August 2011: The Three Flowers of LeadershipAugust 1, 2011
For any group to thrive, its leaders must develop their capacity and execution in three areas: (1) Project and task accomplishment; (2) Relationship management and (3) Strategic thinking.
I refer to these as “The Three Flowers of Leadership,” since each of these dimensions is critical to the blossoming of a group.
Project and task accomplishment
Whether the system is a family, a business, an educational institution or a nation, if the basic work of the group falters, its survival is jeopardized.
Leaders must make sure tasks and projects get done in a timely and efficient way. To accomplish this, a leader must ensure that all are clear about:
- What tasks need to get accomplished?
- Who is responsible for the planning and execution of those tasks?
The best leaders put systems in place that monitor the flow and execution of daily responsibilities.
Astute leaders pay attention to the interactions between and among group members, and to interactions with customers, strategic partners and vendors.
In our leadership courses, presentations and workshops, we place heavy emphasis on relationship strategies, and skills such as coaching, connecting, clear communication, deep listening and managing relationship triangles.
Leaders must practice these skills personally, and challenge other influential group members to continuously seek relationship knowledge and develop relationship competence. The primary method for promoting relationship competence in any group is mentoring.
Leaders mentor their high-potential members through formal and informal conversations. Mentoring cultivates maturity, self-confidence and wisdom by focusing on the mentee’s response to challenges and problems. Supplying solutions, answers and fixes weakens mentoring effectiveness.
Mentoring requires leaders to think as much about helping people grow as they are do about getting tasks accomplished. Ironically, well thought-out mentoring, with its emphasis on personal responsibility, tends to maximize task accomplishment in a group.
Strategic thinking anchors the first two flowers by examining important decisions from a wider perspective, generating deeper ideas, and considering long-range implications.
Strategic thinking requires calmness, concentration and vision from leaders. These mental states are nurtured through a leader’s life choices: making time for reflection, training the mind to limit distractions, and seeking “out-of-the-box” adventures to jump-start new thinking.
Strategic thinking considers how the group affects and relates to the wider community. This includes a leader’s awareness about personal beliefs, social responsibility and the use of group resources to build a better world.
A broad thinker takes responsibility for his or her own personal future. Important questions get addressed: Where am I headed? When is it time for me to move on? Have I chosen and mentored a successor? What involvements beyond work bring me the most life?
In my three decades of experience as a mentor to leaders, I have observed three perilous patterns regarding The Three Flowers:
- Most leaders spend more time functioning as project and task managers than as integrated leaders. They typically pay less attention to acquiring relationship knowledge, learning how to connect at a deeper level with key partners and employees (and with spouse, children and siblings) and making time to think about the future.
- Leaders who do make time to interact and connect with their people often do so on a superficial level, shying away from risky challenges or more substantial discussions. A leader’s reluctance to define self to key reports, superiors and family members contributes to a weak culture that promotes small talk over progress.
- The majority of leaders I interact with do not have well-developed reflection routines. Calmness and concentration often gets pushed aside in order to get things done or have fun. The common leadership bias towards excitement and action at the expense of deeper thinking often disadvantages the group.
The Three Flowers are rarely in perfect balance. Ideally, each dominates a leader’s attention at different times, depending on the situation. The best leaders move fluidly among tasks, relationships and thinking, never taking their eye off of any.
Every few months, leaders can benefit from scrutinizing their attention balance among The Three Flowers of Leadership. In which flower are you spending too much time? Which do you tend to avoid?
Importantly, leaders should also discuss The Three Flowers with the important influencers in their organizations. In this way, all those with management responsibility have the opportunity to think about – and if necessary re-balance – what they pay attention to.
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