Of late, I’ve been in discussions about leadership. Are leaders born or made? Has technology changed the skills needed for good leadership?
What I’ve learned about leadership has come from a long, winding, and sometimes torturous road. Leadership is about communication and decision-making; or judgement. Much I’ve learned first-hand, some by watching others. Something my Dad told me long ago comes to mind. I don’t think he was to first to say it, but he was the first to say it to me. “Good judgment comes from experience; and most experience comes from bad judgement.” I’m constantly honing my ability to learn. If I’m not learning, I’m not living; and many times that made the difference.
One of the things I find interesting is that this Networked Age is showing the fundamental lack of leadership skills by those currently in leadership positions in many organizations. While there are many aspects of good leadership, the skills I think that are essential are vision, communication, and fluid thinking. It is not enough to know how to navigate the road before you; you must also know where you are going and why. A good leader must have vision enough to recognize risk and threats and have courage enough to keep moving toward the goal while adjusting for setbacks and the unexpected.
Good leaders will use whatever technology is available to them to advance their mission. Today’s technological environment increases communication and decision-making when the technology is applied properly. Leadership is communication and decision-making. Decision-making is about observing the situation at hand, orienting yourself to the situation with your mission goal in mind, making a decision on that information and acting on that decision. Acting knowing that your action, your input, will change the dynamic and hopefully that change will be in your favor. If not, then recognizing the change and trajectory, deciding and acting again using what ever technology will enable you to gather information to make better decisions to move closer to your goal in a timely manner.
It is not about the amount of information, but the accuracy and timeliness of relevant information that makes the difference. Knowing what information is relevant and what is not is also a key skill of a leader. Understanding what are your key performance indicators, why they are your key performance indicators, and when to change them is critical. Technology can help if it supports a leader’s KPI and communication with and among the team.
Hangar Flight Alert!
(Hangar flying is a tradition where pilots sit around a hangar and tell stories about flying. For a young pilot this is a target rich learning environment.)
Back in late 1980’s and early 1990’s I was learning to fly airplanes and had the opportunity to look over and into the cockpit of the Soviet Sukhoi SU-27 “Flanker” fighter aircraft. It was sparse and relatively rudimentary especially compared to the US McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle which was parked in the hangar beside it. At the time both aircraft were the height of aeronautical achievement for their respective countries. I also met the first US Air Force Pilot to fly the Flanker. His normal aircraft was the Eagle. He said something to me that I find relevant to this conversation. He said, something to the effect: The SU-27 is an amazing aircraft. Its power and maneuverability are very close to the F-15. I would not want to be in a dog fight with any of these SU-27 pilots I’ve been flying with, they are very, very good. But as long as I can knock them out of the sky 4 miles before they can see me I won’t have to …
Technology that provides responsive communication and relevant, timely, and accurate information plus leadership that inspires the team to remain on task and on target enhances mission accomplishment.
Much I learned about leadership I learned in flight school and basic infantry school. While it is an honor and a privilege and sometimes fun to be in command (or pilot-in-command) not understanding the technology, the mission, the plan, or the controls when the unexpected arises can get you and others killed.
One of my flight instructors told me I had a natural affinity for flying. But I still needed to learn the controls. And just like flying, leadership is a responsibility that can be learned. But, just like flying, when you learn the controls and understand the responsibility, some choose not to continue. Others, while they may be maintaining level flight, do not fully understand the emergency procedures and are heading toward the crash; they just don’t realize it yet.