Saturday, December 10, 2011

Leadership: The Meaning of the Word

Like my peers in our Principles of Healthcare Management at USUHS, this business of management and leadership has gotten me thinking. My intention with these blog compositions is less to put forth dreary repetitions of this or that author/speaker/leader’s spin on leadership than to entertain you with my own – albeit laborious, at times – musings. If this reads like the ramblings of a self-indulgent dilettante, I invite you to keep searching for another blog to suit your taste; if, however, you’re intrigued by where we may go – do you dare allow me to lead? – read on.

Before offering my perceptions du jour, indulge me while I offer a tutorial in language. I was (am?), after all, a liberal arts major with a dominant right-sided brain. For three years I studied the great Romance language, Latin. My pre-existing fascination with words and their uses was fired up by our scrutiny of word origins. I sat near the window in the classroom when our professor asked, “’Education’? Where does that come from?” Silence of pupils. Crickets chirping. “‘Duco’: to lead.” Ever after – I swear I am not making this up – when I have heard, read, or spoken the word ‘education’ I hear it’s complementary echo, ‘Duco, to lead.’

I reach for my well-loved paperback copy of Cassell’s New Compact Latin Dictionary (1963, Dell) and turn to the best page in the book, page 74:

du̅co du̅cĕre duxi ductum. (1) to draw; to draw along or away; hence to shape, to construct; to charm, influence, mislead; (2) to draw in; (3) to lead.

In the English-to-Latin side of the dictionary, for the word ‘leader’, I am offered the Latin ‘dux’, ‘ductor’, and ‘auctor.’ With a little musing, you may see how easily you’re led down the word road to ‘induce’, ‘reduce’, ‘seduce’, and ‘author’, ‘conductor’, and ‘educator.’ The derivations are endless. (Do you think 'ductor' to 'doctor' it too much of a stretch?)

And, so, we have the perfectly good word ‘leadership’: why is the word ‘strategic’ inserted as modifier, and who had the big idea? Does not leadership imply strategy? I hope so, especially if my life depends on it. One of the aspects troubling me about the use of the word ‘strategic’ is the it implies a different (read: better) type of leadership than Regular Old Leadership (“What ever happened to good ol’ Leadership?”). The other problem is ‘strategy’ necessarily excludes thousands of other modifiers – why weren’t they selected? Does ‘strategic’ leadership offer anything new, different, or additional to or from Regular Leadership? Check back in a year or two, when we may expect yet another, and the latest, permutation of a leadership paradigm (I can't believe I used that word).

Consider some of these words would modify ‘leadership’: realistic, simple, inspired, savage, artful, consequential, mysterious, commanding, athletic, or biological. Should any one of the words alter your perception of what that style of leadership might look and feel like, you get the idea. For me, strategy is a given in leadership, so it's redundant to pair the two words.
With that out of the way, here are some take-homes found on my Saturday afternoon search for ‘strategic leadership.’ Stuart Cross, of Morgan Consulting gives a jazzy, two-minute and fifty second low-down of the eight characteristics of strategic leadership here:
If you’re without the time or inclination to look at the clip, the eight essentials are:
1. clear choices
2. raises the bar
3. analytical and opportunistic
4. builds strong team
5. follows through
6. not just numbers
7. focuses on a few things
8. great storyteller

Another gentleman, Rob Goffee, of the London Business School, discusses the differentiators to “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?”™ Good question. Why would, or should, anyone step in your wake? It’s just one-minute and thirty seconds:

Then, being the oppositional sort, I went the other direction, considering the term ‘simple leadership.’ Lo' and behold (no big surprise), author Mac Anderson uses 'simple [truths of] leadership' as a subtitle of his book, You Can’t Send a Duck to Eagle School. Sounds right off the children’s shelf, doesn’t it? The volume has a companion DVD, and here’s the promo blurb:
“If you’re going to climb a tree would you rather hire a squirrel or train a horse? That’s the premise for this very clever and insightful book. Mac Anderson shares his 30 plus years of leadership experience in a fresh and engaging manner.”

Since I have yet to read the book or viewed the DVD, I'll have to put it on this year's Christmas list.

Thank you for reading. Comments, thoughts, opposing views? Let's dialogue.

~ Carol

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

So, You Think You Can Manage?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

The readings for the last few weeks are refreshing. Both Kane’s Why Our Best Officers are Leaving and Stewart’s The Management Myth resonated with me. What I like is both “pop the bubble” of [dis-?] illusion, like saying, “Snap out of it, people!” Do I buy into every word hook, line and sinker? No, I do not. But I do admire people (writers, speakers, performers) who are willing to take the risk of describing their truth. The risk to Kane and Stewart is agitating those who are compelled to defend against the “truth”; the benefit is they get others talking and thinking. True, they are not the first to speak up on the topics – nor will they be the last – but they have and here we are.

Two of Kane’s statements stood out because I’ve observed comparable attitudes in the civilian (GS) force within the DoD. The first is “ . . . risk avoidance trickles down the chain of command”; such risk avoidance seeps sideways as well and “infects” the civilians. Despite having had support from service chiefs for a project, my civilian chain denied me the go-ahead because of an unnamed - understood by me to be – fear of senior leadership. Kane’s second statement is, “inefficient industrial practice . . . treats employees as if they are interchangeable commodities.” Only poor performing employees are interchangeable (and, to our collective misfortune, hard to disown). The top performers in the DoD, whether active duty or civilian, are indispensable. I have mourned the departure of such individuals from the organization (retirement, PCS, new job). All of their institutional knowledge, sense of history, and experience is out the door. It's a bona fide loss.

Earlier this year, before I joined the MHAP program at USUHS, I came across

this RAND report, now timely: Developing Military Health Care Leaders:

Insights from the Military, Civilian, and Government Sectors – part of the description: “Lessons learned in the civilian and government sectors hold importance for transforming the way in which MHS identifies and develops health care officers with high leadership potential for senior executive positions.”

The fellow who administers the website (he uses a pseudonym) thinks that Kane is full of it, that’s it’s been said and written before, and that such articles [as Kane’s] make those who do stay look bad:

Stewart, the one with a degree in German philosophy who ended up as a management consultant, can, with credibility, declare management theory sparse in novel ideas. He had over 20 years in the profession and witnessed the field pass from one trend to another, and from one speaker of the year to another; each claimed to have “the” model of all models, and each, ultimately was like any other. Whereas, he writes, "Almost everything you need to know to succeed must be learned on the job; for the rest, you should consider whether it might have been acquired with less time and at less expense."

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