Leaders Wanted

Jodie Monson, MBA, HB Fuller Company - December 2011

During a recent visit to a Noodles restaurant, I noticed their help wanted sign at the entrance stating: Leaders Wanted. This twist on the traditional help wanted sign is representative of the shifting paradigm on leadership and what it takes to be successful today. In a rapidly changing and increasing global world, good is no longer good enough. The authoritarian leadership model, where the leaders decide what to do, how to do it and when it will be done simply doesn't fully utilize people's abilities to be creative, to drive innovation or to leverage their personal strengths to create value for the organization. The old paradigm where employees do what they're told and are encouraged to work hard while keeping their head down aren't enough to differentiate oneself in today's global economy nor apparently, at my local Noodles.

Engaged Employees Equals Higher Performance

Many high performing organizations (those with the ability to demonstrate growth over the long term) attribute much of their success to a culture that recognizes the advantages of self-directed employees and their ability to create value. In these organizations, the role of top leadership is to provide vision and purpose, while creating an emotional connection to the same, for their employees. Rather than encouraging employees to keep their heads down, these organizations encourage and expect candid, truthful communication based on mutual trust and respect and a shared vision of where the organization is headed. People are at the center of everything that happens in an organization, and increasingly organizations are realizing there is a link between engaged employees and higher performance in all areas of operation, including financial results. This realization sparks organizations to expect employees to be leaders in their areas of responsibility. Everyone is personally responsible for the success of the organization and is expected to execute to that end. This type of culture provides more fulfilling experiences for employees and better results for the organization.

The Choice to Lead

In the paradigm of engaged employees, leadership isn't a hierarchical designation bestowed upon a select few; it's a choice every employee makes. As leaders, we must choose what we'll be personally responsible for and how we'll utilize our influence to challenge the status quo and drive continuous improvement.

In her book How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Chairman and former CEO of Carlson, recounts an early lesson in leadership she learned from her father. As a 13 year old attending Sunday school classes, she was disillusioned with the lack of order and control the instructor maintained over the class. After a particularly chaotic Sunday, Marilyn informed her parents that she would no longer be attending Sunday school, but would be going to the main sanctuary for adult services in the future. Expecting to be praised for her maturity, Marilyn was shocked when her father responded that if Sunday school needed improving, it was her job to change it! The following week, Marilyn's parents set up a meeting with the Sunday school superintendent where Marilyn presented her ideas on how to fix Sunday school. She was nervous about the interaction, but in the end the superintendent was pleased to listen to and implement Marilyn's ideas. Together they improved Sunday school. This story is a tribute to the importance of personal responsibility and influence as leadership competencies.

Leaders don't wait to be told what to do, they assess the situation, decide on a course of action and execute. Like Marilyn, we can demonstrate personal responsibility by taking a proactive approach to solving problems. Inserting ourselves in ways that make a positive difference indicates to others that we are invested in fulfilling our organization's vision.

Leading with Influence Requires Credibility

In a paradigm where leadership is not bestowed, leaders must rely on their ability to influence, and people will only allow themselves to be influenced by those they trust and respect. To build trust, we must first sincerely care about achieving success for the organization and the people we work with. When our actions consistently demonstrate this commitment we earn the trust and respect necessary to influence and thus to lead. We know we have influence when we have the courage to speak honestly and take action, and regardless of our position, others follow.

We all can demonstrate acts of leadership no matter what our title or position. By taking responsibility within our own areas of expertise, aligning our actions with the organization's vision, and by speaking honestly and candidly with those around us, we are choosing to be a leader, and the trend is clear: Leaders are Wanted.

How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership by Marilyn Carlson Nelson
Dynamics of High Performing Organizations by Gary Lear
The Courageous Follower by Ira Chaleff

Suggested Readings
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? By Seth Godin
The Courageous Follower by Ira Chaleff

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