History Lessons in Leadership Crown Successful Leaders Today

Leaders have shared characteristics over the span of history. In The Politics of Power, a recent article by Mike Prokopeak, the politics of power are broken down. Prokopeak, a blog author for TalentManagement.com, discusses what is known in politics and diplomacy as ‘hard power’: the ability to coerce people, whether through force or payment, to do your bidding. Politically speaking, this is a powerful idea. Power and leadership have a historical presence, and both have evolved over time. In contrast of the term ‘hard power’, a worldwide diplomacy that became more convoluted spawned a more subtle type of power. This newly evolved power is called ‘soft power’, and it relies on the ability to shape others’ preferences, either by example or by attracting others to do what you want.

How does the controversy between hard and soft power apply to the workplace? That’s an interesting question! Organizations are increasingly fragmented as of late and leaders need to develop and deliver a well balanced blend of hard and soft power tactics in order to achieve results.

Leadership boils down to how leaders motivate people to move in the direction they want, and there are a number of internal and external motivators leaders can use, said Maj. Gen. Erwin Lessel, recently retired after 31 years with the U.S. Air Force and now a director with Deloitte Consulting.

During Lessel’s day, military leadership models were beginning to change from a reliance on hard power following the Vietnam War. But today, more leaders use soft power tactics and a sense of moral and ethical duty to the organization and the country. “The hard one to get to – and that’s the one that’s more effective – is the internal value-driven motivation,” Lessel said.

As with any type of power, it must be used accordingly. If soft power tends to yield such high results, why not use it all of the time? An interview with management consultant Bruce Tulgan, author of It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss shines some light on why soft power must be used with caution. Tulgan calls it the ‘nice guy syndrome’:

In the name of employee empowerment and engagement, bosses are actually not doing the hard work required for effective management. It’s negligence wrapped in the clothes of soft power and flies in the face of how most workers actually perceive their leaders. “Like it or not, management relationships are hierarchical relationships,” Tuglan said. “At the very least, one person has authority over someone else’s livelihood and career. That is a power relationship, and ignoring it is just a pretend game.”

Well then, the answer is to teach managers to be tenacious in a way that is patient and thoughtful, consistent and thorough. Tulgan offers three general focus points for managers:

Setting Expectations and Building Trust: Being a leader who effectively uses both hard power and soft power begins with taking responsibility for the power held.

“When managers are strong, that’s not about being heavy-handed, that’s not about being authoritarian,” Tulgan said. “It’s about owning the responsibility that you have power in this relationship. It’s about owning the responsibility you have to manage your people.”

It’s crucial that leaders set clear expectations and build trust with their followers. In building a trust relationship, leaders must show that  they are committed to the organization and to their people individually. This allows for loyalty, followership and employee empowerment.

Calibrating Power: One size fits all doesn’t fit today’s workforce. Tulgan said the hard part of management is recognizing that the fair approach is not to create a standardized leadership approach, but to customize it for every person.

“It’s a moving target,” he said. “Some people need to be managed much more closely than others. Some people need to be managed much more closely on some days rather than other days. Some people need to be managed much more closely on some work than other work.”

Either way, they key is that leaders communicate with their followers often through regular conversations and that they communicate with them clearly at all times. Letting your employees know what is expected of them and how tasks should be accomplished creates dynamic working relationships. Tulgan notes that there are many formal and informal tools to train people to communicate effectively. He says one of the most effective is also one of the oldest: story telling.

Managing Performance: To effectively balance hard and soft power, supervisors need to create dynamic relationships that are a balance between give and take. Annual reviews are too infrequent, too structured and too disengaged  from reality. Most effective management conversations are ad hoc, more like interruptions than planned dialogues.

“The real adjustment that needs to be made is getting structure and discipline into that regular dialogue so that it’s not just happening when things are urgent, that it’s not just happening when there’s a fire that needs to be put out,” Tulgan said. Making regular, real conversations habitual is important.

Women’s leadership styles are also a relevant topic. Leadership consultant Sally Helgesen, author of The Female Vision, puts in her two cents. “A lot of the pressures that have led to constructing and reconfiguring and to some extent transformation in organizations have made them more hospitable and open to precisely these characteristics and leadership skills that women bring,” she said.

There are many attributes that women bring to the table, but Helgesen said that effective female leaders bring a few of the following key strengths to the organization:

  • A talent for building relationships.
  • A passion for bringing skills and insights from work and home together.
  • The ability to create an inclusive structure and lead from the center, rather than the top.
  • The capability of an organization’s leaders to combine both male and female perspectives will be a key in organizational leadership capacity. Without one, the organization may be shortchanged with many resources untapped. “In an unpredictable environment  such as we are in now, organizations need to be able to balance broad spectrum and focused notice in order to read the environment with accuracy and skill,” Helgesen said.

    To read more about key strengths women are presenting in the workplace, or to read about a fascinating study that can let you in on the secrets of how to effectively lead your organization, click here to read the full article.

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