Oct 052008

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

Many of my leadership coaching engagements begin with a focus on the very definition of leadership. The younger CEOs tend to be confused about leadership – particularly if it is the first efforts to put together a team and build a company. For most of them, the definition that they have started with is something they took away from college – or worse, from TV and movies. Early on, it became clear to them that, although this approach to leadership makes for good entertainment, it is seriously lacking when it comes to building a business

The searches for a good working definition – and the ability to implement it – are often primary reasons what CEOs make contact with me and express an interest in leadership coaching. Like many engagements, the first steps involve dismantling the preconceptions.

As a first step we have to put the ‘cowboy’ version of leadership away – neither the lone ranger nor the messiah leading the chosen out of the desert work beyond the very early stages of a company’s growth. Some of the negative characteristics of leaders using this approach are:

  • The CEO seems to always be to far out front – distanced from where the real work is being done
  • They seem disconnected – almost an add-on to the team – and operating according to there own set of rules
  • Team members see them as aloof, arbitrary, distant and uncaring
  • Other members of the team come to see themselves as second-class citizens
  • Often secondary leaders evolve – with much closer relationships to other team members and their own vision and agenda for the company
  • The team develops no consistent culture and remains fragmented – a loose affiliation of ‘entrepreneurs’ each looking out for themselves
  • Customers tend to see the company as having a split personality with the CEO able to override the rest of the team

The cowboy approach to leadership can dominate for a number of reasons. Some of the most frequently occurring are:

  • Inexperience on the part of the CEO
  • Insecurity and a suspicion that the CEO is not up to the challenge
  • The CEO does not like people or interaction with them very much
  • The CEO is heavily invested in the business of the business and has a negative vision of the business of business

My leadership coaching engagements often begin with a leadership assessment. The programs that I use are easy to manage and inexpensive – but the data they generate often clearly points out the needs for change and the most productive avenues for pursuing that change. For more information on these programs, see The Leadership Assessment Program – An Important Tool and Leadership – a Sense Outside of the Self. The assessment programs not only identify areas that need work but also establish a baseline against which to measure future progress.

  • Improving situational awareness
  • Clearer perception of individuals and their strengths and weaknesses
  • Better skills as a facilitator
  • Improved understandings of process and context
  • Strengthened ability to structure and enforce metrics
  • Better negotiation skills

All of these areas support the CEO’s ability to bring a team together and help them produce the kinds of miracles that are always necessary for business success. The synergy that develops under inspired leadership very often makes the difference between failure and success.

It is not difficult to become a great leader if your work at it – but it is difficult if you assume that you are naturally one. Leaders are made not born – and the ones who seem to be born into leadership are simply hiding the hard work they have had to do to master the skill.

© Dr. Earl R. Smith II

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