Thursday, October 29, 2009

Visual Leadership

The leader always sets the trail for others to follow

I'm no leadership expert.

That's not to say I'm ignorant. I read plenty of books about it from "experts." That is, the people whom others say are the experts.

They're big fans of lists. Tips, tricks, principles, guidelines, etc of 'leadership.' Things that if you replicate, you'll come up with success. It's also helpful if the items on this list start with the same letter, G or L for instance. If there's anything that screams "I know what I'm talking about!!" it's alliteration.

I don't have exhaustive or pithy lists about leadership stored away in my brain-hole, ready & at the whim. I do enjoy alliteration as much as the next guy...but it's a hassle to implement sometimes.

But what I do know, is that I can spot good leadership when I see it. And I think anyone can. Because leadership, either good or bad, is immediately visual.

It's incredibly easy to see when someone is a strong leader. You can see them take responsibility for a less than ideal situation. You can see them calm the squabbling between team members by designating himself as the channel of communication that everyone goes through. You can watch them inspire people to perform greatly, and you become inspired as well. The people who work with and under them are relaxed about the minutiae of their job, because they are informed, trained and prepared to excel in it and they can focus on the bigger picture.

These things are easy to see, they are visual, when done right they're amazing.

If it's easy to see when someone is a strong leader, it's even easier to see when someone is in a position of leadership who is a poor leader.

You can watch the lines of communication break down around them and even through them. You can see how the members of their team are demoralized, disenfranchised and sometimes outright given the tools for failure instead of success. The people on this team are ill-prepared. And so they're nervous about the little things, nervous that it'll not go right or that they'll be unable to handle it if something goes wrong....because they're unable....because they're unprepared. The tension and frustration level is high, and all the creative energy gets poured out onto the "how" that there is no energy left to deal with the "why" or expand the project further into new areas of "what."

The problems here are also visual, even outsiders can quickly see that there is a problem. They may not be able to assess it, but they know it's there.

I like that penguin picture up top. Because Mary Poppins is one of my favorite Disney movies, and the penguin waiters are hilarious? Yes. But also because no matter whether the leader is capable or incapable of leading, they do make a trail. And that trail is followed.

If that trail is full of poor communication, scattered thoughts/plans, the inability to look ahead, lack of training, and a constant focus on 'how,' then those following the path will look just as disastrous in their attempts to follow it as the person who laid it out in the first place. Not only will they end up frustrated and demoralized, but they'll learn what they saw and use it in the future.

And to be honest, nobody wants to be on that twisted trail in the first place. Not even the one out in front.