High-performing organizations nurture leadership competency at every level, in every role, by every employee.
A utility billing clerk can TELL a customer why their bill is correct and be 100% accurate and still leave the customer with a bad attitude towards the organization. By contrast, the utility billing clerk who LEADS the customer into understanding why their bill is correct produces a far different long-term outcome for the attitude that customer has about the organization.
Unfortunately, developing leadership skills at every level is a foreign concept to most organizations. We devote huge resources to achieve compliance and technical competency, while ignoring the absolutely essential leadership competencies to truly become a high-performing organization.
Relational Leadership is the first and foundational dimension upon which all future success is built. A lack of competency in Relational Leadership is the single most common denominator in management mediocrity, and yet few organizations devote resources to developing it. At this level, people follow you largely because of how you treat them — or they fail to follow because of how you treat them!
The second dimension is Operational Leadership. At this level, people follow you because of both intellectual and positional authority. In other words, I presume you know more about the job than I do; therefore, I look to you as my leader. This is the level that most organizations devote the most resources to developing. However, without competency in the predecessor dimension of Relational Leadership, the typical organization ends up developing a layer of “stealth incompetents” at the mid-management levels — individuals who are too technically competent to fire, but too incompetent in Relational Leadership skills to promote. The net result is that they stagnate in their role and nurture a culture of management mediocrity.
The third dimension is Systems Leadership. At this level, leadership moves from personal to organizational. In other words, at this level, the leader is creating systems that are not dependent upon who the personalities are to ensure success. Developing truly high-performing systems requires highly skilled managers to avoid the law of unintended consequences. Too many organizations have systems that are designed to achieve mediocrity, and then are surprised and frustrated that mediocrity is the result.
Strategic Leadership is the fourth dimension. Strategic Leadership shifts away from an internal focus on how the organization can get better at what it does, into a focus on transforming the organization into what it aspires to become. It is much more externally focused. Strategic Leadership is designed to identify and understand the major shifts and trends that are going to affect the future of the organization, and prepare the organization to both withstand and exploit the changing environment.
High-performing organizations recognize that every employee should exercise leadership within their particular context using the leadership dimension that is appropriate for their particular role. They also recognize that Relational Leadership competency is predecessor to Operational Leadership competency, which is predecessor to Systems Leadership Competency, which is predecessor to Strategic Leadership competency. In other words, you cannot attain competency at a higher dimension without attaining competency in all predecessor dimensions first.
To take your organization to a higher performance level, start by asking how many of your mid and upper-level managers have attained competency in the leadership dimensions that are predecessor to their current role — particularly Relational Leadership. If the right foundation is not there, rebuild the foundation before you do anything else!