Why Leadership Is A Tool

Leadership is a Tool

Getting stuff done within an organization requires resources, people, and planning. Sometimes it is easy, and sometimes… not so much. In any case, it always requires leadership.

Something Easy

Easy ButtonSimple projects like finding out what office supplies need ordering and getting them into the stock room on the right shelf at the right time (and at the right price) is straight forward and relatively easy to carry out.

Assigning tasks to team members for small projects can be a bit harder than getting office supplies, but it is also relatively easy to carry out if one uses common sense.

But many things need to get done that are much more difficult to do. Some things seem nearly impossible.

Something Impossible

Mission ImpossibleImagine coming in to work on a Monday and finding out that you are in charge of opening up a new call center in Bangalore, India using a brand new ERP computer backbone; closing another call center in Mumbai, India due to some sort of government demand; and get all the computers in the Mumbai center through customs in the US and get them up and running on the new software system in the Austin, Texas office. And you have 21 days to do this.

In this scenario, you would need to get a serious plan in place and execute on that plan quickly. You need results and you need them now.

Executing Strategic Initiatives

A strategic initiative is an endeavor that aims to deliver benefits to important stakeholders. The outcome?  A transformed, higher-performing organization. I tell people, leadership is an essential element for transforming vision into results. I assert that:

“Leadership causes results.”

Think about the premises and propositions for that statement. As the following table shows, there is a linkage between leadership elements and organizational benefits. The left-hand column lists key elements of strategic initiatives, and the right column shows leadership attributes.

Strategic Initiatives involve:

Leadership Functions

Stretch goals that require creativity and innovation Inspiring others to bring out the best of people’s energies
Dealing with harsh, frightening threats and realities Showing courage: Bravery is needed to venture into the unknown. Truth telling is necessary revealing unpleasant information.
Working with vision, ill-defined problems, emerging opportunities, and other abstractions Helping people to overcome ambiguity and develop common mental models of vision, metrics, and methods.
Gaining the support of important stakeholders that are external to the organization Reaching out, listening, and promoting compelling ideas. Cultivating personal relationships and making promises
Accountability for results Modeling and expecting integrity
Different points of view about the nature of the problem and the solution Sharing and building values and ideals

As I watch executives, I see that some “use” the leadership functions listed in the right column more skillfully than others. There is a direct correlation between the skill in the listed function and the quality of the result achieved.

Stated differently, leadership could be considered a means to an end.

Your Opinion

Now to the next assertion and argument: Tools help in the performance of a task; they are also a means to an end. Therefore, if leadership is a means to an end, and tools are a means to an end, a provocative question is:

Is Leadership a Tool?

My short answer: Of course leadership is a tool. It helps in achieving the expected result. A person is more likely to achieve the intended results of a strategic initiative with leadership than without it.

My Perspective

My Myers-Briggs is ENTJ type, and I value competencies, capabilities, capacities, skills, and ingenuity as they relate to performance.  That’s just how I make sense of the world around me.

ENTJs are 5-12% of the population, and the other 8-95% of people would see leadership differently.

Other temperaments might see leadership in spiritual, nurturing, and sensible paradigms.  For instance, check out the course description for an executive course called The Soul of Leadership (Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business) declares that the learner will gain the “Understanding the soul as a confluence of contexts, meanings, relationships and archetypal themes.”

I can see that understanding relationships, context and meanings are important leadership ideals. But it doesn’t ignite my passions.

If I’m standing in front of the CEO, I’m sure that I want to talk about gaining results and not touchy-feely abstractions.

I want to get things done, and I want the tools that will help me.

So, do you think that calling leadership a tool soulless? Given a specific task or situation, can you choose to use or not use leadership? How would you get those computers in from Mumbai? i would love to hear your thoughts!

Greg Githens
helps organizations turn vision into results.

He does this through coaching, seminars, speaking, and consulting.
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Image Source: to55er.files.wordpress.com, starkgray.net, gallery.photo.net

One response to “Why Leadership Is A Tool

  1. I agree! Having been on the front line of driving change, I have to keep my focus on results.

    Too often, leadership is treated as “charm school” polishing. It’s refreshing to see this straightforward article.

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