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Three Ingredients to Masterful Leadership

Written on:December 30, 2013
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Tleadership recipe 1-1here are many approaches to leadership. Here is one view that presents leadership as a mix of three key ingredients. If you can master these, you are well on your way to being a masterful leader.

These three ingredients work together. It is not good enough to have one or two of the ingredients, Masterful leadership requires all three.

An assumption for these ingredients is that a masterful leader makes decisions that are in the best interest of his or her team, company, stockholders, customers or the market.

Intellectual Understanding

This ingredient starts the recipe. I must know in my mind enough about a situation in order to make a choice. I don’t need to be a subject matter expert. In fact, highly effective senior leaders generally are not subject matter experts across all the disciplines they lead. Perhaps at some time during their career they served in a subject matter expert role, however, now, as a key decision maker, leaders generally rely on the expertise of others.

Prior to making a decision, as a leader, I must have a sufficient understanding of an issue. I need to look at the data. I need to listen to my advisors. I need to weigh the pros and cons. I need to seek out potential unintended consequences. I can do this quickly or over a prolonged period of time. I must know there is a need for a decision.

I do not need to become an expert. I don’t need to memorize tables of facts and figures. I don’t need to have 100% of 100% of the information that is out there.

I do need to have an intellectual understanding of the issue. I need to know that if an employee is complaining about harassment in the workplace that some basic facts will allow me to take remedial action. I do need to know that if my pension subject matter expert tells me the company pension calculations are not accurate that an inquiry is needed. I do need to have a connection with my corporate vision to lead a strategic planning discussion, but I don’t need to be a planning expert.

In all cases, strategic, operational or tactical, I desperately need an intellectual understanding of an issue as the first ingredient of masterful leadership.

Will to Take Action

The second ingredient flows from my intellectual understanding. I must have the will to take action. I must care enough that I am motivated to take action. I must translate my intellectual understanding into caring about an outcome or a result. When I care enough about an issue, I will see that issue differently. More importantly, the desire for a change should drive my will to take action.

I do not need to wait for someone else to initiate action. Or for someone else to suggest action. Or for someone else to describe a plan or next steps.

I do have to connect my understanding of an issue with something that motivates me. This motivation drives my will to act.

When confronted by a harassment complaint the gathering of additional information helps form my intellectual understanding of the issue. My vision of a workplace free of harassing behavior motivates me. My desire to avoid fines and penalties may also motivate me. These and other motivations drive my will to act.

When presented with information about our pension calculations the gathering of additional data and consulting with subject matter experts helps form my intellectual understanding of this issue. I might consult with legal and actuarial subject matter experts since this issue appears complex. I might request several options to solve this issue, and I most definitely am going to look at potential unintended consequences. My desire to be just with retirees motivates me. My desire to be compliant with complex legal and regulatory requirements also motivates me. My will to take action is clearly motivated.

When leading a strategic planning process data showing trends about market share, changes in the business climate, investment performance, staffing, and other demographics form my intellectual understanding of the issue. Goals to increase sales, add more customers, improve margins, diversify product and services all motivate me to act.

In all cases, strategic, operational or tactical, I desperately need to connect my intellectual understanding of an issue to that which motives my will to act.

Courage to Act

The third ingredient is the most important. So frequently we have the intellectual understanding of issues and we have sufficient motivation staring us in the face, yet we fail to act.

This ingredient is two fold. There must be courage. And, there must be action.

It is not enough intellectually to understand the issue or to have the will to act, if there is no actual courage to act or if no actual action takes place.

Many times, leaders are faced with decisions that affect other people. These are difficult decisions to act on.

Courage does not mean acting blindly. It does not mean acting irresponsibly. It does not mean taking action intentionally to hurt others or intentionally to avoid controversy. Courage means taking action that is in the best interest of those we serve.

When dealing with harassment in the workplace, courage to act most likely will require a face t o face confrontation with another person. This may be uncomfortable. The evidence may be slim. The action will still be required. Courage is needed.

When solving for the pension plan, holding oneself and others accountable will take courage. Communicating the issue will take courage. Putting a solution in place in a tightly regulated environment will take courage. These actions must take place and will require lots of courage.

When developing a strategic plan acknowledging current and past performance may take courage. Action will require making decisions about current staffing, current investments, current roles and assignments, current markets and products. Planning to do something different in the near future compared today’s status quo takes courageous action.

The Three Ingredients Together

These three ingredients form the basis for masterful leadership. Take meaningful time to understand the issue. Apply not only your intellect to this but also harvest the intellect of your subject matter experts. Allow what you learn to become the proper motivation. Cultivate your will to act. Then act. Have the courage to act. Mixed together these ingredients are all about action. Moving from a current state to a desired future state.

When we were all much younger, we used a similar approach. At the start of a game or a race, someone called out “Ready! Set! Go!” Those of us who had the courage took off. I like to think that both you and I were one of those.

  • Do you take time to form an intellectual understanding of the issues?
  • Do you form this understanding without wasting time and procrastinating?
  • Do you take time to focus your will to act?
  • Do you summon the courage to make a decision?
  • Do you follow through and act on decisions?

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