In recent reports on the qualities of optimal leadership, it was noted that most individuals in leadership positions see themselves as tasked exclusively and strictly with:
- Decision making
- Developing structure
- Identifying sustainable processes and practices
The goal of leadership may vary slightly, most agreed, but those responsibilities seemed to be a universal set of clear obligations for those labeled as leaders and/or strategic managers. The manager was to plan, make certain decisions, create the right framework for their staff and identify the different practices or processes that met goals across the board. The CEO in a leadership position must also adhere to that list of obligations.
Yet, some newer models have emerged, and within in them are some obvious gaps between what is most often believed and done and the real world results that are a direct outcome. What experts like writer Warren Bennis, and others, have indicated is that those gaps are seen in the ways that organizational performance can be greatly impacted by mismanagement of meanings within leadership competencies.
We might easily understand that “mismanagement of meanings” indicates that one leader has a different perception of the meaning of an essential leadership attribute, and this causes a chain reaction of problems in the organization. However, what has this to do with overall leadership competencies? Let’s look at what that means to understand how to use this to ensure more effective leadership and strategic management.
Leadership Competencies, Management Meanings and Performance
Leadership competencies are often defined as the attributes best used to identify and develop leadership. Usually reflecting the company’s definition of a solid leader, and according to its unique, cultural characteristics, leadership competencies are used to gauge an individual’s capacity and readiness for a leadership role. Some of the most common competencies are vision, team-building, influence, integrity and so on.
Yet, there is always going to be a tremendous distinction between “information and meaning”. A leader identified with all of these competencies (vision, integrity and the rest) may have their personal interpretations of them. This can make them a leader who behaves based on that line of information, and yet this may be out of alignment with the intention of the organization. Their words and behaviors influence their teams, and soon there can be major misalignment throughout the organization.
This is where management of meanings comes into the equation and begins on a basis that all leadership is two pronged. One prong looks at the social aspect of leadership and the other looks at the ways that building and implementing strategy both have substantially interpretive natures. The social aspect has to consider individual members, their needs for autonomy and empowerment as well as inclusion, and the interpretive prong has to accept that clarity, absolute clarity, has to be made to ensure no misunderstandings.
To ensure transparency about this, we must look at the management of meanings as the conduit through which both prongs run. It is a way of supplying teams with a very clear and precise “why” for their efforts and focus, and ensuring that everyone is on the same proverbial page. And, most importantly, it has to start at the top and work its way down. It is something that begins with the highest levels of leadership and branches ever downward from there.
It cannot be about motivation or even basic explanation, and must be seen as far more complex. It has many moving parts and yet it can be a functional model for creating organizational synergy that creates a lot of trust and establishes unshakeable beliefs on an individual basis.
Without Management of Meanings
Whenever leadership fails to address both prongs of itself, there cannot be progress. Individual members of a team will always bring with them their own past experiences and personal understandings. Until the social and interpretive aspects of leadership are used to direct all players towards the same goals, an organization of any size can remain in turmoil or flux.
Sadly, modern management and developing programming tends to overlook this key gap in leadership training. Fortunately, there are several simple points that can be relied upon to ensure clarity of meanings and address both prongs of effective leadership and strategic management.
These points are:
- Making team-wide consensus on the organization’s shared mission a priority
- Ensuring that the entire team is aware of the resources available to them, how to access them, and the ways that such resources have been created to offer structural support
- Creating valuable experiences that empower each player
- Ensuring that individual team members are given autonomy through the acquisition, development and use of their skills and knowledge
It all begins by ensuring that every single player clearly understands and agrees upon the organization’s vision, or the shared vision of their specific department, group and so on. The next step is to ensure that every single player understands that the organization offers full support, and does so through specific resources readily accessible.
The next issue is less easy to depict because it can manifest in so many ways, but essentially all players must begin to develop a sense of empowerment. The best way to create this is through valuable experiences. This can be everything from individual training and development opportunities to interaction with high ranking mentors, and more. Once this is accomplished, it is natural that individual players start to experience a sense of autonomy based on their growing or acquired skills.
This is a foundation for alignment that cannot be easily undone or challenged. It is a way of creating shared meanings that helps to ease the burdens of leadership and erase any problems where leadership competencies are concerned. If we revisit that from a bit earlier in this article, we recall that they are the attributes any organization is going to tag as key to ideal leadership development. The competencies are a direct reflection of the organization’s culture and vision. Yet, this can suffer if there is misunderstanding in the meanings surrounding these competencies.
By shifting the traditional model or definitions of leader strictly as planner, decision maker, and so on, we begin to eliminate the most harmful assumptions. By tasking leadership instead with competencies in socialization of their teams, connecting players to resources and clarifying all meanings and visions, we hand leaders the tools for succeeding. After all, what better way to create sustainable solutions than to recognize the individual and wider needs? This is what this sort of clarity in leadership delivers.
Yet it also has that broader impact on total alignment across the entire organization. When implemented from the top down, information and meaning are in sync; words and behaviors have the intended impacts. It is not always easy to create positive changes in an established organization, but a commitment to clarifying management meanings is usually a first step in beginning to drive a company or organization in the desired direction.
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