Why Leadership/Why Now


Leadership provides the foundation on which excellence is built, so continuing to develop leaders in all areas must be a first priority in business today.

Welcome to the “Nanosecond Nineties!”

It is a different world out there. Loyal customers suddenly have higher expectations, and have become more fickle and irrational in their demands. Your competitors have decided that your customers should no longer buy your products and are going after them in unprecedented ways. Your people probably wonder when the constant state of change and confusion will end, or whether they will survive the next reorganization, or the one shortly thereafter.

The marketplace is tumultuous and unforgiving. It has forced organizations to think and act in fresh, perhaps even radical ways. It has also resulted in some unusual strain on loyalty and relationships in all aspects of business.

Today’s organizations face some tough challenges that are in fact, relationship oriented. Some of those are:

How do we get people to become more willing to take some risks or try new things?

How do we generate more passion and commitment toward our purpose and vision?

How do we demonstrate that our values and principles are not just “hot air?”

How do we increase the faith the people have in their leaders’ abilities to take them successfully into the future?

How do we more fully enable people, and take advantage of the talents they bring?

How do we increase the loyalty and belief of all our stockholders?

The Secret of Strong Relationships

For any relationship to succeed, whether it is friendship, marriage, or team membership, there must be trust. Without trust, there can be no leadership, no followership, no teamwork, no customer loyalty. Building and sustaining trust is the single most perplexing issue that organizational leaders face in these contemporary times of tremendous change and constant upheaval.

People are very comfortable with and attached to “the way things have always been done.” With the marketplace demonstrating that traditional ways are no longer good enough to survive, people have become uncomfortable and reluctant. Unswerving trust (sometimes called the leap of faith), is required for them to be able to let go of the old and venture with confidence, into the uncharted waters of the future.

If ever there was a time when exemplary leadership was needed throughout organizations, it is now. Leaders bring the issue of trust to the forefront, fostering better, more productive relationships. Strong relationships produce synergy, and thus provide far more innovations and solutions to the difficult challenges like those listed above. They directly and positive impact the bottom line.

One of the most important, highest leverage functions of senior managers is to develop more leaders within their organizations. In order to do this, they must continue to refine their own individual and collective leadership abilities, and create an environment for others to do the same.

Leadership Comes First

Companies are investing staggering sums of money in quality initiatives, process and systems re-engineering, and customer driven reorganization. Sadly, a large proportion of these strategic overhauls have not lived up to their promises. The reason is they desperately lack the visionary leadership required to strengthen people’s belief in a new future, and their confidence that the new strategies will take them there. With no leadership, people get exclusively focused (and easily swallowed) by the management directives of streamlining the “hows” of the business. The meaning of “why” the work is important, gets lost. With down sizing a closely associated outcome of efforts like these, people quickly become cynical about the future and turn away. When this happens, disappointing results are inevitable.

Many companies have decided that the best way to manage the challenges posed by these “re-everything” efforts is to throw teams at them. The value of teamwork in today’s world is beyond question. It is a fact that more and better work can be accomplished through teams. The world is just too complex for even the best to fly solo any longer, thus high-performing teams doing real work offer tremendous advantages. This is especially true if the senior officers can find ways to work as a team, because they too will be able to get more done, as well as visibly model the value of teams for everyone else.

Interestingly enough, the nanosecond nineties is throwing some fast curve balls at the traditional concept of teams. People are portioned into teams without the opportunity to learn what it means to be a good team member. So called empowered teams, working within a command and control, hierarchical organization seldom work. Teams today must serve specific purposes,

But, for any team to be successful, there must first be effective leadership. Leaders provide vision, competence and heart, enabling and inspiring members to want to achieve astonishing performance results. In the very best teams, leadership “roves,” meaning that practically all members will emerge at one time or another to take on the responsibilities of leading. Simply stated, without the shared responsibility of leadership, teams will never be able to reach their full potential.

Leadership and teamwork are indeed closely linked. In fact, it is through teams, that leaders are able to get extraordinary work accomplished. Yet the fact remains that neither high performance teams nor visionary leadership, by themselves, is enough to ensure an organization’s continued prosperity. But coupled together, they become an unbeatable combination.

How much better would it really be for you if your employees became much more inspired and excited about their work? What would really happen if they became relentlessly motivated toward providing astonishing service to the customers, other internal divisions, and each other? What would it be like if everyone worked like volunteers for a cause in which they truly believed, opposed to showing up for work because they feel entitled to a job and a paycheck. How far could you go, if each person became genuinely more trusting of everyone else?

Idealistic, philosophical questions? Hardly. They in fact, are the road map for prosperity in today’s convoluted marketplace. They also illustrate the personal and organizational power that results from good leadership.

Steve Coats is a senior partner with International Leadership Associates, a Cincinnati firm, dedicated to leadership development.

Copyright 1996 International Leadership Associates