I have had people throughout my career ask me to define Leadership as it is often confused with managing. Once I give my opinion, the questions change to are there different Leadership styles, followed by, can there be multiple leaders in an organization? Career success depends on effective communication as a leader with executive leaders. Many people write books on this, I am going to write a few sentences about it.
A leader is a person who focuses on the “Big Picture,” creates visions, and sets goals to accomplish those visions. They inspire and motivate others to pursue and achieve their visions. Leaders lead - they do not Manage! Leaders are excellent communicators and have consistent messages. They have a plan, are decisive, and usually lead by example. Leaders are transformational and facilitators of decision making. They create roadmaps to achieve goals, provide direction, and give credit to others.
Managers Are Not Leaders
Managers primarily support their team’s day-to-day activities, ensure standards and processes are followed, service level agreements (SLAs) are met, and handle any HR-related work. They ensure their teams are doing their part in achieving department and corporate goals to achieve their Leader's visions. Managers can become Leaders and can have leadership visions; however, they must not confuse the two.
An example of managing versus leading for “day-to-day activities”. The manager makes sure daily activities are completed correctly and on time (Managing). The manager has a vision to use AI (artificial intelligence) to perform daily activities (Leadership). This would likely be a “Disruptive Leadership” style.
Most Leaders Have an Incremental Style
The two Leadership styles I like to use are Incremental (90%) and Disruptive (10%). Incremental leaders maintain the stability of organizations and allow things to develop and grow over time. (Examples are Warren Buffett, Jack Welch, and Larry Ellison). Their Leadership style can accomplish goals many times without anyone realizing how they were achieved or what happened.
Many times, these leaders look to improve existing products and services, not to invent a new one. Good examples of companies besides Warren, Jack and Larry’s are Pepsi and Coke or Car companies like Ford and Chevy. A disruptive Car company would be Tesla.
Some Leaders have a Disruptive Style
Disruptive leaders work to break down the fundamental structure of things in order to create major, noticeable change such as department reorganizations and sometimes even layoffs. (Examples are Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates). Their goal is to shake things up and break rules. They empower and support people to do things differently and look at problems and challenges as opportunities. Disruptive leaders take responsibility and ownership of any failures and turn into successes. If you are a college football fan, another good example of a Disruptive Leader is Dion Sanders, coach at the University of Colorado.
Multiple Leadership Styles Working Together
Finally, can there be multiple Leaders in an organization, and do they work together? Leaders can and must work together to be successful and avoid finger-pointing. CEO’s work with their leadership teams to achieve corporate goals. An example is good departmental leaders not only look at their departmental goals but include other departments they have an impact on. These are true leaders as they want to ensure achieving their departmental goals do not negatively impact supporting department goals or the organizational goals.
An easy example of this is in sports. General managers and coaches are the leaders and must collaborate for the team to be successful. The GM needs to do more than just get the best players they can. Collectively, the team needs to collaborate with the coach to know the player positions, personalities, and skill sets needed. This is why in professional sports sometimes the GM and the coach are the same person.
Some Tips on Effectively Communicating with Leaders
Now you understand the different types of Leaders and Leading versus Managing, so how do you communicate with a Leader? I will use the previous example about managing day-to-day activities and sharing your AI idea (your Leadership vision) to a Leader.
Be concise and to the point. Take briefly about the vision, not the day-to-day tasks.
Include the value added of your vision and how it aligns with their visions.
Be a good listener and make sure understand their questions and comments before responding.
Do not get sidetracked. Stay focused on what you’ve rehearsed.
Be prepared to answer any questions they may have. Think about anything they may ask and be prepared to respond quickly. I call this my “back pocket” data.
Most important of all, the conversation needs to be short as their time is valuable. How long is long? My rule of thumb talking to my CEO is the initial conversation should last no longer than an elevator ride. Therefore, you must practice almost like you are doing a presentation and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! If you are lucky and have an appointment to discuss your vision, it can take longer. However, leave plenty of time for interaction. And even try to give them some of their time back.
Communicating to Leaders as a Leader
Communicating with Leaders can be stressful. Therefore, know the topic of conversation well before approaching them, even with a casual conversation about it. And observing Leaders talking to Leaders is a great way to learn how to communicate with them. Communicate with FINESSE! Your career success as a leader depends on effective communication with executive leaders.
John Parker is a Senior Data Center Operations Management professional with over 25 years of IT experience in 4 industries (Healthcare, Pharmaceuticals, Banking, and Software Development). John recently retired as a leader of Global Data Center Operations and Disaster Recovery for ESRI, an international supplier of geographic information system (GIS) software, web GIS, and geodatabase management applications. His more recent focuses include reconditioning and consolidation of legacy data centers, collocation retirements and build-outs, managing hybrid data center models, and implementing ITIL Service Delivery initiatives.
John is also an accomplished international speaker, including engagements such as Vendor National Sales Conferences, IMN Conferences, the CDM-CIO Summits, the Digital Media Educators conferences, Cal Poly Tech Swift conferences, Data Center World conferences, and a guest speaker at universities.
John is a former president of the 7x24 Exchange International SoCal Chapter, resided on the Data Center Institute Board of Directors, and was president of local AFCOM (Advancing IT and Data Center Infrastructure Professionals) chapters in North Carolina (2000-2006) and Southern California (2007-2015).
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