Leadership is a System

We might all agree that leadership is a skill. We may not all agree that leadership is a learned skill. We might all be correct. If I had to work with the skill I was born with, I might not be teaching leadership. No matter where you are on the spectrum in believing that leadership can or cannot be taught, we might all agree that leadership skills continue to develop as long as we are willing to learn. I have learned that leadership is not only a skill, but a system, as well.

Many of us know that we are not achieving the standards of excellence that we envision, not making the profit desired, and certainly not free of conflict and confusion within teams. In summary, we are not achieving the goals that will make us successful.

During my first conversation with clients who want to improve things in their organization, many are confused as to why employees, boards, committees, staff, and other teams perform at a lower standard than expected. Some leaders blame themselves and some blame the teams. Blame will not get us any useful results; so let’s explore ways to increase the capacity for functioning at a higher level for ourselves, as leaders, and the teams we lead.

First, let me describe my four leadership principles. If you can master these principles, you can be effective in leading any type of organization. Since I spent over 40 years working as a musical conductor, and know what creates harmony and how to orchestrate success, I express these principles in musical terms first, and then apply them to non-musical situations.

  1. Know the Score: Foundation – The musical conductor must be knowledgeable about every note, chord, tempo, and dynamic in the musical score before the first rehearsal. The conductor must have a clear picture of the end result and a plan to get there. In organizational leadership, whether religious, nonprofit, or business, the leaders must have an equivalent of the musical score, which is the strategic plan. The leaders must be fully knowledgeable about that plan, and have goals and action plans for team execution. The foundation is a prerequisite for leading teams and empowering transformation. Without the plan, there can be confusion and lack of interest, even in the best of the best of teams. This first principle is clarity of purpose.
  2. Hire the Best: Relationships – In hiring orchestras for my programs, I was able to draw on the personnel from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Florida Orchestra, Huntsville Symphony, the Kiev Orchestra, and others. These were the best players. On teams for organizations, it’s also important to recruit the best players. It works in music. It works in sports. It works in business and other types of organizations. Do not compromise. Hire the best and define their role, responsibility, and performance expectations. Build and maintain effective relationships. This principle is clarity of commitment.
  3. Rehearse for Success – In a musical rehearsal, the conductor demands the best playing, just as if there were an audience listening. If there is a note that is played incorrectly or out of balance, then the situation is addressed immediately and as a matter of fact. Nobody is angry. A culture of excellence has been created and the leader (the conductor) is expected to maintain the standard of excellence. Rehearsals shape the performance. In organizational leadership, we conduct boring, unproductive meetings, conduct poor performance evaluations (if at all), and do not deal with out-of-balance situations until they become a problem. Rehearse for excellence. Create a high standard of excellence in every system. Create the DNA of excellence in everything you do as an organization. Focus on results and not on activity. This principle is about clarity of results.
  4. Value the Rests: Balance – If the brass section in the orchestra, or the tenors in the choir, are too loud for the rest of the ensemble, then it’s the conductor’s job to address the situation – that’s balance. Rests in music are placed carefully in the music for a specific purpose – that’s balance. In our lives as leaders, we must place the rests carefully. We must be sure that all the players are functioning together with balance. We also set the bar for balance in attitude by caring for ourselves. Balance home and work. Balance multiple priorities. Balance personal factors of spiritual, physical, emotional, social, and family. Be at your best when you work. Create balance, by preparing to work by not working. The final principle is about clarity of focus. My friend Alan taught me that FOCUS means Free of Clutter and Unnecessary Stuff.

This is a system that you can teach your teams. This is transformational leadership. It starts with the leader and is transferred to the organizational culture. Create harmony, and you orchestrate success with clarity of focus, results, commitment, and purpose.

Developing the system is the first challenge. Learn about Transformational Leadership and why it’s different from other styles of leadership. Here is my short list that describes the transformational leader.

The transformational leader:

  1. Clearly articulates the vision
  2. Defines things others can do
  3. Builds leaders on teams
  4. Delegates effectively
  5. Encourages boldness
  6. Gives information and support
  7. Affirms and celebrates competence
  8. Respects the individual
  9. Avoids micromanaging
  10. Models what they preach

Who will you choose to be your accountability partner for the journey of transformation ahead?

Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

Subscribe to The Transformational Leadership Strategist by Email

(c) 2014 Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.
  • @Jane .M. This is  a great lesson for us at Efficientlinks Ltd. Its so educative, informative and necessary for our long-term success. Please keep it up. Many thanks for posting it especially at this time. Lawrence Ehilegbu, CEO/MD, Efficientlinks Ltd.