In my previous blog on leadership, I began to opine on what IT leadership needs to begin to tackle during these challenging and turbulent times. With this blog, I’d like to discuss what some of the attributes of a truly successful leader might be.
It has been my privilege and honor to have a number of individuals who have taught me leadership, both by example and through their active involvement in my professional and personal life. The individual who has probably had the greatest influence on me in this area is Dr. Stan Toler. I first met Stan some 20 years ago when he became my pastor. Even though he was my pastor for only a short time, in that short period he began to immediately invest his time and energy in me. As a result of those interactions I have continued my relationship with Stan to this day. He has been the author of many books on leadership and management, most of which are in my library today. He has undoubtedly had more influence on my leadership than even he realizes.
Meeting Stan and allowing myself to be under his tutelage represents one of the most important attributes of a leader. A leader always has a trusted advisor or advisors with whom he meets on a regular basis for counsel, honest feedback, development and strategy. ‘No man is an island,’ wrote John Donne in his famous poem. And the leader who does not have someone to whose advice and direction he submits is a leader who ultimately will hit a ceiling beyond which their leadership skills will not take them. Like many other things in life, leadership is a lifelong process.
The next aspect of successful leadership is to understand the difference between managing and leading, and how to balance those two aspects to guide your organization. First and foremost, a leader has to be able to understand how his or her organization functions, and then apply that understanding to solving the problems, uncorking the bottlenecks, and strategically guiding that organization to success. A simple but clear explanation of this attribute comes from my friend Dr. Toler. In his book, The Five Secrets of an Exceptional Leader, he describes the use of four leadership ‘hats’, each of which is used as an effective approach depending upon the situation.
The first ‘hat’ is one of the ‘general’ or ‘foreman’, which is required when time is of the essence or in times of crisis during which you need to convey an attitude of urgency. The second ‘hat’ is that of a coach. This hat is most effective when you have a motivated team but they need direction or information or inspiration. You have all the right players with the right skills and abilities; they need a playbook to execute the plan.
The third ‘hat’ is that of a team captain. This hat differs from the coach’s hat in that the team captain leads from within the game. This is a great approach to use when you have a good team with good skills and even good execution, but you want to develop that team into a more effective and successful working unit. The focus here is on planning, training and group accomplishment.
The fourth and last of our ‘hats’ is that of the ‘friendly expert’. The example I would use in my own experience is my recent role in our enterprise implementation of Epic. It was my third Epic implementation, so I had a pretty good idea of what it would take to make it successful. However, I wanted to use it as an opportunity for my staff to be successful and learn from the experience. So my role was more focused on facilitation and advising — only stepping in when I felt things needed intervention and my more direct interaction.
I still have much more to say on the subject of leadership and my friends at healthsystemCIO.com have given me the opportunity to continue this blog series on leadership. I look forward to your feedback and comments and to the next installment of the series.