It’s interesting. I spend a lot of time listening to and reading the latest on workplace trends. Some people might think that I only focus on job search issues, but in reality, my firms ITtechExec and NoddlePlace work with professionals at all stages in the career management life cycle; specifically, we also spend a lot of time helping people prepare for internal promotions and advancement at their current engagements.
Therefore, to best do that, we look at the value companies place on their leadership and the expectations they have for them.
(I have to admit that I also have an odd fascination with the number of HR and organization strategists out there that espouse leadership styles and even conduct management trainings when they have never been operational leaders themselves.)
For sure, there is a plethora of information out there on the concept of corporate leadership. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is a cultural obsession over the word “leader”. (I guess that tells us how desperate we are for good ones.) It is not uncommon to come across infographics like the one here from NEC.EDU that dissect leadership into its finer points.
And for the most part, the advice is sensible, albeit surface level. (For instance, we can easily all nod our heads that a good leader “cultivates strategic thinking and innovation” but it’s the application that gets murky. Exactly what does that look like? And can it be turned into a formula to follow?)
In my mind, having once served as a corporate “leader” with ~130 direct reports, companies rarely promote and cultivate true leaders (which is why there is so much analysis on organizational leadership out there; if they were good at it, they wouldn’t need so much of it). One reason is because the way companies hire and promote rarely lines up with what they say they want. Politics, necessity, poor discernment, bad leaders promoting more bad leaders, etc. all come into play.
Then, after poor decisions have been made, they backtrack to try to turn all of these bad/mediocre/worn-out leaders into good ones. And they do that by using a lot of words.
Seminars, seminars, seminars. Buzzwords, buzzwords, buzzwords. Culture, culture, culture. Soft skills, soft skills, soft skills. The poorly defined mantras are repeated over and over again by the true devotees until they become almost meaningless…if they even had much meaning to begin with.
Why? Because actions speak louder than words.
And not just from the company as a whole but from the “leaders” themselves.
So the more you mass produce leadership-speak, often the less positive the results you get. I’ve yet to meet an effective leader who sits around talking much about leadership; instead he or she is thinking about ways to “operate” more effectively, i.e., to execute. In other words, less talk and more action!
Therefore, although we all like to talk about what makes a good leader; in reality, what we really want is to observe one. And my guess is when you finally do, he or she will be anything but formulaic or fit nicely into an HR training seminar.