Leadership is the accumulation of skills and qualities an individual utilizes when he or she is trying to accomplish a task or objective. This influence that the individual has becomes the process in which they pull together the support of others in a common goal. Leadership traits include influencing skills, charisma, intelligence, foresight and integrity to name a few. These traits are critical in the ability to lead a group of individuals to accomplish a common goal. There are five elements of leadership that will be discussed ranging from the individual leader, their followers, context, skills and management. Each area plays a critical role in the understanding and implementation of leadership. Leadership is a skill honed by practice, study and imparting the right guidance and practices. Leadership is what will drive change and new processes and methodologies that will take business, government and other entities to the next level of performance and goal achievement (Kotter, 2012). Throughout this look into leadership the key aspects include understanding leadership as a whole, how to take advantage of the lessons from leadership and imparting the vision of the future roles of leadership and how it relates to management (Kouzes & Posner, 2008). The difference between managers and leaders can be slight but more than likely the difference can be as vast as a canyon. As we discuss leadership there are key elements that will be covered including the individual leader, their followers, leadership situations, skills and management. The elements of leadership are blended into multiple situations and will be outlined in scenarios as well as insights into leadership.
Leadership is described by Peter Drucker in a synopsis of management verses leadership in the quote “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” This simple statement places the emphasis on how leadership is more than accomplishing goals and objectives but how those achievements are obtained and implemented while also imparting guidance and strategic intent throughout the process. In the business world the hierarchy is built into levels of authority based on roles, organizational needs and functional expertise. The levels in the organization include titles such as departmental manager, shift manager, functional manager and general manager. These areas are broken down into core competencies that require that role to perform certain aspects of the job. The goal of a shift manager working within the confines of an automotive production plant has specific measurable objectives to reach during the course of his or her shift, week, month, quarter and year. These goals and objectives are set forth by senior management based upon their goals and objectives in order to meet the senior accountable forces within the organizations business strategy. Leaders are thought to be born and not trained but there is a mixture of internal drive to want to lead and take charge of situations as well as learning to hone the leadership skills to become more effective and efficient in leading differing tasks and objectives.
The goal of the manager is to manage the specific, tactical and operational functions underneath his or her span of control (Zaleznik 2008). The manager will more than likely be compared and appraised upon how well he met the metrics established for his group. The metrics for the manager’s area of responsibility does not necessarily take into account his or her leadership ability and how well the leadership skills are being developed and implemented within the manager’s team (Zenger & Folkman, 2009). Just as stated before the metrics of the manager are encapsulating how well the manager performed on the things that he or she did right and not necessarily doing the right thing. For example, the manager has a production rate to maintain for the shift. This manager knows that in order to maintain the production rate certain aspects must be fully met such as parts arriving at the right time, very few interruptions to the assembly line flow, all employees showing up on time and prepared for work. Tactically and managerially the objectives are clear. Make sure the parts and people are in place to conduct the assembly process and if there is a problem on the line the manager must take all the necessary actions to get the line moving again. In this scenario the amount of pressure placed on the manager could grow exponentially if the demand increases which would then require the rate produce to increase on the line. The managerial model is ensuring that things are done right. The manager utilized the checklist to ensure the parts were there, the people were there and the line kept moving. The divergence between manager and leader can be noted in the following. The manager has a myopic view of just his or her assembly line. If multiple workers do not show up or if there is a problem within the assembly line that takes time to retool a piece of equipment or other serious issues the manager may not meet the metrics. The manager may also be driving the wrong behavior on the assembly line. The metric to do things right is accomplishing the appropriate number of finished goods by the end of the shift. In order to supersede the issues on the assembly line other aspects of the product may be neglected. The quality of the product that is assembled could have defects and have long lasting ramifications down the road.
In the view of a leader the goal is still to provide the correct line rate but also accomplish this by doing the right things in order to achieve that goal. To dive into this scenario assume the same scenario in which the assembly line must make the quota of finished goods. In order to achieve the maximum line right and align the output to the amount of production capacity within the plant the leader must also understand the issues that impact the end results. The three areas that we focused on was supply of parts, employees showing up to work and issues that would stop production on the line. There are many ways to mitigate the first issue. The manager could order triple the amount of parts and store them all in a facility on the company’s campus or rent out storage space to hold the extra inventory. This would eliminate the issue of not having enough parts. While the objective of having not running out of parts has been negated it has caused problems in other areas of the business and ultimately made the product less profitable due to increased overhead of managing and maintaining high levels of inventory. This is not an example of leadership. Leadership is taking the situation and influencing others to accomplish a goal or objective. In this case a leadership approach would be to understand where the core issue lies. This could be done through analysis to understand the supply chain flow and point out the key choke points within the process to fully understand the situation. In this scenario the parts are coming from a foreign sourced manufacturer and the lead time for the product is six weeks due to the shipment of goods from overseas. As a leader the goal is to do the right things. This would include identifying the suppliers that own the high priority parts or the parts that are continually setting the production back. After identifying the key suppliers each individual issue can be addressed and remedied. This could include sending demand signals nightly or weekly as well as increasing the overall communication between the supplier and the manager’s company. There could also be another method to mitigate the risk of shutting down the plant by moving away from sole sourcing the product to pulling the manufactured parts from multiple sources. This could ensure the products are coming from varied sources and if one supplier falls upon issues the other supplier can temporarily supplement the demand.
Another critical area that shows how leadership is established and implement can be shown through the third area impacting the production rate. The amount of finished goods completed on the assembly line is in direct correlation with the rate in which the line literally moves. If the line is not progressing then the finished goods are not being completed and this means that the metrics for the manager or not going to reflect positively. When an issue arises on the line there is a communication to the manager stating that there is a problem. Two things happen on the assembly line. The first is the fact that the products with the issue will potentially not meet the quality aspects that are needed to sell to the customer. The longer the timeframe between the notification being sent to the manager and the reaction and mitigation by the manager the more potential damage to metrics and quality occur. In order to meet the metrics of producing sellable finished goods for the week the manager does two things. In order to meet the goal when there is an issue impacting quality all of the products that are at the point in the assembly line from the problem notification to the finished good must be removed from the queue and placed into a rework section for a technical employee to address all of the units and fix the issue off of the assembly line. In order to make up for the units during the week, the manager enforces mandatory overtime on Saturday’s until the quota is met. The manager has performed the duties assigned and met the quota as outlined by his hierarchy. The problem is that now there are more resources being engaged to produce the same amount of product and there are multiple areas of waste occurring throughout the process. Effectiveness and efficiency are driving the changes necessary in business today and rework, quality issues and mandatory overtime to produce the same amount of product are not conducive to the currently manufacturing climate.
A leader would utilize the intelligence, charisma and knowledge to assess the situation and provide guidance and a plan to do the right things. In this a leader would assess the situation and take the assessment to the next level. This includes involving the people on the floor and experiencing the issues first had. This leadership ability is utilizing other tools to find solutions. Asking why issues are occurring and when the person receives that answer as “why” again. This could be continued until the root cause of the issue is found. The leader is performing the duties not only to meet the goals and objectives of the business but also to drive change within the organization to create sustainable and impactful changes. In this scenario the employees on the line are experiencing work stoppages due to a tool malfunction. This leads to screws and bolts either not being fully count-sunk into the product or bolts and nuts not fully tightened to the specifications outlined by the engineers in their technical specifications. In order to understand the issue the leader could do something that may seem like it is in direct contradiction to the metrics and goals. The leader could segregate time during the normally schedule duty hours and have a team workout session to understand, implement and sustain the solution to the problems. The workout session would drive multiple angles first of which is engagement from the team, next is complete buying for the solution and thirdly a solution to the problem of the line shutting down. The generalized discussion could by synopsized as follows. What is the problem? The bolts are not tightened to specification when they pass through the assembly check points. Why? The bolts stop turning half way through the station. Why? The air ratchet stops turning. Why? The air flow is diminished. Why? Two lines are using the same air compressor to run all the tools. Now the root cause has been established. The tools were not broke; the line was not too fast nor was the bolts from the supplier out of specification. The leader decided to do the right thing and right solution. With the new air compressor the tools ran as expected and the rework was eliminated as well as the mandatory overtime.
According to Hughes’ book “Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience” one of the most important aspects of situational leadership and the key aspects of leader-follower-situation. In this example the leader took the role of solving the issue and utilizing tools and methods that may not necessarily seem apparent when in to the depths of the manufacturing environment. A leader does the right things but also takes on a whole new responsibility of being the “face” of the changes as well as the biggest proponent. The example shows how to solve a problem by taking the key contributors out of the firefighting mentality and strives to push them toward a process of understanding the real issues and addressing the problems at their core as opposed to bandaging the symptoms of the problem and never solving any core issues. The use of leadership and influencing skills based on the charisma, intelligence, demeanor and provocative nature of the leader will become almost as important as the solution itself. The leader must also work on promoting the change within the organization and that includes the change in culture that facilitated the bandaging of symptoms. Driving change and implementing cultural deviations can be an arduous track to follow but with a great leader heading the team the path becomes that more easily followed.
Leadership concepts including specific skills, attributes, education and knowledge are broad and in some cases non-definitive as to what truly make up a leader. When organizations are looking to improve their competitive advantage and improve their business model they look toward the leaders of the organization. These leaders drive innovation in ways that other innovations cannot. Technological advances, new core business models, improved tools are all great implementations that can be used to improve the rate of success for a business but leadership innovation and managerial acumen propel the organization to another level. The internal leadership abilities can create a competitive advantage for an organization that a new set of collaborative software tools or best practice framework would not be able to achieve. Implementing new tools and changes require leadership ability to lead the relentless pursuit of effectiveness and efficiency while continually improving and changing the business. These leaders are standing in the forefront of the business driving, guiding and spearheading the business in a way that requires a skillset like those of the pioneers trekking to find new lands and opportunities. Leaders do that in much of the same way. The individual leader has the responsibility of inspiring others to perform tasks to complete a common objective. Sometimes the individual leader may face the daunting task of inspiring those individuals into completing tasks that they do not want to complete. That is where the art of leadership and inspiration and motivation play into rallying the troops to take on the necessary objectives of the business. The individual leader must also encompass different aspects of leadership. A key trait for a lead is that he or she must have a vision and purpose. These two combined provide for the trajectory of the leaders plan for the future as well as the motivating factors for achieving those goals (Caroselli, 2001). The purpose drives the vision and is an underlying factor for why the leader has chosen to take on the responsibilities assigned and becomes a resource for motivation and inspiration. With all great leaders there are those that support and provide the backbone of the leadership’s vision.
The support for the leaders includes the followers. The followers include a group of people that are in need of something from the leader. They are following for a reason. They need the leader to perform as a leader and provide the guidance and direction as well as be the overall representation of the group as a whole in both physical and verbal interactions throughout the organization. The individual leader has two areas that set prioritization for him or her (Rost, 1993). To effectively run an organization a leader must have a clear vision and strategy, set priorities and guidance, build a network of key contributors, improve and sustain relationships, influence those vertically and horizontally within the organization and ultimate make sure things happen in a positive manner within the organization. Followers not only expect the aforementioned group of responsibilities but it is almost a given in terms of the followers needs. The needs of the followers include trust, insight, integrity, compassion and a vision of hope for the organization. The followers follow for a reason that is greater than being part of the organization. The leader stands for the employees and is the face of the needs of the followers. The leader may achieve the role in which he or she is placed based on skill, networking, strategic vision and execution but will maintain the follower’s trust and devotion by building the core competencies of integrity, intelligence, service and excellence. The followers expect a sense of control and stability to be exuded from the role of their leader. In an uncertain world where change is inevitable it is the role of the leader to provide the calm to the storm and direct the course of action when needed so that the followers understand what the need to accomplish and that the actions they are taking are leading to an objective that is favorable for themselves and the organization as a whole. Leadership is driving the change necessary to be competitive and achieve that operational excellence that is expected. In Hughes’ book “Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience” the leadership examples ranged from Colin Powell, Peter Jackson and Aung San Suu Kyi among other examples throughout the text. All of the examples were great leaders of their respective areas of responsibility and thrived under situations that other would not be successful. The difference between those like Powell, Jackson and Aung San Suu Kyi and others in their organizations is that the leaders to the stand and took charge of the situations. Their ability to balance the art of leadership with the science of implementation proved to show their inherent and learned abilities as leaders.
The leadership situation is a mixture of what was already in place for the leader to take part of as well as what the leader brings to the situation. Each situation varies and this is particularly true for situations in today’s business environment where data is available at the touch of a button and information can be manipulated from this data to provide the insight to the decision making of the business leaders in a plethora of ways. The context and situation of leadership follows a basic framework decision making and implementation but ultimately falls under the responsibility of the individual leader and how he or she conducts their leadership business. Management and leadership while varied in definition still have a firm foundation in the context of achieving goals and objectives. Good leadership is not always transferrable between every situation. While the core competencies may remain similar the complexity of leadership should not be underestimated. The level of success for each individual is the accumulation of many aspects of leadership including education, training, knowledge, charisma, oratory skills, negotiation ability, influencing skill and so on.
What skills are necessary to be a leader? Great leaders have the mix of inherent abilities and learned behavior. Just like any athlete even those with minimal athletic ability can be taught the basics of running but only those with the tangible, muscles, structure, height, stride and intangible, heart, determination, mental aptitude, can become Olympic athletes. This is fairly certain for leadership as well. Leaders can be grown but the level of effort to grow these leaders is dependent on the base level skills sets coupled with the desire and determination to be a leader. The skill set is a diverse mix of tangible and intangible traits that are built through experience and training. They are also formulated through the enhancement of key characteristic traits such as being an extrovert or having a highly technical in background coupled with the ability to outwardly present what the leader has internally to a group of individuals or followers.
Leadership represents the ability to guide a group of individuals with initially separate and distinct goals into a concerted and synergistic focus toward the same objective. This is a shift in individualistic goals and objectives into those that are for the greater good of the group as a whole. These leadership traits revolve around building an individual with the ability to guide and direct while also maintaining a level of trust and hope within the organization of people he or she is leading. Building leaders is achieved through the experience that is provided to the individuals as well as the self-directed situations the individuals take on during their lifetimes. Leaders come in a variety of skillsets and abilities but the common foundation of the leaders remains a constant. This foundation is the ability to lead a group of individuals while not only focusing on obtaining the goals and objectives in which they are in charge of but also building the relationships between themselves, the organization in which they are leading and the followers that are providing the vessel in which to achieve their vision.
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