Leadership: Seed or Fruit?

Purpose: Learn immediately if you are fostering leadership or ignoring it. Discover the power of nurturing your people.

It was an enormous redwood tree. And due to regulations the forest service had to go to incredible trouble and expense in order to cut it down. The cutting team had to start by climbing to the branches and removing them one at a time from the lowest to the highest. Once at the top they could cut two foot lengths off of the trunk at a time until they reached the ground. It seems absurd to us that they started with the branches and then disassembled the trunk, a process that took hundreds of thousands of motions instead of just cutting at the base of the trunk, which of course, would have affected the entire tree. Recognizing that the efficiencies of working with the trunk in order to influence the rest of the tree holds true when we wish it to live and thrive, we have the choice to take a different approach ? yet, many are attempting to grow branches before the trunk.

Leadership is the trunk. Strategic initiatives are the branches. Benefits are the fruit. This is not philosophy; it is a simple statement of the truth.

- Trunk = Leadership

- Branches = Lean Systems, Sustainability, Decentralization, Agility, Customer care, More.

- Fruit = Profit, Market share, Efficiencies, Quality, Environment, Innovation, Compliance, Low turnover, Prestige, Influence, More.

Are you starting at the right place?

There is no other place to start. An idea in action means people in action. The very second someone exposes their desire for the accomplishment of an objective; the idea is in motion through people. The exposure of the idea is leadership in itself, then the actions of people, whether guided by proper principles or not, is leadership.

There is a misconception that leadership is always positive. It is not. Leadership is setting the example. That example can be good or bad. Either way, that example will be followed. In their book, Built to Last, Jim Colllins and Jerry Porras say, "Top management will have an impact on an organization ? in most cases, a significant impact. The question is, will it have the right kind of impact?" A manager sitting in his office all day, not interacting, not supervising, not inspecting, not involved, is setting the example for others. And yet, even if there is a low level use of positive leadership principles, there will still be a certain amount of good fruit.

These results, though limited, will usually follow from the power and validity of the idea, the existing infrastructure and manpower, and the mandate from the boss. The compulsory need to interact with others to accomplish a goal for mutual benefit means that a certain level of leadership capability exists and is needed in every person. The trunk of your business is leadership. Your company's leadership, with its latent capacity, will piggyback the initiative and produce fruit.

In normal conditions of competition and growth, this present level of leadership is sufficient to produce enough fruit to keep everyone happy and focused on marginal periodic improvements. Due to the fact that the ability to produce quantum leaps in leadership capabilities has escaped corporate America, the incremental improvements created through books, seminars and tapes have sufficed.

Ignore leadership development at your own peril ? Apply common sense

We have settled for the less involved leadership development approach and the nebulous results because we feel the need to do something without expending the resources that would then demand a measurement of ROI. In a Society for Organizational Learning supported survey, it was identified that one of the current challenges to leadership is that the "pressure is on for leaders to deliver and sustain measurable results and deliver results through others. (however) Focus of results is ROI, yet there is no measurement of ROI for leadership." Though there is ample evidence to support the positive affects of properly principled leadership, many organizations are unmoved unless they have internal numbers to justify the expense. The cost of getting the numbers, however, is a barrier in itself and leads to an abandonment of a serious program and reliance on the marginal results of "what everyone is doing."

Are you fixated on line items and task lists?

Our concentration, therefore, moves to the power of the ideal. Sustainability and Lean Manufacturing are the way to go, or it is our ability to be responsive to the market that is important, or by decentralizing we will produce the fruit we want. No matter the complexity of the strategic initiative it lends itself to a task list and line items. We can assign a person; put it in a pert chart and schedule meetings six months in advance. This black and white constitutes our corporate comfort zone.

We are darn good at it, and it predictably produces results ? though marginal. We are spending time on the branches, squatting at the end waiting to see the fruit. We are lavishing attention on the branches, pruning, watering and talking to them. If a leaf sprouts, we know it. If a leaf falls, we know it. We mark it in black or red and continue to stroke the bark and fluff the leaves. All the while, the trunk is left to nature for its water, sun and soil.

The growth of the trunk is out of our comfort zone. Dean Hohl, the President of Leading Concepts Inc. explains that, "The objectives associated with leadership, teamwork, and communication, don't lend themselves to task lists and line items." They are nearly impossible to quantify and track. It is easy to rest on our experience that the trunk was here when we arrived and it will be here when we leave. We've build hundreds of branches, but never a trunk. We then rely on the latent soft-skills of our people to implement the ideals.

Today we find ourselves in an unanticipated predicament, which is pressing us from several different directions and threatening our viability. Foreign competition, new technologies, and ideals that require a shift in corporate culture all seem hard to keep up with and out of our control.

Acknowledging that we can have minimal impact on our competitors, especially those overseas, and that new technologies are something that are requisite for all to grasp, our greatest opportunity for advantage comes from a superior ability to implement the reigning corporate ideals. Many strategic initiatives, particularly sustainability and lean manufacturing, have drawn us in with promises of incredible fruit and their adaptability to black and white. However much these initiatives look like branches, they are actually part of the trunk.

These initiatives necessitate a sea change in corporate culture. Successful implementation requires the buy-in of nearly everyone in the company, which demands a purposeful approach to changing people's values; a soft subject. The objective of changing people's behaviors forces us to enter an arena parallel to that of soft-skill development. Our situation demands that we get out of our comfort zone and figure out how to effectively nurture the trunk.

In order to best control the situation our focus must go back to influencing people's values. Along with helping people understand and value the power of the continuous improvement of lean thinking or the financial impact of sustainability, we have the complimentary opportunity to develop the soft-skills of teamwork, leadership and communication. If we are going to legitimately jump into this arena and do it correctly, not only is leadership complimentary, it is an imperative.

Leadership is the trunk. Implementation of these strategic initiatives cannot be successful with the existing level of leadership. We've reached a point of necessity, which compels us to develop the ability to achieve quantum advances in leadership capability. As necessity is the mother of invention, and invention at this level will be dramatically different, prepare for a method that is as different from standard "leadership and teamwork" development as the telephone is from the telegraph.

Jamie Flinchbaugh, an expert in lean manufacturing transformation, questioned, "How is it that such a low percentage of companies that know about lean can turn it into a success?" His answer was, "because the leadership, cultural, organization and implementation challenges are bigger than most people anticipate." I will reinforce his message by saying that in order to achieve ideal results you have to put ideal resources towards their accomplishment. Don't try to put out a house fire with a garden hose.

We no longer have the latitude to rely on an as-is trunk of leadership. We cannot expect that branches of revolutionary strategies can be managed and implemented with existing leadership capabilities. Decorating the leaves will not pass for results. We have to purposefully move the values of people, help them change their behaviors, and work together with them to grow the desired fruit.

By altering our concentration from the branches to the trunk, we are enhancing every ability of our organization. A healthier trunk, means the capacity for, and increased health of, our branches, which in turn produces a greater quantity and quality of fruit.

Now that we are focused on the trunk, we can begin to look at the opportunity of taking quantum leaps forward in the soft-skills of our people. The solution lays in immersion leadership training.

To learn more about how immersion team building and leadership training can help you visit: http://www.leadingconcepts.com

Copyright 2005 Brace E. Barber

Brace E. Barber works extensively with Leading Concepts, Inc. (http://www.leadingconcepts.com) in the field of immersion soft-skill training with a focus is on how to develop leaders, who are prepared for and can succeed under stressful circumstances. He is the author of the book No Excuse Leadership. (http://www.noexcuseleadership.com)

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