Leadership at All Levels

 | December 27,2010 10:47 am IST

Successful organizations need leaders at all levels. Leaders are winning individuals - people with ideas and values, and the energy and fortitude to do what needs to be done.

Organizations thrive because they have accomplished leaders, not just at the top, but at all levels. When organizations value leader development, they have cultures that expect and reward leadership, and they actively put time and resources into maturing them. Successful organizations are doing well because they have leaders, and they have leaders because they deliberately and systematically produce them. This is what separates the winners from the losers. Profitable organizations deliberately and systematically develop people to be real leaders, to be people with their own points of view, who motivate others to action. They use every opportunity to promote and encourage leadership at all levels within the organization, and their top leaders are personally committed to developing other leaders.


Leadership at all levels is the most important and possibly the least understood asset of any organization. Innovative ideas are the engines of organization's success and effective leaders are the driving force behind those ideas. Successful organizations understand that effective leaders, not just at the top, but all through the organization, from the CEO to the team members in each department, hold the key to the engines of creativity.


What is Leadership?

Leadership is the process where a person exerts influence over others and inspires, motivates and directs their activities to achieve goals. Leadership is an interactive conversation that pulls people towards becoming comfortable with the language of personal responsibility and commitments.

Leadership is not for People at the Top

Everyone can learn to lead by discovering the power that lies within each one of us to make a difference, and being prepared when the call to lead comes. Leadership at all levels means that we don't want to have a company culture where some lead and others follow. It should be like encouraging everybody to think and act like an entrepreneur.

Engage Leadership at All Levels

Leadership is the most critical factor for successful change - Change Management is good leadership. In fact, typical change management effort requires 70-90% leadership skills as opposed to only 10-30% managerial skills. It touches every other success factor. If you have effective leadership, you'll have effective communication. You'll have vision clarity. You will have clear expectations, both near and long term, and motivation and performance recognition. You'll have focus on getting stake-holders involved and committed, because that's what effective leaders do, by definition.


Leaders may need to be educated and sometimes replaced - Weak leaders CAN be developed. But a weak leader left in place without improvement poses a risk, so the organization must take positive action to resolve it. Weak leaders create defining moments, where decisions made will either further the change, or degrade it. So leaders either get the education, training, or information to lead, or someone else takes on the role.


Change leadership accountability remains at the executive level - Executives can't abrogate their accountability. Sponsors at the executive level are the drivers of this transition, and their actions, behavior, visibility, and priorities need to reflect that accountability.


Cascading change leadership must be established and maintained - Leader commitment at all levels must happen if high level leaders don't want to find themselves pushing the proverbial piece of string. Leader commitment needs to permeate throughout the levels of the organization. Then, you have smaller pushing efforts all along the length of that string, and it will move.


Front-line advocacy is essential to most successful changes - To take the string metaphor one step further, it's the leaders on the front-line, the other end of the string that need to pull it. They're the greatest influencers of the end-users, not the head-office person. If they don't care about it, neither will their team members. If they're confused about direction or end states, their frustration will soak into the layers below. Therefore, senior leaders must invest thought and effort to engaging their middle and front-line leaders, assigning well-defined roles with clear expectations as change leaders



This leadership cascade model illustrates not only the cascade effect, but the two-way communication links that need to be strong in the leader arena.


The model depicts leadership in terms of management levels, and organizations can usually do better in involving middle management. Studies by Barry Oshry have shown that during change, middle managers suffer the most disruption, the most mis-communication and confusion. Therefore, look for systemic obstacles that may prevent middle and front line managers from being more effective in leading change; such as mis-aligned performance measurement systems, poor communication channels, not only vertical, but horizontal, across teams and departments.


Sometimes, one of these boxes in the cascade chart above becomes a "black hole" in the communication chain. Messages get "lost in translation" or lose their priority. The challenge is to optimize the links here so that information, news, rewards, recognition, training, and knowledge, flow easily throughout. The people will do the rest.


Building Leadership at All Levels

Leaders at all levels within the organization act to show that influence is two-way. They draw on the collective knowledge, experience and personal interest of the wide range of staff and on employees views.


Leaders reinforce a culture where staff and employees feel able and confident to take lead roles within the organization. Current and future leaders learn with and from others, formally and informally, prompting reflection and change. Such modeling and training promotes the conditions through which the organization sustains excellence.


Leaders create conditions where staff-members have confidence in exercising their initiative and in grasping opportunities to share knowledge and assume responsibility. They recognize completing forms of leadership and the capacity of people and teams to achieve a positive impact on the life of organization.


Qualities to Increase the Effectiveness of Leadership at All Levels

Leading & Developing Others
Achieving outcomes through the efforts of other staff-members and developing the skills, knowledge and attitudes of these members to enhance performance.