Leaders: Let the force be with you

I was recently involved in a conversation about culture with a leader who was in a situation requiring significant change. Someone espoused what I would call passive leadership, and I took issue with this. Leadership is not about just presiding – unless, of course, you aspire to be the Queen of England!

A frequently used distinction between management and leadership says that management requires organizing complexity and leadership drives change. If so, then leaders must be forceful! Let me explain my logic.

Force is any influence that causes an object to undergo a change in speed, direction or shape. (I was a psychology major, but my engineer daughter confirmed this.) When you lead an organization (by the definition above), you must use force because you’re speeding up, slowing down, adjusting your direction, or changing the shape of your company, product, service or market.

How much force? It depends on how stuck or heavy the company is, how fast and far you want to go or how misshapen you are.

Some leaders are capable of much more force than others. In my experience, those who have tremendous capacity to generate force cannot sit idle or work in static conditions. They’re like a Ferrari® on a gravel road. Need very little change? You don’t need a forceful leader. Need a lot of change? You need a leader capable of generating lots of force. (Turn-around specialists are of this ilk.)

Force in an organization can be generated in several ways. It can be generated by one large engine or many engines (that is, by engaging your entire team in the effort). It’s a bit like one large computer versus massive parallel processing.

My counsel to the “passive” leader who found himself in a situation requiring significant change? Fire up his engine, engage his people and be forceful. Although being forceful generates heat and uses energy, it’s the fastest way to change speed, direction and shape.

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Categories: Management & Leadership