There are thousands of books and articles about leadership and management. A lot of them describe the traits that make the best leaders. Some use examples of great leaders to create leadership models and theories.
So, there’s a lot out there about leaders, leadership, leading, management, managers and managing.
But, what is corporate leadership really all about? And, more importantly, what’s leadership all about in the disruptive, chaotic and challenging times we are living in?
Corporate leadership is a very complex topic.
And I don’t want to oversimplify its complexity. However, there are two very important areas that I believe are at the core of the work of a leader in our times.
These two things are perhaps the most critical responsibilities of a corporate leader. They are:
70% of US employees are not engaged with their work. That’s a lot. The corporate productivity losses are in the order of the billions of dollars. But the personal and professional losses for each of disengaged employees are unfathomable.
Engagement is not only about more money. It’s much more than that.
Employees want to feel that they are part of something important. They want to feel valuable and valued. And that requires having the opportunities to develop and express their talents and potential.
The corporate disengagement crisis will continue unless there’s a dramatic change in leadership.
That leadership change points in one simple, yet profoundly significant direction: leaders have to focus on developing their people for them to enjoy, thrive and succeed at work.
Developing people equals two things. The first, leaders need to support people during their careers. Support is expressed through constant and ongoing coaching and feedback.
The second, leaders have to challenge employees to continually step up to the next level of complexity in their tasks and projects. In other words, leaders have to inspire people to get out of their comfort zones and take on the next professional challenge.
Ultimately, there’s nothing worse than a disengaged employee wanting to do more, but not having the opportunities to do so. Disengagement is not the natural mode for employees. That means that people are not lazy or untrustworthy.
People give themselves fully when they are passionate about the work they do. But, unfortunately, most jobs aren’t designed to make people passionate. And the leader’s work is fundamental to change this reality. Disengagement is nurtured by lack of opportunities to do valuable work. Leaders can make a significant difference.
Leaders must support and challenge their people. That will have the powerful result of engagement and motivation increased.
The second critical role of a leader is removing waste from people’s work.
I use to think that one of the leader’s roles was to remove the challenges from people’s path. But good challenges are a powerful motivator for learning. It helps people to remain professionally relevant, while always pushing the boundaries of their comfort zone.
Professional challenges are nothing less than wonderful opportunities for learning and growing. Challenges are also good for people to remain engaged and motivated (as long as the leader is also providing support through those professional challenges).
But “waste” is something different.
Waste is everything that is not relevant and doesn’t add any value. And removing waste is fundamental for people to be truly focused on those things that give them the highest return in value of their time, commitment and energy.
Unfortunately, so many organizations are stubbornly focused on keeping waste on people’s professional paths. They have rules, policies, regulations and a whole set of unwritten norms that make it nearly impossible for good people to thrive and succeed. And, unfortunately, when employees don’t succeed, the company they work for can’t succeed either.
Leaders have a strong call to action that they can’t delay any longer. They have to simplify corporate organizational structure to eliminate waste.
In difficult times, when the challenges ahead are so complex and difficult to tackle, the role of a corporate leader is more important than ever. But not as someone who bosses people around and tell them what do. That type of leadership is not relevant anymore. It’s outdated, and hopefully will be dead soon.
I’m talking about a leadership style focused on two critical roles: developing people and remove the waste out of their ways, so that they reach their potential and succeed. Now, that’s leadership!
I’m passionate about the intersection of HR and technology. In particular, I’m extremely interested in discussions about the design and creation of the workplace of the future.
That’s why I’m putting together an event called “Hacking HR”. The end goal is to build a community of like-minded people interested in discussing HR and tech and ideas about how to create the workplace of the future.
The first Hacking HR event will be in Washington, DC, on September 28, 2017.
Now Enrique is an HR Specialist at Inter-American Development Bank.