Fast Company Article - March 2000 : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Fast Company Article  March 2000 Want To Lead Better? Its Simple by: Jill Rosenfeld

Article Summary by: Tina Meyers

In todays fast paced society there seems to be one important main ingredient for success, the ability to lead. The title of this article caught my eye immediately for many reasons. One reason is that any organization, whether it is a for-profit business, non-profit organization or an educational institution, they all need good leaders. Another reason I found this article interesting is because it simplistically outlines pertinent questions that address todays organizational needs and how leaders can positively impact their organization. Lastly and most importantly, greater Minnesota educational institutions are struggling to compete with many metro area post-secondary schools and effective leadership within the smaller schools is essential to their success and continued ability to serve students.

Bill Jensen, a consultant from Morristown, New Jersey, is a specialist in the field of leadership issues. Working as a consultant for many of the large Fortune 500 corporations, Jensen feels that even though the business environment is rapidly changing, the role of a leader is to simplify. Knowledge work is all about how we use one anothers time and attention, given just minutes, good leaders can affect how we think, what we decide, and ultimately, what we create. (58) Not only does Jensen do consulting work for companies such as Disney, Duracell, and Warner-Lambert Co., he also has authored a new book entitled Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster (Perseus Books, 2000).

During Jensens interview, he offered some advice on leadership, as well as some insight regarding leadership issues. The first question in the interview was Why is it so difficult to keep organizations focused and effective? Jensens response was that he believes most individuals in an organization want to do the right thing. I agree with Jensen. At RRCC focus is a major concern. Often times faculty members feel that leaders in our organization are very fragmented and unfocused. The problem is that when conversations arise regarding this fragmentation we all agree that we are too busy and that specific leaders are not focused on what needs to be done and do not prioritize, according to faculty standards. Speaking for myself, I do not feel that this fragmentation reflects deliberate malice on the part of RRCC leaders, perhaps just inexperience or the lack of training in the area of leadership. Jensen also discusses that when you closely evaluate how people make decisions that a pattern begins to emerge. At Rainy, there is a definite pattern and that pattern has caused many discussions and concerns. Members of any organization want to know how strategies, innovations, and change is going to affect them, whether it is relevant to what they do, how they will be evaluated and with what consequences. They also need to know if there is support or tools for them, and of course, whats in it for them. According to Jensen, a leaders job is to help people in the organization answer those specific questions to make sure the answers are right and not from the proverbial grapevine. Often times rumors run amuck in small organizations and cripple its effectiveness. I feel that a true leader answers questions up-front and timely to avoid any misconceptions that may lead to dysfunction or inefficiency within an organization. If employees are disgruntled or anxious, the impact will affect the organization drastically, especially if employee morale is low.

The second question asked was Why arent leaders better at being leaders? Jensen believes that challenges of leadership are emotional and conversational, not rational and tactical. This concept was completely new to me. I have gone to many leadership workshops, and taken graduate classes that discuss leadership and at no time have I ever heard that leadership and decision making should be emotional and conversational. However, after thinking about the issues Jensen brings up regarding employee insights, I tend to agree with him. Leaders have a significant impact on what people do because of their conversations with workers on an emotional level. Again, Jensen is referring to the use of one anothers time and attention because most people dont listen to anecdotal business talk or logic; but they will listen to meaning and purpose. Once you have peoples attention, they will listen. It is my opinion that a leader is not one that is assigned or labeled such, but one that performs and acts. Even though Jensen says that most dont listen to logic, I do. But I also know that if you get my attention I will listen and if it is a necessary part of my job and I feel I can make an impact, Ill do it! It takes a good leader to not only know this conversational strategy, but also to see it through and make it work. Time commitment, recognition, guidance, caring, and assistance in new skills are all what Jensen calls rich and complex forms of attention. It is my opinion that RRCC has neglects to acknowledge these key forms of attention and it for this reason that many personnel feel they dont want to contribute to change.

The last question asked was What else does a leader need in order to lead people to action? Jensen answers this question in one sentence. A sense of clarity. He feels that a true leaders job is to help people visualize success. (60) In order to do that, conversations within the organization need to be about behaviors and not revenues or monetary issues. Analysis of spreadsheets and measurable productivity is not enough when it comes to leadership, but a true leader will offer workshops on how success looks like in behavioral terms. True success comes when you hit a crisis or rough spot, and people dont revert to their old behaviors. Thats the real hard part of all of us. (60) In my years at Rainy River I have seen this exact situation, the problem is that focus was only on numbers and strategies, not how we can change our behaviors in achieving our goals. More work is expected, but training for success is not offered. What happens is that personnel become fragmented and some part of their job doesnt get done.

In conclusion, Jensen states that any definition of success must include three measures: results, milestones, and what successful behavior looks like. Within an organization people will see the effect that success has on teamwork and communication and how they will begin to spend their time and devote their attention to projects and goals worth achieving. (60)

I have made a copy of this article to share with our new faculty association president at RRCC. Many faculty have discussed the issues in this article and it is enlightening to receive insight from such an expert in this area. The information will be used promptly.

-- Anonymous, June 11, 2000

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