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Here you will find a collection of articles related to the mystery and magic of people, organizations, leadership and change. 

Holistic Leadership

“WHERE ARE THE LEADERS?”

This question is getting asked a lot these days. Small wonder. Every organization is experiencing an exponential pace and complexity of change. Management is under enormous pressure to ensure their organization is successful. Management skills are not adequate for the task at hand. Leadership skills are essential. 

Management is a set of activities required to get work done through the efforts of other people. It involves planning, directing, organizing, motivating and controlling the work. This results in the ongoing delivery of the goods and services of any organization. It is about effectiveness and efficiency. 

Leadership is a set of activities that moves people in a direction or to a place they may be unlikely to go on their own. Leadership is about movement. It is about initiating and sustaining change throughout a system. 

In changing organizations, everyone who supervises people or projects has an ongoing obligation to both manage and lead. The challenge in many organization is an over-reliance on management and a woeful lack of leadership. Often that imbalance is dramatic. A group of senior executives in a national insurance company said they spent at least 85% of their time managing and never any more than 15% leading. And they wondered why their organization was struggling through some major changes. 

A HOLISTIC MODEL FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

Developing leadership skills throughout an organization has become essential. Rare is the organization that develop leaders with the same focus as they develop managers. Could your organization do a better job at developing leaders? A good place to start is with a helpful framework for the skills and abilities you are trying to develop. 

Many years ago, I worked with a colleague who developed an insightful model for leadership and leadership development. Dr. Lyle Benson grounded his model in applied behavioral sciences. It takes a holistic approach to leadership development that continues to make sense in today’s fast-paced world. 

Holistic leadership consists of three essential competencies effective leaders need – work skills, people skills and self skills

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WORK SKILLS

Work skills are what leaders need to be technically good at what they do. Without technical competencies, leaders are unlikely to gain anyone’s respect or trust. Without trust, people in a changing organization won’t follow anyone anywhere. 

Some examples of work skills are:

  • A leader in an accounting organization must know balance sheets, income statements and everything else related to financial tracking and management. 
  • A leader in a software development business must know how to build new software using any of the various programming languages.
  • A leader in a chemical plant must understand the various processing functions, how the mechanical equipment works and the hazards related to the raw materials used. 
  • A leader in a trucking company must be able to back a big rig into a tight loading dock, guide it through heavy traffic using an 18-speed gear box and understand the challenges that go with long haul trucking.
  • Leaders must also understand how to use all the management systems that hold an organization together and allow it to function – IT systems, communication systems, compensation systems, tracking and performance systems to name only a few. 

Typically, it is proficiency in work skills that is most immediately obvious to other people. It is also the most likely reason people get promoted to higher levels of authority – because they are very good at the actual work they do. Yet we all know there is no direct connection between a high level of work skills and competent leadership. 

PEOPLE SKILLS

People skills are those abilities that enable a leader to interact with a wide variety of individuals and groups, often in stressful situations. These are the interpersonal skills that are also visible to anyone watching a leader in action. 

Some examples of people skills are:

  • Communication, conflict resolution and listening skills.
  • Giving and receiving feedback.
  • Meeting management and presentation skills.
  • Coaching and mentoring others.
  • Performance management skills.
  • Dealing with diversity in all its forms.

When someone has a strong proficiency in people skills, they are more likely to move up the hierarchy than someone less engaging. When someone has a high level of people and work skills combined, the likelihood of being fast-tracked to the top increases. 

Unfortunately, the combination of work and people skills are not enough to ensure the caliber of leadership required in today's fast moving organizations. Many organizations that promote people toward the top based on work and people skills alone remain under-led. Much of what passes as leadership is nothing more than rock star mentality, ego on a rampage or coercion. The organization may even be well managed, but there is a leadership deficit. That is because a vital part of the leadership equation is missing. 

SELF SKILLS

Self skills are the intrapersonal competencies that set true leaders apart. Self skills are invisible from the outside looking in. They are sensed or felt, rather than observed. Intangible as they may be, self skills are the core abilities that make a profound difference in the quality and depth of true leaders. 

Some examples of self skills are: 

  • A highly-developed sense of self awareness.
  • A strong understanding of one’s strengths and weakness.
  • An in-depth knowledge of one’s personality type, core values, biases and ambitions.
  • Knowing one’s innate conflict resolution style and how one deals with authority and power. 
  • Recognition of patterns of behavior set in the family of origin and how that impacts current group behavior. 
  • The ability to see one’s self as a small part in a complex system and act purposefully rather than on autopilot. 

This does not mean people with strong self skills are perfect – far from it. They are open, vulnerable and honest about their short comings. They can say they made a mistake and say they are sorry. They point to others in times of success and look inward when the situation is floundering. 

When self skills are present, there is a real sense of genuineness and authenticity that is easy to spot and impossible to fake. The level of integrity and character are rock solid. Values and principles are obvious and above reproach. 

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT – TAKE A HOLISTIC APPROACH

A blend of strong work, people and self skills are at the heart of the highest quality leadership. Each of these three skills represent an equal third of what capable leaders need so people will follow them, through good times and bad. Unfortunately, that vital balance of all three skills is a rare commodity in many organizations. 

If your organization needs stronger leaders, look at what you are currently doing to develop people into leadership roles. Sort each program / resource / activity into one of each of the three skill areas. Which category gets the most emphasis? Which one gets the least attention?

If there is already a balance between all three, your organization is on the right track. If not, you have some work to do. Where do you need to focus more attention to develop the caliber of leaders required to move your organization into the future it desires? 
 

Chris Edgelow