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How to develop leaders like LEIA

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

Photo credit: Marija Zaric

Responsive, engaging leaders don't use the Force to manipulate people. Instead, they develop an army of passionate allies, who find meaning and purpose in the cause they share.

The example we have in General Leia (post-Star Wars Episode 6) is worth remembering. Her well-loved character leads from the front, is approachable, empathic and strategic, as seen in her situational awareness, risk mitigation and foresight in preparing others to continue the work long after she is gone. Kevin Cashman in his seminal book, Leadership from the Inside Out, coined one of my favourite definitions of leadership, "authentic influence that adds value". Princess/ General Leia epitomised this.

For those of us still here on Earth, whether working from home or at a physical venue, leadership and culture remain the defining tenets of long-term organisational success. Positive organisational cultures are known to lower stress, foster identification and cultivate citizenship behaviours, including loyalty (Seppälä & Cameron, 2015). We also know that transformational leadership and providing job resources, such as support, promotes employee engagement and meaning in the workplace. Transformational leadership (Bass, 1985) is not new, but it requires an organization-wide commitment to implement, which is why so few cultures embrace it (see how that is causing issues for Samsung's sustainability). It has four dimensions: idealized influence (walking the talk), intellectual stimulation (encouraging innovation, challenge), individualized consideration (listening to each team member's needs & concerns) and inspirational motivation (providing a compelling vision). If we overlay the four known enablers of employee engagement, it makes for interesting reading, as I found in my Master's research. Suffice to say, it's a perfect fit.

The way we as leaders behave accounts for the largest percentage of organizational culture. Integrity (walking the talk) engenders trust and enables autonomy, initiative and mastery. So how should we be? I'm glad you asked.

1. Learn: develop growth mindsets (where we are secure, confident and open to feedback), support personal, team and organizational development (continuous improvement), promote mindfulness and reflection, review previous projects regularly and adapt processes

2. Engage: equip leaders to adopt transformational leadership approaches in one-to-one and team interactions; encourage teams to adopt high-performance behaviours

3. Innovate: encourage creativity, critical thinking, challenging of the status quo, playfulness and "reward excellent failures" as Tom Peters wrote.

4. Achieve: execute on strategy with roles, authority, expectations and consequences clear; reward what you want repeated; encourage team members to operate in their areas of strength and convert small starts into massive wins; build "lean" ways (muda, mura, muri)

The acronym is easy to remember and if we take this approach, we may not rule the universe, but we will be those that others will want to follow. And isn't that - after all - a hallmark of great leadership?

Hylton Gudmanz is a Director of Focused People Consulting and a Star Wars aficionado. He is available to help you deal with the Dark Side of your organizational culture.

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