the answer lies within the gap between theory and practice. Despite the proliferation of self-help books and success stories published by respected business journals, leadership performance remains weak. Hewlett-Packard’s dismal showing in the corner office is the most public of leadership fallouts. HP is on their 4th CEO in less than two years. With their size and clout, one shakes the head in wonderment at their inability to find a great leader to set the company on the right course. The irony in all of this is leadership itself, or lack thereof amongst HP’s Board of Directors. Without change, HP will soon become the latest Harvard case study of shareholders getting what they deserve.

    In the world in which we live, where there is a problem, there is a solution, or at least the promise of one. The problem/solution relationship is pervasive in all walks of life. We see it in advertising, sports, medicine, religion, politics, and of course, in commercial products and services. Everything is done with a purpose in mind. Leadership will always be vitally important. When it is lacking, there will be people keen to offer a helping hand, whether for personal profit and/or for a higher purpose within their own psyche.

    Thankfully, the internet’s social network enables massive audiences for blogs and articles on leadership. Hopefully, the medium and the message of the authors will bridge the gap between principle and practice.

    If you are interested, here are some of the leadership blogs I follow:
    Mike Myatt at http://www.n2growth.com/blog/
    Dan Rockwell at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/
    Lisa Petrilli  at http://www.lisapetrilli.com/
    Jesse Lyn Stone at http://jessestoner.com/blog/
    The Leader Lab at http://theleaderlab.org/
    Susan Mazza at http://randomactsofleadership.com/
    Wally Bock at http://blog.threestarleadership.com/ 
    Ted Coine at http://www.tedcoine.com/

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    Formerlife: Jacobs Suchard CEO (Kraft, Nabob), Strategy Consultant. Afterlife: Palgrave Macmillan Author, Historical Novelist, Business Journalist

    21 Responses to The Leadership Love-in

    1. January 3, 2012 at 6:35 am

      John, I think the interest in leadership comes from the realization that it’s no longer simply a hierarchical issue, i.e., that it resides at the top of the organization alone. Much of the leadership principals and practices are timeless, but there are new approaches and tools than can be taught to people throughout the organization. The area I often talk about is leadership and collaboration…leaders in the middle of the organization have to collaborate across the organization, often with goals and practices that are not compatible, at best ambiguous. It takes leadership to make it happen effectively.

      • John
        January 3, 2012 at 9:03 am

        You make a very good point here, Alan. Having come from the C-Suite, I generally look at a company from the top and see the gaps in leadership. But for any organization to move forward like a flock of geese flying in one direction, leadership must be pervasive. Of course, for that to work, the one at the top ought to: a) ensure clarity in direction, and b) monitor performance against the vision. Thanks for commenting.

        • January 6, 2012 at 8:28 am

          Totally agree with your points A and B. I often urge my CEO clients (in front of their staff) to be an enlightened despotic leader. In other words, show that they are engaged with staff, listening, etc., and…in charge / willing to decisively step up to the plate.

          In the process, they demonstrate to their staff the kind of leadership they should emulate. I say it’s the difference between being authoritarian (good only for the short term) and authoritative (good for the long term).

          Incidentally, it’s possible that I learned some of that from watching you in action all those years ago!

          • John
            January 6, 2012 at 9:13 am

            Authoritarian vs. authoritative is a tough balance but a very good perspective for a CEO to ponder as he or she leads. But, if you are completely honest, Alan, you saw both authoritatian and authoritavie in me back in the old days. Live and learn. Glad you can impart your knowledge and experience in others. JRB

    2. January 3, 2012 at 7:14 am

      Hi John:

      Thanks for including me amongst such fine company. Best wishes for continued success in 2012 John.


    3. January 3, 2012 at 8:38 am

      Very honored to be included in such prestigious company, John – thank you! As you know, I’m a strong believer that success in leadership starts with a bold vision and conviction to bring it to life. In the corporate world, that vision must be clearly communicated to the board and stakeholders, and then every strategy pursued by the company must support it. In my opinion, it’s at this core that most leaders fail – either to create and nurture that bold vision, to communicate it clearly, or to ensure that the organization is strategically aligned to make it happen. Here’s hoping for leaders who do a brilliant job at this in 2012! Wishing you all the very best…

      • John
        January 3, 2012 at 9:09 am

        So right, Lisa and so well summarized. You know, the irony in all of this is that your premise shouldn’t be difficult. Organizationally, one of the quickest fixes is the old notion of the Strategic Business Unit (SBU) – the idea of breaking the company into small enough parts for ease of management and leadership. In my experience, the specialist, the one who focuses on “doing less, better” is the winner. But Wall Street prefers the “bigger is better” notion and well . . .

    4. January 4, 2012 at 10:49 am

      It means a lot to me to be identified among those who bridge between theory and practice. Thank you John. I am especially honored to be included among people I respect and admire.

      I do think you hit the nail on the head with why the fascination with leadership continues, and is perhaps even more robust than ever. There is indeed a big gap between theory and practice for most people.

      I also think many people are no longer looking to model the leadership of “the leaders”, but rather to discover and express the unique leader within themselves. I even encounter a surprising number of people who don’t want to be called a “leader” or can’t see themselves as a leader in their organization because they don’t want to be and/or can’t identify the kind of leader they see in current leadership positions.

      It also occurs to me that in a world where people no longer have to wait for a position to lead (or even recognize they can and do provide leadership without a position) there are a lot more people investing in developing themselves as leaders rather than waiting for someone to say they are ready so they can be sent off to the company’s leadership development program.

      Wishing you a fabulous 2012!

    5. January 4, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      Hi John,

      The fascination with leadership is important because, as you point out, we are in desperate need of leadership in so many organizations. You raise an important point about the gap between principles and practice. It’s easy to sit at a desk and write about theory. Conversely it’s easy to view principles as impractical, especially when leading in the midst of the fray. If we are really going to help our organizations, as leaders we need to understand and value both: Theory/ principles help us understand what to aim for and help create meaning. Practice is messy and helps us embrace innovation, flexibility and forgiveness. Great leaders will not emerge from reading alone. However, unless you’re born a great leader, which few are, good leaders can become great by taking in the wisdom of others. So I agree there is hope for so many with so much good leadership material available now.

      Interestingly we both began our blogs last year in the same month, and both after years of working in the trenches. I think those years in the trenches provide a unique perspective of the gap you describe Congratulations on the completion of your first year blogging. I ‘m honored to be included in your list of favorites, and I look forward to watching both of our blogs continue to grow and develop.


      • John
        January 5, 2012 at 9:41 am

        Thanks for adding your insight, Jesse. I couldn’t agree more with your perspective. Having been in those trenches for so long and mpw passing on experience and advice is very fulfilling. But I have to admit, knowing what I do now, I would have done some things differently – not that the quantitative result (market share, profit) would be any different. I would have tried to take myself less seriously and that would have made the journey a lot more fun. In the trenches, under fire, the qualitative result of leadership tends to be overshadow and yet, in the afterlife, this is the subject that commands the greatest share of my reflections.

        • January 5, 2012 at 11:42 am

          Not taking yourself so seriously is such an important lesson for all of us, John. I read your article at Fortune – http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/02/18/the-ceo-afterlife/ – and was touched, especially by the power of your insight: “Financial and intellectual fulfillment came with the CEO territory. As for physical, emotional and spiritual gratification, the hard-working folks in my factories could have taught me a thing or two…..The truth was this: I had not nurtured my soul with the passion associated with the corner office.”

    6. January 6, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      I enjoyed your post and yes, I too am fascinated by the notion of leadership. It has so many dimensions one aspires to master. As a school principal, I find that being a leader can sometimes be a lonely job – you don’t have the opportunity to work with someone else in the same role, from whom you can learn to hone the art of leadership. Delving into books and articles, and now blogs by others allows me to peek into how someone else leads. I love it because Leadership is something that comes with no specific formula, so I can learn and grow and always put my own spin on how I apply what I’ve learned. Have a wonderful 2012!

      • John
        January 6, 2012 at 6:52 pm

        I had a couple of great mentors early in my career, but like you, the top was lonely. Here’s a blog I wrote several months ago to overcome that. Given your interest in reading books and articles on the leadership, I think you will enjoy it – ‘Does a Mentor have to Breathe?’ http://ceoafterlife.com/leadership/does-mentor-have-to-breathe-to-most-of-2/ . Thanks for commenting and best regards. John

        • January 19, 2012 at 6:34 pm

          I enjoyed the post. Thanks for sharing it!

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    9. January 23, 2012 at 8:00 am

      Hello John, I feel like I just found a treasure trove! I regularly read some of these blogs but am grateful for the whole list.

      Susan’s comment above really resonated for me as a compelling answer to your question (re the fascination with leadership): “I also think many people are no longer looking to model the leadership of “the leaders”, but rather to discover and express the unique leader within themselves”. Seems to me that most of us seek our own actualization as a “leader” (do you hear the choir singing) and believe it is just around the next bend. This optimism carries us forward – every success and every challenge fuels the fire.

      Those who sell “leadership” fan the fire – it moves more training, more coaching, more books. However, IMHO, this trajectory is off – what has really got me thinking is whether everyone should aspire to be a leader. There seems to be a romanticized notion that when we all aspire to that role even those who fall short create greater value – and that’s okay.
      In my saner moments I realize that I do not want to be the leader rather I create more value supporting leaders “from the shadows” – that when I focus on my real passion and strengths we are complementary. My own interest in leadership comes from selecting the leadership competencies that I do need to excel in (some not all) and those that I need to complement. I did not have this clarity before thinking about your post. Thanks for getting me thinking.

      • John
        January 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm

        Gail, I am delighted that you weighed in on this post. You raised a very good point about whether everyone should aspirie to be a leader. The answer is a categoric NO. While everyone has the capability to lead in some area that pertains to their lives, not everyone is meant to be a VP or CEO of a company. There can be just as much satisfaction and contribution from someone who chooses ‘craft’ vs. ‘career’. You need both types in a business. In this context, I think of creative people. Would they rather design or manage a team of designers? I knew a bunch of ad agency Creative Directors who were unhappy in their jobs. They became sales people and herders of the creative department. Sadly, they were often the best writers and art directors in the business. My advice on this is to find the “craftsmen” and give them all the tools to do their job well – the best technology, the best training and mentoring. The result? A motivated, loyal, and highly valuable team player.

        Next week I am going to post a controversial blog, entited “When to ditch the Leadership Love-in”. I’d be interested in your view.

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