It is all about the recruiting!

It is all about the recruiting!

I recently had a chance to speak to a group of supervisors and software measurement practitioners about leadership. I readily admit that this group is not a statistically significant sample, but I do believe their responses are illustrative of what we want a leader to be.

I asked the group to shout out attributes of a weak leader – I expected challenges and defenses of each idea.  After the discussion died down, I asked the group to rank the attributes (worst to less worst).  The top three attributes that reflected a weak leader/manager were:

  • Lack vision – Without a vision or without an ability to communicate a vision there is nothing to follow.  Depending on the organization and where the leader is in the hierarchy, vision many times represents the leader’s interpretation of the organization’s vision. A good leader will put their personal spin on the vision to then communicate and sell that revised vision to the team.
  • Lack of integrity – A leader that lacks integrity will generally lose their followers and relevance over time.  Interestingly, the group felt that this might be more wishful thinking than reality.
  • Micro-manager/Control freak – Leaders that don’t trust their followers to perform their roles spend less time developing and mentoring followers than other leaders. This reduces their value to their followers.  A recent Harvard Business Review Blog entry noted that we are all probably micro-manage in some situations, even though no one generally sees themselves as a micro-manager.

Not to leave the discussion on a negative note, I then asked the same group to focus on the attributes of a strong leader.  I had anticipated a pure mirror image, but the team answered:

  • Listens to the team – Leaders listen and incorporate ideas and information from the team.  This is a reflection of a participatory leader.  The leader, by listening and acting on what they hear, fosters positive feelings of membership and collaboration.
  • Delegates authority – Delegation of authority reflects that the leader trusts his or her followers to execute and is willing to provide the headroom for the team to perform.  This also means that the leader has to accept some potential for failure. And when failure occurs, a good leader will help the team learn how to avoid that mistake in the future.
  • Achieves goals – Strong leaders get results.  Getting results in conjunction with an ability to delegate to the team is one the economic benefits that accrue to followers. For example, university football coaches have greater recruiting success after winning seasons.

The attributes we perceive in a weak leader or a strong leader are influenced by the leadership theory that we believe is better.  The positive attributes listed above reflect leadership by participatory or relationship theory.  We all have a preferred style for a leader, that style is either reflected in how we lead (or want to think we lead) or in the leader(s) we admire.