Leadership is an Art

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Leadership is an Art

There was a book published in the late 1980s by Max dePree, a Fortune 500 CEO, called “Leadership is an Art”.  An experiential and inspirational read on how to be a highly effective leader, it was widely regarded as instant classic.  DePree had been acclaimed as an outstanding CEO.  Based on his experiences leading large corporations, one of his contentions was that leadership was more than applying measurements, processes and systems, but was the art of helping people to achieve the goals that you established with them.

DePree wrote that leadership is about being someone whom others wish to follow, as much as it is about numbers and paper results.  He wrote that leadership entails activating others to achieve.

During the month of May, I had the pleasure of hearing from Vanessa Torres, VP for Business Development and Projects at BHP Billiton Nickel West and winner of the 2009 Telstra Business Women’s Award in the Private and Corporate Sector.  She addressed an American Chamber of Commerce of Australia breakfast, detailing her views on the importance of choices in building a great career.

As a leader and as a coach, I have seen that leadership depends on working with your people to create outstanding results that everyone can celebrate. There is immense satisfaction in being able to say that as a team you achieved something extraordinary.  The best leaders don’t just apply rules and regulations to leading others, they activate the innate motivations, passions and talents of those around them. It was satisfying, therefore, to hear this accomplished leader echoing those same principles.

Ms Torres has a fascinating personal and professional history and is clearly a very capable scientist and astute businesswoman.  Her views on leadership and the importance of people in an organisation are impressive.  Rather than simply commenting on her ideas, I asked if she wouldn’t mind me sharing some of her comments with our readers.

Speaking about a particular period of growth, she said,

“This period was of intense growth – both for the business I was working for, and for me as a professional. I learned a lot about strategy and decision making – the exercise of “finding a way” into the future we want to create. However, what I consider the most important lesson I’ve learned in this period of my life was the difference that a really motivated and engaged team can make in the results of a project or organization – how fascinating it is to see the synergies we can create among the various groups and how superior the outcome can be.

Over the years I was able to attract the best people from inside and outside organization to work with me, and excellent people made a lot of difference in a period of deep skills shortage. How do you do that? In my opinion it is actually an art – the art I was fortunate to learn something about from some great mentors, dozens of philosophy and psychology books I’ve read over the years, and importantly the volunteering activities that I was doing in parallel.”

Vanessa detailed some of the significant community projects that she and her extended family have been involved in over the years and are still committed to – even working on them from half a world away.

WA benefits greatly from having people such as Ms Torres leading in our state.  Like art on display, leadership can attract others and create a sense of delight, motivation and inspiration. It can move one to deep reflection, action and transformation.  And, yes, the bottom line growth proves the point.

Our Productivity-Driven Leadership™ model is about leadership that creates results – by bringing out the best in the ideas, systems and people around you.

My thanks to Vanessa for her speech. If you get the chance to listen to hear or speak with her, it will be well worth your time.

In the meantime, as you lead – in your business, family and community – it’s worth considering: How is your leadership attracting and inspiring others? Where can you improve?  How much of the science of leadership are you using, and how much of the art?

Peter McLean

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