Leadership is often thought of in terms of title, position, and responsibilities, but it’s much more than that! Leadership is a process. The most successful leaders within an organization do not have to be the individuals with “Chief” in their title. Effective leaders understand the importance of process-based leadership and can exist across all levels of leadership. At its core, the leadership process focuses on context. A leader does not only drive impact directly through his or her actions, but through how those actions influence others.
Leadership Is A Process, Not A Position
Most leaders hold some sort of position, but as we’ve already mentioned, leadership requires much more than a title. It requires an ability and opportunity to affect the actions of others, ultimately leading to positive organizational outcomes. A position can be given instantly, but leadership is a lengthier process that involves building trust.
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In fact, many experts believe that leadership should start with the recruiting process. This means hiring for roles that encourage influential decision-making, as opposed to roles that focus on narrowly scoped metrics. The latter creates a hierarchical organization where employees become monotonous cogs in the machine. Such companies fall into the trap of managing versus leading – protecting today’s profits at the expense of tomorrow’s strategic objectives. The result is failure in the long run, and a distinct lack of leadership. Leadership is a process, not a position, and should be celebrated throughout an organization, not just amongst the C-suite execs.
Process Based Leadership
There are multiple approaches to Process Based Leadership. We’ll share just a couple with you here.
The Law of Process Leadership
As we’ve seen, the law of process leadership focuses on elements that go beyond an individual’s span of control. One of those key elements is accountability. Employees of all levels can be leaders, and that leadership must come with a certain level of accountability. Competitive Solutions Inc. is a boutique consultancy that specializes in leadership development. The company’s process-based leadership model strives to instill genuine accountability across an employee base. Accountability is a natural part of the leadership process because without it, people won’t translate ideas into actions and outcomes. Ideal accountability systems, says Competitive Solutions, rely on leaders holding each other responsible, rather than the threat of punishments.
Dunham And Pierce’s Leadership Process Model
One approach that neatly separates the leadership process into component parts is Dunham and Pierce’s Leadership Process Model. The model identifies the leader as just one of the four key factors that contribute to any meaningful outcome. The four factors flow in a sequential manner, with the leader being first, as one might expect. But the first factor in any process is just the catalyst. Any direction from the leader channels through…
This isn’t rocket science – followers follow the leader’s directive. In Dunham and Pierce’s Leadership Process Model, these individuals tend to roll up under the leader. But understanding that the leadership process is broadly non-hierarchical tells us that followers can also be peers in some cases.
Perhaps the most important element to analyze, context – for any big decision or project – is the ultimate moving target. The best leaders know that the wrong approach for a given context can dash any hopes for a successful outcome. The very nature of context mirrors the idea of leadership as a process. Any direction from a leader is powerless without the right setting and audience to turn that direction into action.
Outcomes only come into play if followers have embraced a leader’s direction, in the right context. They are the most “visible” part of the leadership process. For better or worse, they serve as the rubric by which leaders are judged. A good outcome may signal a well-run leadership process but is also only the tip of the iceberg.
Dunham and Pierce’s model offers a useful framework to understand the elements of effective leadership. But just like the leadership processes it describes, the model itself needs to be implemented delicately. Management professionals offer various techniques on this front, from feedback management to ethical relationship development.
Perspectives on leadership are shifting away from the individual level. Leadership as a process considers individual actions as part of a broader context in which influence is paramount. And influence is not something reserved only for executives. With the right followers, good leaders only need to guide the process in the right direction. From there, in the right context, team members hold each other accountable. The reward? Good outcomes for the organization – then the cycle repeats itself. The firms that survive in the long run will be the ones that learn lessons from the leadership process. The firms that struggle will be the ones that continue to treat leadership as a position. Siloed decision-making power in the hands of just a few bears great risk for the whole organization. Leadership is a process, not a position, and needs to be entrenched in the culture of any dynamic company.
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