Raymond L. Wheeler, DMin

Musings about leadership


Three Critical Acts of Leadership

Why is the role of the leader important? Consider that all organizations depend on shared meanings and interpretations of reality to facilitate coordinated action. In dynamic Churches the definition of reality and call to shared action is the central role of the sermon. Equally important is how the leader carries him or herself relative to the core values of those who follow. In dynamic companies the definition of reality and call to shared action is often expressed in the communication of the president or CEO and his or her interactions with the employees and board relative to their core values.

For leaders who realize the power of shared meaning in an organization three things become essential:

• Leaders reframe situations demonstrating new perspectives that call others to action

• Leaders articulate and define what had previously remained implicit or unsaid

• Leaders consolidate or challenge prevailing wisdom to suggest new directions

The social upheaval in Tunisia and the mirrored unrest in Egypt in 2011 and the current unrest in Syria demonstrate the power of these three actions and suggest that whoever frames reality or meaning wins the day. This is why entrenched power brokers who hide behind their privilege and/or power to maintain position by force always loose regardless of the context either political, commercial or religious.

Leaders are the kind of people to whom others are drawn – not because of their personalities but because they have:

• a dream,

• a vision,

• a set of intentions,

• an agenda,

• a frame of reference.

This is important to see. New leaders in many organizations or social settings often seem to arise from obscurity to prominence just at the right time or the wrong time depending on where one stands relative to change. But obscurity is usually another way of describing a lack of attention. When power brokers do not listen, do not pay attention they often do not see the opportunity for change nor those who inspire change until the status quo is thoroughly shaken.

Healthy, innovative, vibrant organizations (or churches or countries) are those that provide permission to leaders to leaders reframe situations demonstrating new perspectives that call others to action; articulate and define what had previously remained implicit or unsaid and consolidate or challenge prevailing wisdom to suggest new directions.

The real test of leadership however isn’t in the revolution/change.  The real test of leadership is in how change is consolidated to a new reality that is in fact different than the prior reality.  Some revolutions simply exchange personalities and processes yet do little to bring about significant change.  The only change is in who now controls the power and the privilege.

Who are the leaders in your organization? Are they recognized or unseen? Are they empowered or marginalized? Are they granted permission or shown the door? Are leaders a threat to your organization or do the leaders of your organization tend to attract the truly gifted and engaged into a synergy of innovation and vibrant execution? If your organization’s leaders don’t another group of leaders will.

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Mentoring Leverages the Power of Relationships and Experience

Developing talent is a de facto management activity.  Managers who fail to recognize that their daily interactions with their employees either develops or marginalizes employee talent are habitually represented in mediocre or failing performance.

Conversely managers who have mastered the skill of developing talent are identifiable in their continuous strong results.

The relational skills, approaches and perspectives high performing managers utilize to improve performance recognizes high performers and transitions low performers either toward greater productivity or out of the company.  Whether these skills are employed intentionally or intuitively they can be described as mentoring.

Mentoring is often popularly viewed as a monolithic activity. However, research indicates that highly effective managers utilize a composite of combined skills and interactions to develop employees in career and personal (psychosocial) feedback. In a multi-generational workforce mentoring offers a powerful tool for the convergence of existing and emerging talent.

Leveraging mentoring within an organization allows the organization to:

  • Leverage knowledge within short time constraints typical of many competitive environments
  • Acculturate new employees quickly and “cross-culturate” older and younger employees to generate new energy and engagement
  • Reinforce a positive organizational culture
  • Connect multiple generations into more effective work teams – an important competitive advantage in today’s multigenerational workforce

Initiating a mentoring approach in a company does not require large capital expenditures or lengthy training periods.  Creating a mentoring environment first requires that key leaders exercise the self-awareness needed to define their most effective contribution and investment in emerging leaders. Mentoring consists of at least twelve discrete functions including:

Career Functions Psychosocial functions
Coaching Discipline
Training Role Modeling
Sponsorship Acceptance & confirmation
Protection Counseling
Exposure & Visibility Friendship
Challenging Assignments Spiritual guide

Experienced leaders do not need to be competent in all twelve mentoring functions – they do need to know what functions they are best suited to employ in developing others.

The power of mentoring is that it recognizes that that learning is a career-long process.  Much of what is associated with effective leadership cannot be fully engaged in a classroom setting.  One must actually lead to learn what leadership is and how the tools of leadership (e.g., communication, vision, decision making, structure, care for others, emotional awareness in personal interactions, commitment to learning, appreciation of functions outside one’s expertise and situational awareness) are expressed effectively.

Creating a mentoring environment does not require a commitment to coordinate mentoring efforts through existing talent development processes or other management communication lines.  This helps if the culture of the organization supports mentoring efforts.  However, even where organizational structures fail to support mentoring effective leaders can employ mentoring as a means of leading change and improving performance.

Creating a mentoring environment is a powerful way to be deliberate about corporate culture and how it can enhance competitive advantage.  Where mentoring is viewed as a corporate activity organizational learning can be accelerated.  It is this learning culture that provides a competitive advantage because it continually allows and encourages emerging leaders to question the status quo by looking at new horizons.  Innovation is rarely a reactive activity (with reference to what may be wrong with the organization) it is a proactive activity in seeing the ways an organization can address needs no one else has seen.  This does not mean that innovation is blind to reality – rather it is brutally clear on one hand and refreshingly transparent on the other.

Most likely your organization already has mentors working in it.  Look around, identify these mentors and encourage their work.  Let them set the pace for influencing a mentoring culture.  Often this move is much more effective than determining that mentoring needs to occur and implementing a program to make it happen.  Programs work as company-wide initiatives in my experience only when they hitchhike on the skills of those already engaged in developing the next layer of leaders. Where this is not happening the chances are leaders are far too insecure to engage mentoring.  If this is the case then a completely different set of challenges needs to be addressed.