Effective Leadership

In John W. Garner’s book On Leadership, he makes a number of insightful observations about the work of organizations and the attributes of leadership and I would talk about three areas. First, Gardner argues that the opportunity for leaders is to inspire and release the full creative, imaginative, moral and disciplined power of the men and women who comprise their organization. He writes:

The greatest asset of any society is the talent and energy of its people. Yet no society has ever fully recognized or honored that asset; indeed, most societies have effectively stifled both talent and energy. The release of human possibilities is one of the most basic of social objectives and leadership goals….

There are great, untapped reservoirs of human energy and capacity awaiting leaders who can tap them and societies that deserve them.

Implicit in Gardner’s observations above is a sense that many factors block the flourishing and development of human creativity and possibility. We may see our jobs as ones that silently encourage us to be strategic, inflexible, protective of self or a narrow interest. We may fear change, innovation and new paradigms. We may have lost the passion, idealism and fervor that once inspired our professional lives. Our leaders may have failed to awaken us from complacency or mediocrity. Whatever our excuse, Gardner suggests that human societies, communities and nations can only grow, prosper and flourish by a process of continued regeneration and renewal. He writes:

Continuous renewal is necessary. Leaders must understand how and why human systems age, and must know how the process of renewal must be set in motion. The purposes are always the same:

· To renew and reinterpret values that have been encrusted with hypocrisy, corroded by cynicism or simply abandoned, and to generate new values when needed.

· To liberate energies that have been imprisoned by outmoded procedures and habits of thought.

· To reenergize forgotten goals or generate new goals appropriate to new circumstances.

· To achieve, through science and other modes of exploration, new understandings leading to new solutions.

· To foster the release of human possibilities, through education and lifelong growth.

Much of this is implied in the valuable distinction made by James MacGregor Burns between transactional and transformational leadership. Transactional leadership accepts and works within the structure as it is. Transformational leadership renews.

Effective leaders heighten both motivation and confidence, but when these qualities have been gravely diminished, leaders have a hard time leading. He writes:

Most people in most organizations, most of the time are more stale than they know, more bored than they care to admit. All too often it is because they have not been encouraged to use their own initiative and powers of decision. And if they are not expected to use their decision-making powers, they are off the hook of responsibility. That is the damaging element.

Unrelenting autocracy down the chain of command undermines initiative. It says by implication that your responsibility is not to identify problems beyond those implicit in your orders, not to think about solutions. Wait for the next order! If something goes wrong that is not strictly within the scope of your orders, you need not worry about it. Followers who are passively awaiting orders have lost much of their capacity to be of help.

It is a loss we cannot afford. It is in the very nature of large-scale organization that its only hope of vitality is the willingness of a great many people scattered throughout the organization to take the initiative in performing leaderlike acts, in identifying problems at their levels and solving them.

We need leaders who can bring alive in individuals all down the line that kind of capacity to share the leadership task.

Your thoughts?

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