January 24, 2022

What Leaders Really Do by Jeannette Paladino

Jeannette Paladino is a Business Communications Expert and the Author of http://WriteSpeallSell.com.

I want to thank guest blogger, Jeannette Paladino, for her thought provoking post about What Leaders Really Do. She hit the nail on the head!

I have my ideas about leadership, having worked for good and bad leaders. I’ll open with what I consider a leader’s primary duty – to communicate his or her vision for the company. Some experts would say this is the second step in being a leader; first comes the vision. But without communications across, up and down organizations, the leader’s vision will never be realized.

John Kotter is perhaps the most articulate and brilliant theorist on what makes for leadership in an organization.  He says it better than I can, so I’m going to reference his words of wisdom here.  Then, we’ll see how his theories apply to three leaders, or visionaries, of today — Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, and Reed Hastings, the chief executive and co-founder of Netflix.

Kotter, a retired professor of organizational behavior at Harvard, has written countless books and articles.  I still have an article that he wrote in the May/June 1990 issue of the Harvard Business Review entitled “What Leaders Really Do.”  I hadn’t read it in a while, but just did, and was blown away by how his vision of a leader could have been written yesterday, even though in 1990 most companies were just dipping their toes into email (my own agency had one computer that could send and receive emails and it usually didn’t work).

No Internet, no Twitter, no Facebook, no internal networks, hardly any electronic connectivity, in other words.  Yet leaders today face the same challenges as those back in ancient times (ca. 1990).

The Difference Between Management and Leadership

Kotter clearly delineated the difference between management and leadership, which are both crucial roles in the success of a company.  Let me cut to the chase with his definitions:

Leadership is about coping with change

Management is about coping with complexity

To quote from that article, “These different functions – coping with complexity and coping with change – shape the characteristic activities of management and leadership.  Each system of action involves deciding what needs to be done, creating networks of people and relationships that can accomplish an agenda, (my bold face) and then trying to ensure those people actually do the job.”  Isn’t that what social networking is all about today?  Forming networks and communities that share common interests and goals?

Kotter says that leaders seek relationships and linkages that help explain things.  Leaders need to be visionaries. Most discussions of vision have a tendency to generate into the mystical, “but people who articulate such visions aren’t magicians but broad-based strategic thinkers who are willing to take risks,” he says.

Visions With Mundane Qualities

Kotter makes the point that many visions and strategies are not brilliantly innovative.  Many are mundane, but “what’s crucial about a vision is not its originality but how well it serves the interests of important constituencies – customers, stockholders, employees – and how easily it can be translated into a realistic competitive strategy.”

So that explains why so many people think that Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are geniuses.  They were visionaries who changed the world, when you think about it.  Zuckerberg took a simple idea:  college students wanting to bond with each other.  Getting together in the local hangout wasn’t enough.  They wanted a common meeting ground where they could interact 24/7.  Zuckerberg saw the possibilities and took the college circuit by storm.  He understood how to make the linkages to help people create networks of friends.  So in 2004, as a Harvard undergraduate, he launched Facebook in what amounted to a revolution in communication – it all comes back to communication – and his followers grew to be 500 million strong.

Steve Jobs capitalized on a simple idea.  Bring the Internet to your cell phone.  Not very imaginary.  The technology was already there but he had the vision to harness the pieces and figure out how to make it work.  He encouraged thousands of people to create iPhone apps that users can download that meet their particular needs. Now his competitors are rushing to catch up with smart phones of their own.

Transforming a Business With Snail Mail

Reed Hastings, the chief executive and co-founder of Netflix had a simple idea to offer a subscription service for customers to rent movies by mail.  Hardly an earth-shattering idea, but nobody else was doing it. As my former agency’s creative director used to say, “there are no big ideas, or small ideas, only powerful ideas.”  The service took off – remember Kotter saying not originality but serving consumer interests was key — and now Netflix has moved beyond snail mail to become the biggest source of streaming web traffic in North America during peak evening hours, according to an article in the New York Times “Netflix’s Move into the Web Stirs Rivalries.”

Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor, was quoted in the article, “Netflix used an open-source network, the U.S. Postal Service, to launch an alternate distribution business without asking anyone for permission…now they are using another open-source network, the Internet, to transform the business.”

Here’s the thing – nothing has really changed in the definition of leadership in the past 20, or 30 or more years.  Ideas about how to make something bigger, stronger, better, faster so it serves your community is still the currency of leadership.

So, are you a leader or a manager?  Most people think it’s cooler to be known as a leader, but it’s the managers who turn the leader’s vision into a profitable product or service.

For an excerpt of the HBR article by John Kotter go this link What Leaders Really Do.

Author:   Jeannette Paladino

Jeannette Paladino is a business writer helping companies to be more profitable using social media as a strategic communications tool to engage with employees and customers, to educate, and sell their products and services.  Her blog Write Speak Sell offers her points of view on social media, employee engagement and branding.  She has held senior marketing and communications posts with major companies and public relations agencies.

R Strands for Rebuilding Trust: A Quick Quiz to Test Your Trust Level With Your Team

"team of climbers on the summit"

Does Your Team Trust You? Take the Assessment Below to Find Out.

In today’s business world, leaders are finding that rebuilding trust…once broken can be a daunting task…one tiny thing happens or a wrong word spoken and trust goes flying out the window.  While there are numerous trust building and team building activities available today, I believe it is important to assess your current level of trust with your team before pursuing things such as outdoor trust building activities, retreats or even a conversation addressing any questions about trust.

When it comes to building trust, there are some very important things that employees are looking for in a leader, and they include (but are not limited to):

  1. A sense of safety.
  2. A sense that you are honest and truthful.
  3. A belief that you will make sacrifices, even put yourself and your job at risk for them.
  4. A sense that the team has a shared interest with each other AND with you…that you are all on the same page, moving in the same direction because you do share a common bond/interest.
  5. The ability to have open, honest and candid communication with you without feeling a fear of punitive action.
  6. A faith that you are leading them to a positive outcome (things may be shaky, but they know you are not going to leave them high and dry or throw them under the bus).
  7. A sense of confidence in your ability as a leader
  8. A feeling of authority…knowing that you are “in charge” but that you are not a dictator or a bully.
  9. A belief that know what you are doing…that you are competent at the job you are doing.
  10. A belief that you will honor your promises…and that if the promises don’t pan out, you will apologize and admit your shortcomings.

So, if you are a leader, and you are wondering how trustworthy you are, take this quick assessment.  When you complete the assessment, add up the number of “yes” answers you check and you will be directed to a page to give you an honest breakdown on how your team may feel about  you at this time. The only way to begin to rebuild trust is to become aware of your trust level at this time with your team and begin working on those things which may seem tiny to you but HUGE to your team members.  It may also be helpful to have a team member you trust take the assessment on your behalf to give you an honest read on how the team may feel.

For another great post on strategies for building trust, visit this blog.

Trust Assessment

Please honestly answer "yes" or "no" to the following statements to determine if you are inspiring trust in your team. Before you hit the submit button, calculate the number of "yes" answers you chose. The assessment results with an explanation of your score will appear once you hit the submit button.

9 Key Strategies For Becoming the Leader that Others Want to Follow

I caught up yesterday with seven people who invest a great deal of time working with business leaders from all walks of life to find out their most important leadership strategy.  And…I added one to make for a list of 9.

Thank-you all for such great contributions!

1. Become Problem Solvers…Not Complainers!
Sue Publicover

I’ve had a basic rule that has worked well for me over these many years.

I encourage people to become problem-solvers instead of complainers.  I tell them that if they are going to come to me with a problem, they can only do so once they have also thought of a potential solution. It makes them less dependent on me and provides a team of innovators.


2. Get Back to the Basics by Truly Listening
Chuck Hawks

I find that my top used leadership strategy goes back to the basics as it appears so many of us still need that reflection.  Listening skills are pinnacle to solid, performance leadership.  All too often we still think that leadership is dictating direction, strategy, and process; when indeed top leaders have found that communicating an idea and/or strategic direction and then skillfully listening to those who are expected to carry such out – only providing guidance when needed, empowers everyone to get onboard to the fullest and be their most creative.  Leaders who get out of the way, playing more of a guide and referee role than a ‘point-man’ tend to find themselves on top of the most supportive and best-in-class organizations.  It requires more listening than talking, and those top leaders know this and do so well.


3. Openly Share Recognition
Barbara Hauser

My top leadership strategy is verbally, consistently and openly sharing recognition with the people I work with.  I acknowledge others’ contributions and validate them – their feelings, struggles and challenges.  I find that it opens a channel of communication that allows us to make good decisions by increasing our collective IQ.  It also works really well between business partners which is my area of expertise and niche market.


4. Become Flexible in Your Leadership Style
Alicia Smith

A good leader realizes that s/he can’t effectively lead everyone in the same way or with the same strategies.  Using a tool, such as the DiSC® Personal Profile System, helps leaders to understand themselves and the people they lead.  By learning and becoming flexible in his/her leadership style leaders will become far more effective.  Luckily, behavior is observable and once you know what to look for it’s quite easy to get a clear picture of people.


5. Embrace Change
Heather Cline

One of the top leadership qualities for me is to be able to keep up with change in the business climate. I know we don’t know when the winds of change are going to happen but to be open to it and embrace it rather than deny change will occur for me is a top leadership quality.


6. Leave Your Own Filters at the Door
Carol Dickson-Carr

Whether I’m at home conversing with family and friends or with clients, I consciously leave my own filters at the door because I realize we all have different life experiences, personalities, preferences, and behavioral styles. This process has been a powerful experience for all involved. Learning always takes place with all of the parties involved.


7. Create Your Desired Future
Marcia Ruben

If it is to be, it is up to me. In other words, when life gives me lemonade, I look for ways to create my desired future. I focus on the future I want to create, not the current reality that I don’t like. This involves hyper-discipline and monitoring of mind and negative self-talk. I once had a teacher who warned against being sucked into negative mass consciousness and hysteria. Just because something is happening to 6 out of 10 or 8 out of 10 people, in no way means it will happen to me. So I lead with an eye on the future, looking for innovative ways to create the reality I seek. And I look for positive signs and use negative signs as feedback to adjust my approach. Finally, I am a social constructionist. That means that I know that I create my reality through conversations with others. Therefore, I am mindful that each and every conversation is an opportunity to create either a positive or negative reality.


8. Lead By Example
Sheri Rowland

The best part of being a Leader is leading by example.  The more time I can spend in my own personal develpment, the better leader I am.  The more that I can BE the Leader that I want to be…the more I lead by example.  The more that I can be in integrity with myself and my business…the more I am the Leader my team deserves.  The clearer my focus of who I a want to be and where I am going…the clearer I can be with my team.    I, then, can be the Leader that my team will choose to take by the hand and follow.


9. Map Out a Strategic Plan for Managing Your Critical Relationships
Bea Fields

I work with leaders every day, and most have a great strategic plan for their company.  They can nail a marketing plan, business proposal or mission statement.  Yet when I ask about their strategic plan for building relationships with their team and key stakeholders, I often get a blank stare, as if the question is “What do you mean?”

If you are a leader, one of your main objectives should be to build strong interpersonal relationships with the people in your life, and each person is going to have different needs, desires and expectations.  Get to know each person who is on your core team, and spend time mapping out a process for getting to know them better.  This plan may include a lunch out one time each month, a game of racketball or golf or an impromptu chat about the latest events in your community.  By actually taking the time to consider how to build out each relationship in your life and business, you will be much more effective as a leader, spouse, parent and community volunteer.

What is your top leadership strategy?  We would love to hear from you, so please drop a comment below!.