Too often, in an attempt to bring a neat answer to a question like “How do we develop great leaders?” leadership is overly broadly characterized by all-consuming clichés like “big-picture,” “inspirational,” and “visionary.” In this overly simplistic business environment, it’s the leaders who bring the idea and it’s the managers who dutifully execute and manage the “process,” “control” the situation and “budget” with precision.
This dichotomy, while helpful in some cases, doesn’t of course match with reality, as we’ve worked with thousands of leaders with thousands of unique profiles. Some fit the big-picture thinker perfectly, with huge preferences in Conceptual thinking and a love for Abstract ideas. Some though, typify perfectly the Left-brained thinker—data driven, logical, careful and as organized and straightforward as one could be.
For those with a Conceptual preference, long-term, big-picture ideas matter; so give them an understanding of the ultimate goals and values of the organization. Allow them to brainstorm new ideas and take those ideas seriously. Give them feedback on ways to develop their ideas to the next level, in a way that complements the direction of the organization.
I haven’t even mentioned behavior yet…but suffice it to say, not every leader loves standing on a podium and firing up the masses. Not every leader forcefully drives home ideas, making every small part of a decision into a rigorous competition. And certainly not every leader welcomes change and desires the inexact nature of big business.
John Kotter, best-selling management thinker from Harvard Business School, puts it simply “Everybody has a little bit of each [style or approach] in them.”
Great leaders ultimately must rely on a holistic approach to leadership—they must be both a visionary and a manager. They must know the strategy and the big-picture and know how to put it to work and ensure it gets done. They must inspire and connect to people individually.
It comes down to three core reasons that leadership goes beyond inspiration and into tactical, strategic and relational elements:
- Necessity for self-awareness and a realization of strengths and challenges
- Complex tasks that require multiple forms of intelligence and execution
- The ability to connect with a diverse set of followers…all of whom exhibit all thinking and behavioral styles
These three aspects of course include many variables and competencies which could further define and pinpoint leadership, but they more importantly lay the foundation for employing a leadership focus that is built on an internal (self-awareness) and external (ability to connect with others) framework and buoyed by a multifaceted skill set and approach model.
This way of looking at leadership means that leaders themselves aren’t pigeonholed by a particular type of leadership or a particular set of skills. Rather, any leader can utilize his/her strengths and natural preferences while becoming more aware of the way other perceive actions and communications. It also provides a leader with a framework for understanding the best ways to approach the complex decisions, ideas and relationships that are inherent to the position.
Great leaders are managers because they understand the specific ways that work needs to get done to be efficient and effective. Great managers are leaders because they take the tasks that need to get done and know how they’re talents fit and more importantly how to bring out the talents of others to gain even greater results.