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Change Your Style: 11 Leadership Tips

September 1, 2005

By Lisa Walker & Norman Clark

"To transform an organization, one first must transform individuals. In an association, this may mean transforming yourself first."


Developing associations into leadership organizations takes more than reading an inspirational book or attending a high-powered seminar.

Organizational leadership requires that people move away from behaviors that stifle individual initiative and accountability and adopt behaviors that promote individual and group effectiveness.

To transform an organization, one first must transform individuals. In an association, this may mean transforming yourself first.

The behavioral model for association leadership is one tool that can help you discover the solutions that are already within you. The model lists at least 10 dimensions or scales along which critical leadership behaviors appear. At the "good management" end of the scale are actions that characterize traditionally effective management. At the "great leadership" end of the scale are behaviors that are emblematic of an association of leaders. Staff and directors take initiative and assume accountability for the results and there's a sense of ownership in everyday business activities.

The management to leadership behavioral model helps executives set priorities for the development of leadership within the association.

Start with an honest look at yourself and your personal business habits and management behaviors. What specific behaviors do you need to encourage and reward to move toward great leadership? What current practices and policies inhibit this movement?

Answering these questions will give your association an agenda for leadership development that is specific, measurable, and actionable. Most importantly, the agenda will be relevant to your association's culture and practices.

From Communicating direction to Creating enthusiasm

Good managers tell people what they are supposed to do. They clearly articulate their expectations, often in great detail and sometimes with little room for individual variation or discretion in order to maintain consistent performance. Great leaders communicate clearly, ensuring that people understand how the task supports the association's larger aims. This dimension of leadership can be very important to associations seeking organizational change. They must communicate the change in culture or direction to their external leadership audiences, especially members. Internally, creating enthusiasm also can help people in the association keep a "line of sight" to its long-range strategic goals, which can be helpful when everyone is focused on getting the association to be profitable.

From Achieving compliance to Achieving commitment

Good managers issue rules to ensure that each person complies with association policy. For example, staff may feel that they have succeeded when they get members to go along with a policy, such as complying with education requirements.

Great leaders also may set and reinforce rules, but they formulate and communicate them in a way that demonstrates each policy's relevance and importance to the overall success of the association and its members. Members become personally committed to attaining high-quality continuing education, for example, because they understand how this directly impacts their financial profitability.

From Making and explaining decisions to Decision-making by input and consensus

Good managers often engage in "top-down" decision-making. They appear to make decisions swiftly, expeditiously, and with no "wheel spinning" or protracted discussion.

One person or a very small management group in the association might invest substantial time and resources in decision-making. In extreme situations, managers may view questioning as a lack of commitment or dedication to the new venture.

Great leaders also can act decisively when need be, but they usually prefer to take more time to make important decisions. Decision-makers invest the majority of their effort in consulting those who will be most directly affected. This is not just a charade to prevent dissension. In fact, decision-makers encourage and even reward dissent, because it tests and strengthens the decision-making process and the overall quality of the decision itself.

Associations in the midst of change must pay special attention to the quality of their decision making processes. Most new association programs or services have very little economic tolerance for poorly thought-out or misinformed decisions. This is why decision-making by input and consensus usually produces better long-term business results, even though it may take more time.

From Directing to Delegating

Good managers give work to others but frequently impose specific expectations and limit individual discretion. The pressures of organizational change invite micromanagement. At first, it often seems as if every decision could lead to the association's success or failure. Managers or directors who do not micromanage are sometimes viewed as apathetic or lacking attention to detail.

Great association leaders, by contrast, thrive on delegation. The difference is that great leaders actively provide the trust, support, discretion, and independence that staff and volunteers need to make them feel accountable for their delegated work. There are clearly communicated standards and expectations.

From Solving problems for others to Solving problems through others

Good managers like to be problem solvers. Rather than encourage staff to solve problems themselves, they require staff to refer the problem to a manager to maintain consistent policy. The manager then solves the problem.

Great association leaders, by contrast, get out of the problem-solving business as soon as they can. They encourage and help others define, analyze, and gather facts about a problem, and develop a proposed solution. Great leaders make sure their people have the skills and knowledge to attack problems within their respective areas of expertise.

From Maintaining individual performance to Improving group performance

Good managers pay attention to individual performance. Yet while they try to lift individual performance up to prescribed standards, they rarely push beyond a satisfactory level.

Great association leaders pay attention to and invest heavily in personal performance but they also focus on teamwork in the organization. They seek new ways for people to combine their individual skills and expertise.

The difference between good management and great leadership in this area frequently shows up in teamwork. Associations that lean toward the management style usually have difficulty implementing collaboration between staff and volunteers. Associations that adopt leadership attributes usually are more successful at inspiring collaboration, because their underlying leadership behaviors already emphasize group performance.

From Managing the work to Managing communication

Good managers focus on workloads, work distribution, and the efficiency with which work flows through the organization. Often, though, they overlook the impact that poor internal communication about the work can have on efficiency. As a result, their organizations can suffer from unnecessary duplication of effort and poor knowledge-sharing.

Great association leaders pay attention to work management, but they also ensure that communication about the work flows freely and swiftly throughout the organization. They develop and maintain up-to-date document management systems, precedents, and "know-how" books. Staff are rewarded for collaboration across traditional practice-area or departmental boundaries, even when that collaboration may adversely affect their personal revenue production.

From Correcting work to Providing feedback

Good managers correct other's work. Some will even provide marked-up copies of documents so the less-experienced staff can learn from their mistakes. Great association leaders take time to provide ongoing feedback at frequent, regular intervals. They use feedback sessions to plan future improvements in performance, not just to conduct a postmortem of past mistakes. Great leaders also use praise, a feedback tool that managers usually overlook.

From Monitoring work quality to Improving work quality

Good managers monitor performance metrics such as error rate, reasons for write-offs of time, and processing times. However, many association managers also tend to overreact to relatively minor, short-term variations in performance. At best, managers will impose short-term solutions with little or no input from the people who actually do the work. As a result, they constantly chase the numbers with no meaningful result.

Great leaders use performance measurements to diagnose and address defective work processes. Rather than just monitor quality, these associations engage in the continuous improvement of every critical internal work process. They understand the principles of variation and use them to spot problems before they become crises. In short, great leaders watch the numbers closely, but they don't panic.

From Ad hoc training to Developing skill sets

Good managers provide training "just in time" or it is "picked up" from a co-worker. It is usually directed at individual training needs, rather than group needs, and tends to focus on meeting present needs, rather than anticipating the future.

Great leaders, by contrast, develop skill sets at both the individual and group level to meet present and future needs. Individual development efforts not only meet current needs but also support long-term professional development to enable each person to exercise greater responsibility in the future.

Setting priorities for leadership development

Your long-term goal should be to move yourself and your association from the good management end of each scale toward the great leadership end. But don't throw out common sense or the sound management practices and principles that characterize good management. Instead keep what's useful, leave behind what's not, and add new behaviors that encourage and sustain success.