Poor Organizational Leadership

I’d like to take just a minute and revisit the basic definition of leadership.

As Emeritus at Harvard Business School, Dr. John Kotter knows a thing or two about leadership.

Dr. Kotter remarked earlier this year in his article Management is (Still) Not Leadership, that leadership is chiefly “…associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change.”

How many of us have worked for a person or within an organizational structure that fails to motivate us? How many of us have worked in an environment where you – as a subject-matter expert (SME) – are kept in the dark about projects or changes to policies that directly impact your area of expertise?

In my position with the Air Line Pilots Association, Intl., and specifically with a Master Executive Council out of the Atlanta area, I have come across a number of frustrations from SMEs who are working on the behalf of the MEC. I have seen first hand when challenges present themselves to the MECs, rarely are the SMEs brought into the discussion and problem-solving stages to help develop a smart course of action. Rather, a closed loop of dialogue occurs between a very small number of individuals at the very top of the hierarchical ladder, with the top individual usually guiding the discussion and problem-solving – empty of support from the actual subject-matter experts.

Officers of the MEC are the elected leaders of the pilot group and should act like leaders, not managers. And yet, when the elected leaders fail to provide a vision for the future, or fail to gain buy-in by committee level subject-matter experts, how exactly do they think their time as a “leader” will be viewed? More importantly, one downfall of the current organizational structure of ALPA and the independent MECs is a severe lack of organizational stress testing that challenges the leaders to resolve problems through thoughtful dialogue and problem-solving.

Employees will disregard the opinions of their management figures when they feel that they have a better grasp on the subject-matter than individuals in management positions. The same can be said for those individuals in defined leadership roles, such as an MEC Chairman, Vice-Chairman, or elected Representative. Individuals in these positions of title may have their experience in any number of subject areas, however, no person is knowledgeable about everything and should welcome insight and input from those “below” them in the organizational ladder. They should welcome the insight and see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, becoming more knowledgeable about deficient knowledge areas.

Listening skills are extremely valuable to every individual in an organization, but one trait employees or organizational members desire their leaders would improve is listening.

Spend time listening to your employees, your volunteers. Use active listening techniques and encourage a dialogue with those working for you and find a way to encourage them to work with you. Be open to criticism. Share your concerns with programs or policies with the subject-matter experts and be prepared for honest feedback. Doing just these few simple steps can help aid in building trust with those under your guidance.

Far too often I have witnessed individuals in perceived leadership positions ignore the input of those below them on the organizational food chain due to any number of reasons. In my observations, I note a high level of paranoia and fear of ongoing conspiracy that could tarnish the leaders image publicly if they were to open up, even just slightly.

If leaders, not even speaking to the quality of the leader, but if leaders do not bring their followers on board and end up leaving their followers well outside the sphere or internal organizational communication – how then do they expect people to follow them? Much less to even have a desire to follow?

Dr. Kotter concludes, justly, that “Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.” [Emphasis added]

That last sentence should hit home. Especially to managers striving to be leaders, and leaders striving to excel as leaders. Open up, engage, encourage dialogue, accept criticism, use all available resources to solve challenging problems, communicate your vision internally – and externally, and share in the benefits of success. You just might be surprised at how the stress of bottling everything inside and trying to solve problems on your own can quickly disappear by exercising some sound crew resource management, through the medium of strong leadership, can improve organizational and interpersonal communication throughout your work environment.

Kotter, John. (2013). Management Is (Still) Not Leadership. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/kotter/2013/01/management-is-still-not-leadership.html

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