Understanding Organizations: The Second Attribute of Positive Leaders

Mastery of applied organizational theory is as vital to the success of leadership as knowledge of the piano is to the accomplished pianist. Organizations are the medium in which men and women function in society – they are the playing fields of life and business.

Positive leaders understand organizations in all of their complexity and are accomplished artists in both macro- and micro-organizational theory. Most managers possess, or at least utilize, only a rudimentary understanding of organizations. They are like novice personal computer users. They can stumble their way through a few application programs but their lack of in-depth understanding of the computer and its software keeps them from using more than a fraction of the machine’s capability. Occasionally they actually threaten or damage the system by utilizing it improperly or counter-productively.

At the macro level the positive leader is a student of organizational theory and devotes a significant amount of time keeping up with the literature of the field. At the micro level he or she is intimately in tune with his or her own organization, with its mission and vision; its products and/or services and the specific customer needs that these products and services fulfill; with its people, its personality and subcultures; with its supply chain; its metrics; and, with its informal power structures. The leader spends a significant amount of time out in the organization, and with its supply chain partners, listening, talking, and getting involved with people.

When confronted with the decision of choosing future leaders, from among its talented individuals, organizations must often choose between men and women with demonstrated leadership skills versus those with great technical knowledge and with familiarity with the local organization. Many people have technical expertise and local experience while only select few possess demonstrated leadership ability. Further, although leadership skills can be taught, it’s much easier to teach the technical and local aspects of an organization.

Organizations would do well to choose managers and supervisors on the basis of their demonstrated leadership ability. Organizations are also well-advised to make significant investments in the leadership development of its talented men and women, early in their careers. That being said, the most talented leaders will not achieve their optimal potential unless they make a relentless commitment to become masters of organizational theory and application at both the macro and micro levels.

Organizations typically promote their best workers to leadership positions. Just because an employee is at the top of the list of technical performers does not mean that they would make good managers and supervisors unless the organization has made an effort to prepare them for not only the role of leader but also for the transition from technical expert to formal leader. Often, people appointed to leadership positions on the basis of their technical excellence become unhappy and disillusioned with their new role. They were happier in a role in which they were valued for their technical expertise but rarely are they able to walk away. Often such promotions are the only way to move up the compensation ladder in an organization. Walking away from the disappointing leadership role may mean relinquishing the raise as well as losing face because they were unsuccessful.

If the organization has made an investment in leadership development of their best people prior to promoting them they will have identified those who will and will not be both happy and successful in a leadership role. For that reason, in addition to a focus on leadership development, the most successful organizations find a way to elevate the compensation of their technical stars to levels comparable to what they might have earned had they been given leadership responsibility. There is no rule that says that technical stars must not earn as much or more than their supervisors and managers.

One the other side of the equation, it is imperative that people who are appointed to leadership positions because of their demonstrated leadership ability rather than technical expertise make a commitment to ongoing development of their technical knowledge. They may not have to perform technical tasks as well as their technically-accomplished employees but the need to understand the technical aspects of the work every bit as much. They must also be able to teach new employees how to become technically competent.

The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership

(The opening segment of the author’s book of the same title, now available as a Kindle book at amazon.com)

Are you happy with your job and with your career? Are you proud of your company and the people with whom you work? Do you feel like yours is a dead end job? Do you wish you worked somewhere exciting and challenging? Do you wonder if a break will ever come your way?

Do your supervisors respect you and recognize your efforts and contributions? Do they listen to you and ask for your input in tough situations? Do they give you the respect you feel you deserve? If you are a supervisor, how would your employees answer these questions about you?

Are you happy with your marriage? Is your spouse the kind of supportive partner you would like to have? Are your children turning out the way you hoped? Are your friends everything you want good friends to be?

Are you concerned about the direction in which our country is heading? Are you troubled by our nation’s economic competitiveness in the world marketplace? Do you worry about the bureaucratic ineffectiveness of our government? Does the moral fiber of our society appear to be unraveling? Do you think our systems of education are adequately preparing our children for the future? Do you feel safe in your neighborhood at all hours of the day?

Do the myriad of problems confronting our society leave you feeling discouraged and helpless? If you are like millions of other men and women, discouraged and helpless is exactly how you feel but listen closely. The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership is a message of hope.

The premise of this work is that there is much that we, as individuals, can do that will have an impact on the problems facing us in our personal lives, as a nation, and as citizens of the world community. The problems we face as a society, as we proceed through the Twenty-First Century, are functions of the quality of leadership of our human organizations.

Our message is simple. These problems, in all of their diversity and complexity, can be resolved thereby improving the quality of life for all human beings. Today’s problems will be replaced by new problems, to be sure, but these, too, have solutions. In each case, solutions flow from effective leadership. What is new about this idea is the definition we assign to leadership and how far we spread its mantle.

Positive leadership is a special kind of leadership that gives individual men and women incredible power to bring about positive change and to make a difference right now, right where you are, at this moment in time!

Now is the best time to impact your organization and the job or role you now occupy is the right place to do it!

Many people put things off, waiting for the right or perfect time and place. Just as there are no perfect solutions, there is no perfect time and place. There is no time or place other than here and now. Do it now or, as they say in the athletic shoe commercial, “Just Do It!”

Now is always the best time for taking action and, the best opportunities are not the ones that fall into your lap but the ones you make for yourself. Do not delay another hour; begin anew. Start doing things differently. Take Zig Ziglar’s advice:

“If you keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’, you’re gonna keep gettin’ what you’ve been gettin’.”

Initiate changes in your life and in your approach to your duties, responsibilities, and your relationships and the world will begin to change in response. However small, even insignificant these changes may appear, they matter and they are the direct result of your leadership.

Be a positive leader in the same sense that you want the changes to be positive for everyone, whenever possible. Be concerned about values and begin thinking about the organization or community as a whole. Whatever the organizations of which you are a part, think about their purpose or mission and how you can best contribute to them. As you become more comfortable with your role as a leader, you will begin to see abundant opportunities to make an impact or to bring about change. You will recognize multiple opportunities for action; opportunities that have always existed but were imperceptible to you before you began to view yourself as a positive leader.
How great the impact and how grand the changes you can facilitate—how far-reaching your leadership can be—is limited by your talents and abilities but these boundaries are not nearly as confining as you imagine. It is like sitting in the middle of an unknown body of water where you see nothing but water on the horizon, in any direction. You don’t know whether you are in Lake Erie or the Pacific Ocean and until you strike out, using all of your talents and abilities, you will never know the answer to such questions.

Your leadership potential is also limited by other factors. Things like commitment, dedication, courage, faith, work ethic, persistence, etc., and these are things over which you have enormous control. The number of human beings in the world today who extend themselves to the full limit of their talents and abilities would probably not fill a large arena. For the overwhelming majority of us, the things that constrain us are things that we control, whether we know it or not.

Being an action leader means you are willing to pay the price for success. It means a willingness to work long hours, make personal sacrifices, delay material gratification, and forego leisure and social activities. Whatever it takes, you are willing to give. This takes real courage because, in our society, inordinate value is placed on working as few hours as possible; on reaching a point where sacrifices are unnecessary; where material wealth is abundant; and, where leisure time is paramount. To give these things up for a goal or objective no one else can see is an act of heroism and the world needs all the heroes it can get.