Leadership - it's all in the timing


By Hugo Pound, Leadership Advisor

Leadership - Timing -01

If ‘leadership’ is principally about providing purpose and inspiration to transform the enterprise and ‘managership’ is principally about providing consideration and organisation to ensure the effective transaction of the enterprise, then almost all ‘managers’ have to provide elements of both. 


They have to be both flexible enough to move with speed and confidence between ‘leadership’ and ‘managership’ but, more importantly, they need to know when to be in the right place!  One CEO whom I greatly admired would explain it as; “sometimes you need to be out on the floor painting a picture of where we’re going, what it might look like, how everyone can make a contribution and immediately afterwards chasing up Maintenance when you find that there are no spare loo rolls in the bathrooms!”. 

A simplistic representation, perhaps, but what made him great was being flexible, moving appropriately between being a ‘leader’ and a ‘manager’, not getting stuck in one role but not trying to do both at the same time either!   And all of us can think of the worst manager we have ever worked for – either offering managership when leadership was required, leadership instead of managership, or even worse, neither!

One of the funniest stories I heard about leadership development involved a senior team, lost in the Lake District in pounding rain, huddled together around a rapidly disintegrating map, when the MD said, “Sorry, I thought I knew where were going but I’m lost now”; to which one of his colleagues responded “Just like at bloody work, then!”  An observing facilitator sprung forward and said, “Okay, let’s just try to unravel that comment, can we?”, at which the group, as one, turned round and walked away from him!

It's all about the timing

What I see emerging in many multi-national organisations is a complex (but not always transparent) leadership requirement to build co-operation, collaboration and competition, expressed both internally in relationships with colleagues and externally, to partners and other stakeholders.  Leaders therefore have to time their contributions to reinforce each of these sometimes contradictory principles.  Internal competition, for example, is good; it drives innovation, builds business pipeline, encourages individual and team effort and focus but, fuelled too readily, it undermines relationships, inhibited joined-up thinking, communicates a mixed message to clients. 

Actually, achieving this balance of co-operation, collaboration and competition fits well with Barbara Kellerman’s advocacy in her excellent book “The End of Leadership”.  She suggests power has shifted from the leader to the follower (think Egypt, Chris Christie the Republican Governor or UK MPs’ expenses scandal] and that a leader’s contribution now can only be measured by his/her ability [1] to marshal and reinforce ethical behaviour and [2] to engender a constant pursuit for efficacy.  “Yes, we need to sell more, but not like that!”  “Yes, we need to sell more, let me address the systems and structures that inhibit our overall efficacy”.  But people want independence, freedom, autonomy, a sense of self-referenced achievement – a leader’s role is to engage in a timely manner to ensure that such efforts ‘fit’ some cultural imperatives and are addressing business imperatives in the most efficient and effective ways possible.

Mitchell, Agle and Wood’s 1997 analysis of the three characteristics of definitive stakeholders – legitimacy, authority and urgency – provides a framework for much of my work with individuals and executive teams.  Essentially, do they know when to exert a sense of legitimacy (knowledge, experience, expertise), authority (conferred, inferred, valid) and urgency (discriminately, variably, appropriately) in a timely fashion?  Definitive stakeholders – real game-changers in organizations – utilize all three but the power of their engagement comes from timing, not simply their presence!

So, leadership is all in the timing; coaching, facilitating, training leaders in leadership skills is not the issue – helping leaders to appreciate the timely use of skills (many of which they probably already have), that’s the trick!

About the Author

Hugo Pound -01A leadership consultant, not a management consultant! Working with individuals and leadership teams to create and maintain productive and profitable businesses in the UK & Europe, the Middle East, Asia and N. America.

Hugo is also a Founder Member of the ABP,  speaker and Managing Director of r.d.i direct ltd