Learning to Lead
September 5, 2008

Leaders and Managers

A friend of mine, let's call her Vicky, owns a well-established hair salon with over 15 operators. For the past year she has been agonizing over her business's slow growth. Last month, two of her employees approached her and asked for a meeting. In the meeting they asked Vicky to teach them how to manage so that they could help move the business forward.

Vicky quickly saw an opportunity to capitalize on her employees' willingness to learn leadership skills. She could have taken offense at the implication that she wasn't managing her business effectively, gotten defensive, or worse, she could have gotten angry. But instead, she recognized a great opportunity to develop potential leaders within her organization.

According to Kathy Cloninger, CEO of The Girl Scouts of the USA, when most people think about leadership, they still too often think of command and control or power and position. She feels that we need a new definition of leadership to aspire to, one that emphasizes self-confidence, social skills, social intelligence, and service to others. Vicky's challenge is to provide the tools and experiences that will allow her managers-in-training to grow into their leadership roles.

In the last decade, we have seen CEOs who view themselves as "head teachers," says Noel M. Tichy, Director of the Global Business Partnership at the University of Michigan Business School. Tichy feels that there are two types of teaching: the one-way-command-and-control method which perpetuates the traditional leadership stance, and the "virtuous teaching cycle" by which leaders teach, and in so doing, also learn.

Vicky is now in the process of setting ground rules and helping her management trainees develop measurable goals and rewards. At the same time, she has embraced the virtuous teaching cycle, and this new perspective has reenergized her. What a different result she would have seen if her employees' request had fallen on deaf ears. Vicky could have lost the very employees who might pull her business out of its stagnation.

Vicky is fortunate. As a small business owner she can establish a new management team and work with them to build her business. Most people in corporate life don't have that same flexibility or autonomy. So what can we learn from this story?

  1. Look for the people in your organization who display sound judgment, both strategically and in crisis situations.
  2. Remember these people when you're recruiting, forming a team, or investing in leadership development.
  3. Consider your approach to problems. Do you contribute to the problem or to the solution?
  4. Observe your own willingness to accept suggestions. If you were in Vicky's shoes would you welcome an offer to help you manage, or would you consider it a criticism of your management style?

We can't all be CEOs or lead multimillion dollar organizations, but each of us has an opportunity to lead and make a difference. You won't succeed all of the time, but you can learn from your mistakes. And in the process, you'll become the leader your business needs.

About the author:

Sue Bowlby is the Owner and President of Corexcel, a company specializing in online continuing education and workforce training. For more information about Corexcel and the training materials they offer, visit www.corexcel.com.

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