Five Ways to Look at Bosses — a Leadership Training Profile

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    “I don’t think I know anyone who can honestly say that he or she doesn’t want to be a success. Do you?” asks June Melvin Mickens, J.D. of Executive Advantage, LLC, in her E. A. INSIGHT newsletter article, The Good Boss: How to Be (or Recognize) One.

    “What’s interesting, though, is that usually many of us talk about wanting to achieve success, but we often spend little, if any, time really figuring out how success in a role looks and how we match up against that externally or self-imposed standard.”

    So we have to ask if we are looking at training: “What qualities do people value and respect in superiors, peers, or other leaders?” Again, Mickens has the right idea, and this time I think it can be applied in how we train our leaders and managers.

    There is something to be said for learning from other leaders and mentors, but does that in itself develop creative leadership? Finding one's successor is not as easy as passing a baton.

    In my Federal agency’s national training center, I developed, managed and trained courses in leadership, management development, train-the-trainer, and customer service. Obviously the most complicated is the Leadership training. It encompasses a variety of techniques and theories, but unlike the other courses mentioned above that can be trained using in a mostly how-to fashion, training leadership is different. But it was the established training so we taught them all. Were these various techniques helpful? Perhaps. More, I think, they were helpful in teaching what leaders should be, and what theories are used to describe leaders than to actually train them to be leaders themselves.

    As talked about in various leadership theories, we hear about the The Big Five, referring to the five traits that make a good leader. Let’s see if we can’t take the five points that Mickens refers to that helps identify “The Good Boss” and see how they stack up against the The Big Five. I’m sure there are similarities and differences, but ultimately I think you’ll see yet another way to look at training leaders, bosses, creative management, etc.

    1. “Good bosses are productive,” she says. Most bosses wouldn’t be there if they weren’t productive, but as Mickens maintains, it must be in a good way. Productivity should not go over budget, and should not be without acknowledging the work of others in the process. At work here is intelligence and conscientiousness of The Big Five. Intelligence in the masterminding achieving results and the Conscientiousness, the caring for others.
    2. “Good bosses communicate well.” Leadership theory does reflect that the effective leader must be able to communicate the plan, enlist and motivate others in the execution of the plan. Not only that, as a good communicator, he or she knows that communication goes both ways. So, a good leader listens as much as he or she talks. Good communicators are also observant and know their audience as a good leader should know his or her people.
    3. The fact that good bosses nurture relationships makes sense; it is the way to get work done efficiently and profitably. More importantly, a solid relationship bonds the employee to the company through its leadership. Although some may not agree, I think the long term commitment to company well-being should trump immediate productivity profits.
    4. The idea of personal growth and professional development of not only the leader/boss and his or her employees does, too. As people we all seek growth both inside and outside the organization, and it is important for the leader to model that behavior. “People work diligently for and rally behind leaders whom they know desire, and are helping, to make them stronger,” she says. Although it could be controversial, leaders should seek out opportunities from inside and outside the company for their people as well as themselves in order to grow. The company is not always going to be exactly as it is today. Professional development and personal growth demonstrate forward thinking, a positive for any company.
    5. Mickens’ final factor is leadership, a descriptive profile:

    “They are responsible, having learned first to lead themselves effectively and consistently before seeking or accepting the role of leading others. They are good followers, understanding that the respect and effort they afford those who lead them provides a model of respect and effort for those whom they lead. They are accountable, taking seriously the trust placed in them by the organization and by the team, and doing their best to steward that trust well. They are confident, acknowledging the gifts and talents they have been given and, in an assured manner, using those strengths to enhance the organization and its people. They are authentic, not shying away from letting people know the real them — as appropriate, laughing, crying, getting angry, being concerned…being a real person and not a cardboard cutout or an aloof persona. They are thermostats, setting the environment in their teams (and sometimes beyond) rather than thermometers, simply reflecting the temperature of what’s happening around them.”

    Taking these factors and looking at them in terms of training leadership may change the way we look at leadership in general. It means we can forget some of the theories and history, or at least de-emphasize them. Focus our training on developing those characteristics that reflect the company image and motivation.

    No longer can we think of Leadership training as merely advanced management development with superior communication skills thrown in, or advanced training for a really smart manager whose ideas in the past have proven profitable, or advanced training for the experienced manager.

    Are we looking at leadership training programs through professional development, meditation to help them create and innovate, exercises for the brain, muses and mentors? Perhaps, a little, but more than anything we need to simplify and focus on what we want as an outcome. Outcome based training: Isn’t that what we’re after?

    What we want to create as an outcome deserves a repeat of what June Mickens says earlier: Leaders that “are thermostats, setting the environment in their teams (and sometimes beyond) rather than thermometers, simply reflecting the temperature of what’s happening around them.”

    There is something to be said for learning that comes from other leaders and mentors. However, does that learning in itself develop creative leadership in others, or mimicry of the status quo?

    And is there really a difference in a regular leader and a creative leader if we use this current definition. Aren’t all leaders by this definition creative? Independent problem-solving and decision-making, by any expert’s reckoning seem to rank at the top of the traits a leader must exhibit–period. We always say “creative” leaders should think “outside the box” enough to drive a cliché over the cliff, but I’ve yet to come up with a better term. “Outside of the box” thinking is what I expect of any leader, and to do it effectively.

    In training programs where we look for emergent leaders it seems mistakes can be made easily.

    The simplified definition by Wikipedia says a leader is someone who has the ability to organize others to accomplish a common task. There is the debate between the age-old situational leadership, where a leader could be a leader in some instance and not in others, with the more current individual traits theory that looks to certain traits we will find in the people who accomplish great things. Through this observation, we say leaders must have certain traits to succeed.

    With current technology and statistical trends we can develop that further. The times make the man–a throwback to situational theory, but remains true when times are tough, and when there is pressure to survive, some leaders emerge. Certain traits not seen before appear and are applied successfully. The emergent leader that is often seen in the corporate or business world based on perceived performance and dedication to the team effort or company effort is the same emergent leader that is favored in military training. The corporate leader who emerges during a crisis can have the same faults, flaws or imperfections when times change.

    In military officer training, regardless of service, field exercise problems are used to observe the behavior of others to see who will lead the group to a solution. Here we are dependent on one theory and leaders may emerge, so may those who are bullies or intimidaters, fierce competitors who yell down others to be center stage. There are also the ones who know the leadership theory and do their best to demonstrate it the observers, natural to their nature or not. Then there are the quiet leaders who wait to be asked for their opinion. If they are appointed the leader, they will emerge as leaders, often better than the ones angling for attention.

    In training programs where we look for emergent leaders it seems mistakes can be made easily. However, in all fairness, the military model, not including the “emergent leader” exercise, has many assets to recommend it, most of which have to do with developing character.

    The military leadership training program for its officers provides a vehicle for it students to learn to follow before leading.

    The military leadership training program to train its officers provides a vehicle for it students to learn to follow before leading. It also teaches the potential leaders:

    • the acceptance of responsibility,
    • respect in general, respect for peers, superiors, the uniform, service and country (as well as practice it on a daily basis), and
    • the art of being their country’s ambassadors and protectors.

    These potential leaders also

    • hold unit positions for which they are held accountable,
    • learn the art of problem solving,
    • decision making and
    • cultivating relationships with others–their employees, peers and superiors, as well as
    • the expectations to go to war, and
    • to be confident and proud.
    Perhaps it is a good idea to invest in creating your own organizational boot camp. Another idea would be use the Black Belt model I've mentioned before to train leaders in a gradual way, rewarding them for each step of the training they successfully complete.

    There is also the expectation that they will continue their professional development training. Promotions are available only when those development goals are reached. I should also point out that not all officers turn out the same, nor maintain an acceptable level of competency or leadership ability. Those who do not get promoted in a certain amount of time are not allowed to remain or may be allowed to retire if they have enough time. This allows for younger, more capable to move up in the workforce.

    Obviously not all corporate organizations could follow such an intense model or on a scale equal to the military but it could incorporate training modules that promote behavior desired by the company–behavior that works, but perhaps on an abbreviated scale or as I have written previously about Why Isn’t All Training Like Training for Your Black Belt.

    All the elements are there. Am I advocating a leadership training boot camp to accomplish the same goal? They do exist. By the hundreds. Usually they are three- to five-day training retreats offered by a training company. Perhaps it is a good idea to invest in creating your own organizational boot camp. Another idea would be use the Black Belt model I’ve mentioned before to train leaders in a gradual way, rewarding them for each step of the training they successfully complete.

    I’ve gone on long enough. Leadership is such a complicated issue it has taken me several articles to cover a small portion of the information and speculation that is available. These are just my thoughts on the subject, and I haven’t been everywhere or done everything. Perspectives and opinions being what they are, I have tried my best to fair and even handed. I am always looking for guest bloggers to give another point of view or provide new information. Be sure to check out my book, The Cave Man’s Guide to Training And Development now available.

    For more resources about training, see the Training library.