The Problem with Leadership
I’ve been a student of leadership for a long time. Over the last 20 years, my team has worked with companies in a variety of industries to develop their leaders. I would love to tell you that the challenges these companies face have fundamentally changed over that time. I would love to tell you that the average leader today is much more skilled, and the typical organization is a much more functional and healthy place to work. But I can’t.
We walk into the same problems today that we did two decades ago. People aren’t engaged. Strategy execution is stalled. Big transformation efforts fail. And we see the same behaviors over and over. Executives don’t address critically important issues. Managers alienate employees by ordering them around. People in different functions can’t get on the same page to get anything done. The list goes on. I bet you’ve seen it too.
Over the years, we’ve done some work we’re proud of. We’ve helped thousands of individual leaders to make progress. We’ve helped organizations create islands of excellence by giving teams shared language and tools. We’ve helped people gain important insights into their mindsets and behaviors. It’s good work, but it’s not enough. It’s only a drop in the giant leadership bucket and we want to do more. It’s time for a change. But a change to what?
The classic approach of the leadership development industry is to fight complexity with more complexity. I just read a piece on emotional intelligence suggesting that leaders must be able to seamlessly switch between at least four leadership styles to be effective. Then there are the personality-type approaches. Just a simple four-part model means over 256 possible combinations to account for on the fly. Cambridge has worked with over 25,000 leaders and we have yet to see a single person who can do all that. HR’s leadership competency models compound the problem with dozens of categories, representative behaviors, and leveled performance expectations. Even if some of the advice is good, people can’t get their head around it all. So, it has no chance of working.
On the other side of the spectrum, the cult of CEO-worship isn’t any better. Setting aside whether the claimed reasons for their success are accurate, the recommendations are wildly different. Should you try to be Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos? The recording industry and the Internet aren’t the same as when they started, and most people aren’t the CEO anyway. You’ll have to find your own path from wherever you sit. The days of trying to emulate the hyper-gifted few, or the just the plain lucky, need to end. The organizations we work with don’t need a few heroic leaders. The world is crying out for better leadership from everyone, but people can’t possibly get there with what they’re being sold.
Over the last several months at Cambridge Leadership Group, we’ve pushed ourselves to do something different. Something simpler but more powerful. Something universal and practical. Something that answers the challenge of complexity with clarity and focus. It means questioning some of our own assumptions and shedding some of our own baggage. If it helps us serve our clients and community better, it’s worth it.
Over the next 90 days I invite you to join us as we walk through our new approach – one rooted in solid research and refined by years of hard-won experience in the field. We want to spark a new conversation that helps leaders and organizations get out of the place they’ve been stuck.
The first step to solving the problem is acknowledging it. Watch this space for next week’s installment:
The Avoid & Control Trap
Until then Sincerely,