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Unleashing Your Inner Leader

An Excerpt from "The Leadership Gap" by David Weiss and Vince Molinaro

David Weiss, Vince Molinaro
Publication date: June, 2004

Queen's IRC Facilitator and consultant Dr. David Weiss has concluded in his research and practice over 20 years that there is a crisis in leadership capacity. In the following excerpt, David and co-author Dr. Vince Molinaro share practical strategies for senior managers and HR leaders to bridge the leadership gap in their organizations. Learn how to unleash your "capable" leadership potential to rise to the top — and about perilous personal factors that could prevent your ascent.

Capable personal leadership is based on the ability of leaders to lead in a more reflective and conscious manner. Capable leadership means slowing down and becoming more deliberate in the practice of leadership. When capable personal leadership is done well, leaders are better able to focus and integrate the other essential elements of holistic leadership (customer leadership, business strategy, culture and values, organizational leadership, team leadership).

The seven letters of the acronym "CAPABLE" represent actions that characterize effective—or "capable" —personal leadership. Here is a list of questions to assess the extent to which you (the reader) are a CAPABLE leader.

  • Do You Cultivate Personal Credibility?
  • Do You Achieve Results?
  • Do You Practice Humility?
  • Do You Acquire a Broad Perspective?
  • Do You Build Others Into Leaders?
  • Do You Leverage Employee Conversations?
  • Do You Exercise Work-Life Balance?

Cultivate Credibility

CAPABLE leaders cultivate credibility. They are believable and are believed by their peers and followers. Belief is an important variable in leadership. Leaders need to be mindful of their personal credibility and understand the importance it plays in their ability to influence employees, stakeholders, customers, shareholders and the general business community.

Below are several tactics for cultivating one's personal credibility.

  1. Be congruent between what you say and what you do.
  2. Speak truthfully.
  3. Accept failure and apologize when mistakes are made.
  4. Behave ethically.

Achieve Results

CAPABLE leaders are committed to and achieve results. They understand that a key leadership accountability is to drive results for the organization, its customers, employees and shareholders.

Below we describe tactics that CAPABLE leaders use to achieve results.

  1. Provide direction.
  2. Reinforce the values.
  3. Eliminate distraction.
  4. Define what is not important.

Practice Humility

CAPABLE personal leaders practice humility in the way they relate to others in their organizations. Yet, the dominant image of the "heroic leader" is far from being humble. In many cases leaders are brash, arrogant and overconfident. While confidence is critical to a leader's success, overconfidence that borders on personal arrogance can lead to ineffectiveness and potential derailment.

Below are several tactics which CAPABLE leaders can apply when practicing humility.

  1. Be altruistic.
  2. Give credit to others.
  3. Act in the best interest of your organization.
  4. Give back to society.

Acquire Perspective

CAPABLE leaders acquire perspective so that they can effectively lead in ever-changing business environments. Perspective comes from a commitment to learning and to constantly seeing the world in new and different ways.

Below are some tactics that CAPABLE personal leaders use to acquire perspective.

  1. Broaden your knowledge base to force you to think creatively and shift your perspective.
  2. Be accessible.
  3. Never be too comfortable with your approach—because it will become obsolete quickly if you do not continue to evolve.
  4. Be an observer.
  5. Develop personal insight.

Build Leaders

CAPABLE leaders work collectively throughout their organizations to build leaders not just at the top but at all levels, in all areas. The ability to build leaders is emerging as a new expectation of leadership.

Below are some tactics that CAPABLE personal leaders use to build leaders.

  1. Reflect on experience.
  2. Help leaders understand their own personal leadership stories.
  3. Focus on leadership life cycle transitions.
  4. Provide opportunities for leadership.

Leverage Conversations

In the past, strong leaders were seen as "great communicators," able to communicate to the "masses" and generate motivation among employees. Today, effective personal leadership is more a function of being a "great conversationalist." CAPABLE leaders leverage day-to-day conversations as a way to develop shared meaning with employees, peers, key stakeholders and customers about critical business issues. Conversations are used to align and engage people to the direction of their organization. The most effective conversations are mutual and interactive.

Here are some tactics of how CAPABLE leaders leverage employee conversations.

  1. Create the space for dialogue.
  2. Hold fireside chats.
  3. Conduct skip-level meetings.
  4. Hold town hall meetings.

Exercise Balance

Work/life balance is a fundamental personal leadership challenge.

Personal balance leads to an emotional and intellectual steadiness. In other words, when leaders exercise balance, they are "steadier" as individuals—less likely to lose their composure. In essence they demonstrate more effective personal leadership.

Below we present some of the tactics the CAPABLE leaders use to exercise balance.

  1. Be a balance role model.
  2. Focus on what really matters.
  3. Adopt slow leadership.
  4. Sustain your personal energy.
  5. Grow a healthy support network.
  6. Personal retreats.

The Personal Factors That Can Derail CAPABLE Leaders

Some leaders may derail or fail in their leadership roles, placing an organization at risk. In recent years, several studies have examined why leaders fail in their careers. Some of the top "derailers" typically cited in the research include:

  • Personal arrogance: Behavior that is pompous and/or conceited. Many leaders are highly egocentric and self-absorbed by their own personal agendas. These individuals frequently have low credibility within their organizations and fail to develop strong working relationships with colleagues.
  • Emotional incompetence: Behavior that demonstrates impulsiveness, insensitivity towards others and a lack of emotional maturity. Many leaders with this behavior have difficulty leading others and struggle under stressful situations. They are often unable to inspire and engage their staff.
  • Domineering leadership styles: Behavior that demonstrates a style of leading that is over-controlling and impatient. These leaders are often extreme micromanagers who have difficulty letting go and delegating work to direct reports.
  • Conflict avoidance: Behavior that shows a reluctance to deal with difficult people issues because of conflict avoidance. This behavior undermines the leaders' credibility and creates a poor working climate, as poor performers are not dealt with effectively.
  • Risk aversion: Behavior that demonstrates a hesitancy to take calculated business risks. When leaders play it safe, they may fail to achieve performance breakthroughs.

Closing Comments

In today's busy and fast-paced world, organizations need CAPABLE leaders who can effectively practice a slower, more reflective approach to leadership. The capabilities that defined leadership success in the past are giving way to a new set of capabilities that emphasize cultivating credibility, achieving results, practicing humility, acquiring perspective, building future leaders, becoming strong conversationalists and exercising balance. The pressures and pace of the world will always exist. Organizations and leaders must accept joint responsibility to ensure that all leaders and employees are able to effectively deal with this environment.

Dr. David Weiss is vice-president and chief innovations officer in the international leadership and human capital consulting firm of Knightsbridge; a faculty member of the Technion Institute of Management; and a Senior Fellow of Queens University. His first book, Beyond the Walls of Conflict, (McGraw Hill, 1996) has been revised and published as In Search of the 18th Camel (IRC Press, 2003). His second book, High Performance HR (Wiley, 2000) is an HR bestseller. This article is an adapted excerpt from chapter 9 of his third book, co-authored with Vince Molinaro, entitled The Leadership Gap: Building Leadership Capacity For Competitive Advantage (Wiley, 2005).

Dr. Vince Molinaro is principal and national practice leader, leadership capability, with Knightsbridge. Molinaro has been providing consulting services in the field of leadership and organizational development for the past 15 years. He has also published extensively in journals and business magazines. The Leadership Gap: Building Leadership Capacity For Competitive Advantage (2005), published by John Wiley & Sons, written with David Weiss, is his first book.