From King to Oracle: A Primer in Leadership
By Gower D Talley
In a typical business leadership environment, the principal reality people are concerned about at work every day is… “The Boss.” What does “The Boss” want? What are “The Boss’ priorities? What mood is “The Boss” in? How do I please “The Boss?”
In a typical business leadership environment, The Boss becomes something of a king, whose whims and directives are to be “obeyed.”
Typical Boss: “I have decided that I want you to do this. Go ye forth and obey me. Succeed and you shall be rewarded. Fail me and you shall be punished.”
Even in the best of typical leadership environments, “obeying” The Boss requires a series of tiny little emotional defeats. One must admit, at least internally, that one is inferior to the person doing the ordering in order to bow to the whims of another person. These daily emotional defeats can combine within an organization to create a degree of cumulative resentment that can manifest itself in a variety of nasty and destructive little ways.
In an extraordinary business leadership environment, the principal reality that people are concerned with at work every day is… well, it’s reality: the actual business objectives of the organization. The Boss helps to identify these objectives and creates win-win performance agreements by which everyone holds each other mutually accountable. The Boss is seen as being accountable to the same realities as everyone else.
In an extraordinary leadership environment, the boss is seen less as a king who commands obedience and more an Oracle who clearly speaks on behalf of the forces of nature. Extraordinary leaders are not seen as making up what employees must do on a whim – they are seen are being the one who knows what should be done, and they share that knowledge. He or She doesn’t merely demand that others bow to their will – extraordinary leaders seem to define and predict the future. They let people know what is about to take place.
Extraordinary Boss: The future of our organization looks like this. Your role in that future is this. How can I help you more clearly understand that role? Great! Let’s work together to specifically define what success looks like in that role. Let’s also work together to create a transparent and mutually observable way to evaluate that success.
Now, this might look like a “softer” leadership approach – and it should “feel” softer, but in actual practice it makes directives much more difficult to avoid and much less subject to debate. People debate the whims of other people. They challenge the dictates of kings. They do not often challenge thermodynamics, electricity or any other force of nature. They are simply things to be acknowledged and worked within.
There is very little resentment in an extraordinary leadership environment. You might not like it when you trip and fall – but it would not occur to you to be angry with or resent “gravity.”
In an extraordinary leadership environment, people are rarely “fired” per se, because the job performance standards are so clear, so transparent and so mutually agreed upon, that failing to achieve these equals… “quit.”
- Typical leadership environments are personality driven.
Extraordinary leadership environments are goal driven.
A Typical business leader uses “artificial realities” (incentives, politics, approval, threats, punishments and the like) and tries to use these “artificial realities” as a tools to focus people’s actions on actual performance and actual business objectives.
An Extraordinary leader seeks to expose people (as directly as possible) to the actual consequences of their performance (both good and bad) he hands them the ball and lets them run.
In a Typical leadership environment, the best one can hope for is that people will do what you TELL them to do. Typical leadership leads toward minimum standards.
In an Extraordinary leadership environment – people are empowered to do what you actually WANT them to do. People working for an extraordinary leader can move an organization’s objectives forward in ways that may not have even occurred to the leader. Extraordinary leadership leads toward excellence.
Which of these models sounds like your organization? If you are not happy with your answer to that question – are you going to change it?
Gower D. Talley is among most high energy and high performance leaders you have ever encountered. His depth of experience, even handed leadership and stable, yet enthusiastic, temperament have led him to be referred to as an “Anchor among the Chaos.” He is the winner of a national business leadership competition, has appeared on national television and he is the author of the personal development training program “Five Simple Choices“, a brief course in Self-Leadership. It revolves largely around five core decisions that seem to define the difference between people who are happy, successful, creative and affluent and people who are sad, frustrated, struggling and impoverished.