Friday, 20 August 2010

Ten truths of leadership

Of course there’d have to be ten, not nine or 13 or a Tom-Peters list of around 37. Ten is nice and neat; makes a tidy package; one tattoo for the back of each finger to remind us as we type our emails.

A recent LinkedIn Group update featuring Ten Truths of Leadership  got me going. James Kouzes and Barry Posner have published another book on leadership. I guess they have to make a living. Their ten truths are true all right. No doubt about that. And yes they’re almost as old as the hills; Biblical even.

A leader who consistently achieved all of them would doubtless be absolutely inspiring.

But I doubt “Ten Truths” will change anything much. They will be tweeted and quoted and everything will go on pretty much as normal.

It’d be interesting to see how many leaders do consistently achieve even half of them, in the eyes of their supposed followers that is.

I’ve worked with many leaders who truly believed that they behaved or at least earnestly, consistently tried to behave like that. I used a very simple method to show them very clearly that they were dreaming.

I got them to record a work conversation with a peer or report, transcribe ten minutes from that tape into the right hand column of a page with their corresponding thoughts on the left hand column (an approach devised by Chris Argyris for his seminal work back in the 70s). Then we’d take a look at the variation between what they were thinking and what they actually said at that time. We invariably found significant contradiction, betraying that they were manipulative, controlling, closed minded, distrusting, and their ‘values’ conveniently flexible.

They were predictably aghast and embarrassed. I assured them that they were normal but that that norm isn’t acceptable in a successful contemporary learning organisation.

As we began the process of change, the biggest obstacle was that they knew, from hard experience,  that actually behaving as “Ten Truths” suggest is very risky because the first one to do it risks being done over by “the others”.

I assured them that unless the leader takes that risk, then no one else will. Then tentatively I coached them to risk new communication behaviours then reflect on the process and the results. Slowly they became more confident to break the mould; to become conscious of the gap between their espoused behaviour and their behaviour-in-action and with the help of their peers and reports, close the gap through changed communication behaviour.

It’s a slow process, but it consistently works where lists of truths consistently fail to make a difference.

Impatient? Go get a new leader. Tempt him with an obscenely high salary and benefits. He’ll likely screw you over just the same.


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