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Leadership DNAWhy the Accepted Premise That Anyone Can Be a Leader Is Utterly False and the Main Cause of Poor Leadership in America.
By Paul Okum
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Paul Okum
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLeadership: Is It Science or Art
Science generally is the rigorous observation and investigation of the universe with the intent of discovering the facts and principles that accurately describe and define what is occurring and why. Science starts with a theory or hypothesis about a particular occurrence and then systematically tests that hypothesis in an attempt to validate it. After it is validated, scientists can then develop principles and formulas that if followed, will generate consistent and predictable results.
For example, consider the mass production of the automobile. Engineers started with a theory of combustion and propulsion, developed a prototype engine, tested their theory, validated the results, created an assembly line, and began to produce automobiles based on a validated set of scientific principles. These principles were then further refined into exact formulas that the assembly line followed to mass-produce automobiles that are essentially identical. By following scientific formulas you can reliably predict the outcome of the event, which in this case is an automobile produced with specific specifications capable of transporting a person.
Art, on the other hand, is personal creative ability or talent. While science seeks to dispassionately define the world and universe, art seeks to passionately express itself in music, painting, poetry, drawing, dance, sports, and other fields of human endeavor. Science produces tested formulas for mass application. Art is the release of human creativity for individual expression. A scientist studies a body of knowledge and the resulting reliable and established formulas that are generated from this study. An artist taps into her personal reservoir of ability or talent and generates a level of creativity that a scientific formula with its predictable level of success cannot define. Science is in universal facts; art is in individual DNA.
Given the characteristics of science and art, where does leadership belong? The way society views leadership today, it clearly is 90 percent science and 10 percent art. This perception of leadership as a science has been the overwhelming result of a seemingly endless list of leadership books, academic programs, forty-hour courses of leadership training, and speaking tours by proclaimed leadership gurus, all teaching and preaching that with leadership training, personal desire, and commitment, anyone can be made into a leader. This drumbeat regarding the nature of leadership has been occurring for generations, and it has effectively drowned out any other discussion on the topic. This is quite understandable given the all-encompassing effort ongoing for centuries to examine and reexamine the universe using the scientific process of observation and investigation and to put everything under the microscope from atoms to humans.
Consequently, researchers and leadership gurus see leadership itself as just another occurrence in the universe to study and discover the principles of how and why it exists and functions. And, given the research and writings of psychologists and leadership gurus, they believe that they have discovered the factual hows and whys of leadership and synthesized them into formulas and recipes, with the conclusion that anyone can become a good leader if they are trained in and follow these formulas for leadership creation and development.
However, after using this scientific approach to leadership for decades, it has failed to live up to its promise to be able to create leaders, individually or en mass. Instead, we have individuals occupying leadership positions who, while holding the title of leader, have not demonstrated the level of leadership talent required to be successful in the positions they occupy. This reality has created a leadership gap between the number of leadership positions and the number of available good leaders to fill those positions.
The ongoing leadership training that dispenses these pseudoscientific formulas has only aggravated the problem by mass-producing civilian and military personnel who are more manager than leader in an attempt to fill in the gap. This has resulted in the widespread proliferation of managers, not leaders, who are focused on overseeing, organizing, and controlling work being performed. Managers say, "Follow what I say." Leaders say, "Follow me." Leaders rely on their personal presence, not their position or rank; on persuasion, not directives or orders; and on a clear direction and set of guiding principles, not rules and regulations. Leaders are few in number; managers are everywhere. Leadership can be nurtured, but it can't be taught. It can be recognized, but it can't be defined. Leadership is an art and not a science, and as such it can have a thousand different expressions with no definitive single recipe or formula. Leadership isn't the result of applying a formula; it is an expression of a person's own God-given leadership talent or DNA, and it cannot be bestowed upon someone with a diploma.
People gravitate to leaders in response to their innate leadership talent. You can feel it, you can see it, and you can hear it. But, being an art, you can't define it or reduce it to a formula or recipe.
The problem is that we have equated managers with leaders, and they definitely are not the same. We have attempted to turn the art of leadership into a scientific formula that promises to create leaders regardless of a person's level or lack of leadership talent. We can create forty-hour courses and academic programs to mass-produce assembly-line managers, but not good leaders. Leadership is forged from within a person who already has the leadership DNA. Leadership training will develop and enhance a person's innate leadership talent, but no certificate, degree, or military rank can endow you with leadership talent if you weren't already born with it.
To intuitively recognize this concept and reality, take a few minutes and reflect on the individuals you've worked for throughout your life and any other individuals in leadership positions that you've known well enough to have an opinion about their leadership ability. I predict you will admit that most of these individuals demonstrated only a minimal level of leadership ability. Survey after survey of employees reflects that improving the quality of leadership in their organizations is consistently among their top responses, which supports the reality that poor leadership is widespread.
Considering the lack of leadership talent prevalent in most of the individuals who occupy leadership positions, we can painfully and clearly see that no formula exists to mass-produce good leaders. Civilian and military managers are everywhere, while good leaders are rare by comparison. The former Secretary of Defense, Mr. Robert Gates, said during his commencement address at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis in May 2011, "I have learned that real leadership is a rare and precious commodity, and requires qualities that many people might possess piecemeal to varying degrees, but few exhibit in total." (http://www.defense. gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1574) I completely agree with Secretary Gates and reemphasize that you cannot mass- produce good leaders. Also, being a commissioned officer in the military doesn't automatically ensure leadership talent. Rank gives a person the authority to command, but it doesn't guarantee leadership ability in the person giving the order.
Chapter TwoLeadership Defies Definition
Before moving on to a discussion of the signposts on the path to leadership, I want to discuss the persistent attempts to define leadership.
Many leadership gurus and authors have attempted to define leadership and leaders by a set of personal traits or characteristics. They say that after studying many successful leaders that effective leaders are honest, competent, dependable, courageous, and trustworthy, among other noble traits. Therefore, they argue that if a person possesses these characteristics, then she or he will make a good leader. If that is the case, then it follows that all those people who are not leaders are mostly dishonest, incompetent, undependable, and cowards! Of course, leaders need to possess noble traits, but so does any right-thinking individual. And just because you have these traits doesn't mean that you are automatically a leader. It just means that you are a good person with great character. It also says something very disturbing about us as a people and society if we only expect our leaders and not ourselves to possess these noble traits. Although leadership encompasses strong characteristics, it is not defined by them alone. Good leaders are a reflection of a talent they were born with, nothing more and nothing less.
Some authors also want to use psychological leadership profiles and tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator instrument, in an attempt to categorize people into different personality types and to predict by a person's answers whether she has leadership ability. The results of these and other tests are not predictors of leadership ability in a person any more than a test to determine a person's ability to become an accomplished painter, composer, sculptor, engineer, baseball player, and so on. If these psychological tests were valid and reliable, then why haven't we seen the quality of leadership that they promise to be able to predict actually materialize? Leaders often come from where you least expect and less from where you predict. As humans, we seem to have this need to dissect and reassemble a person into nice, neat personality compartments so we can attempt to predict their behavior and life's purpose.
We will not find good leaders in lists of noble traits, psychological profiles, or test results. In reality, these factors are attempts to use science once again to define leadership. If you can define it, you can dissect it, if you can dissect it, you can analyze it, if you can analyze it, you can create a formula, if you can create a formula, then leadership becomes a predictable scientific process. But leadership is far too complex to be limited by a single definition. Trying to define leadership is like trying to describe the color blue to a blind person or defining the talent of Michelangelo, Rembrandt, or Beethoven. It cannot be done. Good leaders transcend lists of traits, tests, and profiles, and the more we attempt to calculate leadership, the further we move away from its essence. Leadership is an art form, which means you can't really define or predict it. You can recognize it; you know when you are around a person who has leadership talent—she just has it. Leadership DNA exists; it doesn't need a definition to scientifically prove it.
Although we cannot define leadership, we can identify and discuss a variety of signposts that exist along the path toward making an assessment if a person has innate leadership talent.
Chapter ThreeExamining the Motives and Behavior Patterns for Leadership
Many of the signposts along the path to leadership relate to the motives and behavior patterns of a person who is striving for placement in a leadership position or who is currently in a leadership position. To best explain this concept, the following sections focus on contrasting phrases to assist in identifying many of the signposts on the path to leadership.
Salary versus Legacy
If your primary motive for wanting to be in a leadership position is because it pays more, then eventually you will fail as a leader and pull your team down with you. Good leaders do not go into leadership positions for the money, first and foremost. Good leaders understand their personal impact on the accomplishment of their organization's mission and their employees' well-being as the prime focus of their efforts. A deep sense of commitment and satisfaction for doing the right thing and taking care of your employees is the greater reward. Being a good leader is one of the toughest challenges you may ever face in this life. The decisions that you make impact people's lives in countless ways. Developing a confident and competent team must be your primary motive and focus for as long as you are in a leadership position. Money can be on your list for wanting to be a leader, but it cannot be the main reason. Your motives and actions will determine your legacy as a leader, and you must be forever conscious of that fact and the immense responsibility that comes with being a leader.
Personal Power versus the Greater Good
The desire for personal power, rank, and reward will drive a leader away from being a champion of the greater good. Abraham Lincoln said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." Good leaders recognize that the more you use your power, the less you have of it and the less effective it will be. Good leaders lead by persuasion not power. Poor leaders can't stop using the power of their position because it compensates for their own personal lack of leadership ability.
Hired Hands versus Hired Heads
Some individuals in leadership positions tend to hire people who will just come to work, do their job, go home, and leave the business processes and decision making to the boss. These poor leaders believe they know best how to run their organizations. Employees are seen as just "hands" to do the work. Good leaders, however, search for people who can use their heads to challenge the status quo and create innovations to improve the organization's efficiency. Good leaders have no fear of new ideas; they welcome them and the "heads" they came out of.
Being Active versus Being Productive
Good leaders make certain that their employees are focused on producing results, because they know that an organization's effectiveness and success will be measured by what actually gets accomplished, not on how busy the employees are. Poor leaders mistake a busy or active workforce with being a productive one. When the production falls short of expectations, they don't know how to improve the situation and motivate their employees, except by using the power of their position or rank to give orders and create an atmosphere of fear. Poor leaders fix blame. Good leaders assign responsibility.
It's Good Enough versus We Can Do Better
Poor leaders are satisfied with second best. They don't continually challenge themselves or their employees to improve their individual and collective performance. Mediocrity is their standard for success. Poor leaders do not demonstrate a sense of urgency to excel. On the other hand, good leaders constantly push themselves to look for ways to do better. They become an example and inspiration for their employees to follow and collectively agree that as an organization, they can and must do better if they expect to compete and be successful.
Dueling Monologues versus Dialogue
During a discussion, poor leaders too often do not really listen to what another person is saying. They cannot wait until the person is done speaking so that they can make their points. The other person in the discussion will eventually follow the leader's behavior and then no one is hearing what the other is saying. They simply try to verbally out-duel each other. In contrast, good leaders will create and nurture an environment where people's opinions are valued, where there is open dialogue and appreciation of each person's diversity and views, and where one person speaks at a time and the others actually listen. Good leaders understand that communication is a two-way street and that monologues are a dead-end.
This Is My Decision versus I Need Your Input
Good leaders sincerely invite and encourage input from their employees. Most importantly, they actually consider that input prior to making a decision! Good leaders recognize that an informed decision that weighs other points of view is better than a decision made by the leader in isolation. Good leaders also understand, if they repeatedly ignore their employees' input, that eventually they will lose their employees' respect, which is hard to earn and easy to squander. Poor leaders will typically only request input from an inner circle of trusted subordinates who often just rubber- stamp a decision already made. Or poor leaders will solicit input from their employees concerning an issue only for appearance or for compliance with a corporate mandate and then rarely take this input into serious account when making a decision.
Counseling versus Coaching
Good leaders will frequently coach their employees with the proactive aim of assisting them in improving their performance and preparing them to handle future challenges. Good leaders will not wait until a designated time period, such as once every ninety days, to coach and provide feedback to their employees. Rather they coach every day, providing immediate feedback and modeling the way with their personal behavior, which is the most important form of coaching. Good leaders understand that they must invest in their employees' development for the organization to be successful, now and in the future. Poor leaders typically provide little or no feedback, good or bad, to their employees and will usually ignore poor performance and misconduct as long as they can. When forced to deal with a poor performer or someone who is a conduct problem, they typically do not attempt to find out what is causing the poor performance or bad behavior. Poor leaders will simply conduct a counseling session where the employee is put on report about his mistakes and behavior. Coaching has a positive win-win connotation and is continuous and proactive to avoid problems and develop employees. Whereas counseling has a negative lose-lose connotation and is normally reactive and punitive and, as such, occurs infrequently with little regard for developing the employee.
Excerpted from Leadership DNA by Paul Okum Copyright © 2012 by Paul Okum. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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