Leadership – a follow up post

I had a great response to my post recently about leadership in information quality. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to discuss leadership and aspects of leadership with a number of people, both in person and on d’interwebs. One key trend keeps cropping up… the approach and characteristics of a particular leader may not always be appropriate to the battle at hand and a real leader knows when it is time to pass the torch to someone else.

It was summed up for me very well by an Irish trade union leader who I spoke with last week. In his words:

Any leader who is planning for success should really start planning for succession if they want things to be sustained 

This is the difficult challenge of leadership. Knowing when the time is right for you to pass the baton and, equally as importantly, knowing that the people you are passing the baton too will be able to build on your leadership without appearing simply to be mere managers working solely within parameters you have defined, but instead being leaders in their own right, building on the foundations you have set to create a new vision.

Knowing the time to move on is difficult. It requires the leader to be able to focus both on the problems of today and the challenges of tomorrow and to have sufficient self-awareness to let them judge how well their skills, experience, passion and energy will meet the expectations of tomorrow’s battles.

And this needs to be planned with foresight to ensure you have time to develop your people and drive leaders from the bottom up in your organisation and in your team. Often this requires developing people’s confidence in themselves as much as the confidence others have in them. Inevitably it means letting them pedal the bicycle themselves to prove they can do it.

The plan needs to cover getting the right people on your team, developing them, growing their skills and ‘battle-hardening’ them. It means having a plan to instil the same core beliefs, priorities and passion (in my case for Information Quality) into your future leaders. At the same time you must ensure that they have the ability and capability to think for themselves and build on your example effectively while ensuring continuity and consistency. Above all, to take on the mantle of leadership, and to be effective, your successor needs to have enough credentials and credibility to face down challenges while having sufficient differentiators to avoid being viewed as a puppet of the outgoing leader.

And your last act as leader is to sell your successor to your stakeholders.

While this is true of pretty much any organisation, in my experience it is especially true of an information quality team. Getting your IQ programme started is a challenge that requires certain types of leadership characteristics. Keeping it going and sustaining the gains you make can often require a different leadership style and approach. Knowing when to make the change is a skill in itself, and given the risk of ‘pigeon holing’ that any specialist faces in an organisation, it can often require a move out of the organisation you are in (to elsewhere in the larger business or on to pastures new).

One noted Irish leader I have studied retired recently from a leadership role he had held for almost four decades. He had spent most of the last decade developing the people who are to replace him. They have a track record and credentials in the solutions of the past, have a passion for the issues that are pressing today, and have the vision and ability to lead on the challenges of tomorrow. They are different people to him and the style and approach of the organisation will shift somewhat, but the core elements of the vision this leader established over the last 40 years will remain in place.

That’s leadership.