How leadership makes progress happen

How leadership makes progress happen

How leadership makes progress happen

“I’m all for progress, it’s change I don’t like.” Mark Twain

Jonathan Yudelowitz

Leadership is not management. In management, you have a clear target, clear policies and clear operating procedures. Anything that is good policy comes up green and anything that isn’t, flashes red. What is good and what is bad has already been decided.

In contrast, leadership deals with where a company is going. As a leader, you must take a stand, not with the clearly defined, but with the uncertain. Your executive role is to deal with what can’t be seen or measured. You will have a sense of what that entails, but you will not be able to control it.

It’s a different role, with different demands. What makes for good leadership?

Your Canned Role.

Triangle Tentions

As a leader, you need to understand the context in which your mandated role was designed and defined. You need to understand what the Ask of you is.

Referring to what we call the Triangle of Tensions, your Ask is your Canned Role. It is canned because it was determined before you arrived on the scene. You need to find out what the expectations of you are – both the explicit and the implicit. What are the measurables against which you will be evaluated? The clearer your understanding, the more you can bring of yourself to the job at hand. The clearer you are about your Canned Role, the more likely your success.

Your rational and your emotional don’t come together naturally.

Your Canned Role exists in a state of tension with your Individual Identity. The two speak different languages. There in lies the rub. You have to make that reality work for you.

Your Ask – your mandate – is expressed in reasoned, rational language. That’s because it has to make sense to everybody, from the analysts tracking the business’s share price to your staff and colleagues. The language of your Individual Identity is emotional: your values, your personality, your drive, and so on.

As a leader, you need to work out what your internal energy is telling you about your Canned Role. There is a two-way flow of information – from you to your role and from your role to you. Can you understand what that internal energy – what some call your Emotional Intelligence – is telling you? Often, the moment of clarity in your decision-making comes when you move beyond the facts. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but you trust your emotions.

The political.  

It’s as if three movies are playing out at the same time. In addition to the rational and the emotional, the political is at work.

When you decide what time of day to make a meeting, whether you hold it in your office or not, how you use your authority, who you invite, how you brief them, what you choose to say and to withhold… these are your political choices.

Politics is often seen as being manipulative. At YSA, we take a different view. Politics is the arena in which you should bring your experience and authority to bear. When you draw on your values and your experience – even your emotional hunches – you are not using power for power’s sake, but to provide effective leadership.

At no time is this more valid than when your neatly laid plans can’t tell you what to do. We all want to control reality according to our assumptions. But the Emergent Reality of any situation is the actual here and now – in all its chaos and complexity.

However, it is the marketplace for progress. This is where negotiations happen. This is when trade-offs are made, and deals are struck.

In that chaos, you have control. How are you going to show up? With self-esteem? With manners? What choices will you make? When you draw on both your Individual Identity and your Canned Role to inform the Emergent Reality, you inform and harness your power.

A leader uses that time and space to intervene – deliberately, purposefully and shrewdly.

The political – and how it comes together with the rational and the emotional – has not been explored in any great degree. At YSA, we find it a fascinating area of leadership development. It brings back choice, discretion and creativity.

It is the dynamic interaction of the Triangle of Tensions – how the three corners talk to each other – that give it life. When you feel that you are being manipulative or passive-aggressive, for instance, it is an indication that your Triangle is out of sync. It is a symptom that your leadership is not working. You don’t feel safe. You can’t tell the truth. You can’t be yourself.

But when things are working well, essentially it comes down to a negotiation – between your Triangle of Tensions and someone else’s. You both have an interest in how things proceed. You are both doing business. How do you share your realities so that you create a coherence that pulls things together?

It’s not about the corners. It’s about the connections.

When you first approach leadership, you will be overly aware of the corners of the Triangle of Tensions. You will become conscious of who you are, your Canned Role and Emergent Reality. In each of the corners you can overdo it. You can overdo your Individual Identity, for instance. “It’s all about me and my freedom.”

As you begin to work, however, you realise it’s about the connections between the corners. Leadership is about working with the emotional, the political and the rational to make progress. An integrated Triangle of Tensions will take you forward. It’s how you will deal with the challenge Mark Twain expressed so eloquently.

“I’m all for progress, it’s change I don’t like.”