#351 from Innovative Leader Volume 7, Number 7          July 1998

Effective Leadership: A Very Old Formula
by Ed Rose

Mr. Rose is Training Manager at Harris Semiconductor in Palm Bay, Florida (email: erose@harris.com).  Before that, he was a Production Manager for 25 years.  The company has been recognized as best-in-the-class in self-directed work teams, and has been benchmarked by over 140 companies.  He has written 50 Ways to Teach Your Learner (Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer, San Francisco, due December 1998), from which this article is adapted, and Presenting and Training with Magic (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1997).

“What we’ve learned from the past is that we seldom learn from the past …. or do we?”  That was my first thought when I was asked to write an article on effective leadership.  I have considered myself a leader since my youth on the rough streets of New Jersey.  At that time, my definition of leadership meant that if I wanted someone to do something for me, I just told them what I wanted them to do and, if they didn’t--well, let’s say I was seldom refused. 

Occasionally, I did what they said. I didn’t win every fight.  Our neighborhood also formed alliances and often within the alliance was a hierarchy. These experiences were the basis of what I called leadership. Some might refer to it as ‘survival of the fittest’, ‘only the strong survive’, or something equivalent.  You, most likely, will also be able to associate with this analogy. 

During my early work experiences, each of my bosses only reinforced the ‘power paradigm’ that I had developed while growing up. I had followed this basic philosophy in military school, and through my first 25 years of being a manager.  I did, however, have to modify the penalty for not following my directions; I started calling it “management by electrocution.”  I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen to you, but I did know that if you didn’t follow my directions, something bad would happen. 

This model served me well for a good part of my life, and it wasn’t until the culture started to change at Harris, and elsewhere around the United States, that I became aware that it might not be the most effective leadership style.  Today, textbooks and authors often refer to this style as the ‘traditional leader.’  But was it the most effective? It definitely can be effective, but it only works in the short term. Was this the only paradigm available for leaders to learn from?   No!!  

A 17th century Russian field marshal, Count Suvorov, had never lost a battle, even against numerically superior opponents.  Suvorov had a “secret weapon.”  He recognized that the enlisted soldier was the foundation of his success.  He trained and encouraged his front line soldiers to be their best.  He treated them with respect.  There were other leaders who also shared this “secret weapon.”  In fact, even some of the great ancient Greek thinkers understood this to be the best way to lead.  So why didn’t we learn from history?

To learn from the past we must have ‘paradigm flexibility.’  We have to remain adaptable and not get ourselves locked into having only one way to do something. The opposite of paradigm flexibility is ‘paradigm paralysis’, where you have only one fixed thought or context to operate from.  Simply said, a leader must be adaptable.  I believe history has proven that leadership is about being trustworthy, which is paramount for earning the commitment and respect of your followers. 

Committed people will follow their leaders anywhere.  The above leaders learned the importance of their followers being resourceful, and they recognized the need of providing training in the areas that would help them make better decisions and be more effective in action.   They also realized the need for their followers to maintain an optimistic outlook, which required the leader to establish a positive vision of the future, either for them, their family, or their country.  Finally, through their actions, these leaders demonstrated consideration for their followers by being committed to excellence.

Today you can’t pick up a business magazine and not find at least one example of these effective leadership behaviors.  But it seems that many--perhaps most--organizations still haven’t embraced what it takes to have every leader become an effective one.  Here are five behaviors that I call “ATROC,” summarizing what I’ve learned from the past about effective leadership. 

Five Effective Leadership Behaviors (ATROC)

Adaptable:  Leaders must be adaptable to change.  Charles Darwin said, “It’s not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent, that survive; it’s the one most responsive to change.”  Your job as a leader is to allow change to occur and, in some cases, be the catalyst.  The last thing you want is to be the keeper of the tradition that creates the roadblock to progress.  Learn to challenge both the process and your current thinking biases.  Have ‘paradigm flexibility.’

Trustworthy:  Leaders must earn the trust of their people by doing what they say they’ll do and by being fair.  They must create an environment that encourages each employee.  If their followers can answer ‘yes’ to the following questions, the leader is creating a safe environment :

Can I trust my leader?

Does my leader care about me?

Is my leader committed to excellence?

Creating a foundation of trust encourages commitment among the followers that will generate incredible loyalty towards the leader.

Resourceful:  Leaders should provide the required training to assure that their followers are prepared for their jobs and responsibilities.  Encourage collective intelligence and working with others.  Break down any perceived walls within your organization. Build a knowledge base that’s available to your staff.

Optimistic:  Leaders must provide a positive vision of the future.  Develop a vision that guides your followers while allowing them to make decisions supporting that vision.  Help your followers predict their future based on their own actions.  Model the way with your positive attitude.  Attitude is important for everyone and is critical to the leader. 

If someone passing you in the hall says, “How do you feel today?” what would you say to them?  If you didn’t answer, “Great!,” or “Couldn’t be better!,” then you missed your chance to positively impact the emotions of that person.  As a leader, you’re on stage every day.  You must be real and believe what you say, because followers will quickly pick up on the ‘real you’ behind any act!  Set the example with your actions.  When people ask me that question, I say, “Great, but I am getting better!” Sometimes I’ll say, “If I were any better, I’d think I were twins!”  I’ve seen the difference this simple approach has on people.  Your attitude is the control panel to your life.

Considerate:  As the leader, you must consider your task carefully, but you can no longer think in terms of ‘the end justifies the means.’  You must consider the personal effect on your followers if you are to build the commitment that’s required for long-term success.  Leaders don’t use their position to gain special perks.  What’s good enough for your followers should be good enough for you.  Leaders should also look to celebrate the successes of their followers as often as possible.  Recognize, reward, and praise them frequently.  Lead by example and by exhibiting your values. 

Successful leaders in the 21st century will be those who not only learn from the past, but actually thrive on innovation and paradigm flexibility.  The ATROC behaviors will be just as effective for our grandchildren as they are for us today. The question to ask yourself is: Do I learn from the past??

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