David’s Blog

The Tail Wags the Dog…

(Leadership Comes from All Directions)

You who choose to lead must follow

~ Ripple, Robert Hunter

…and whosoever would be first among you must be slave of all…

~ Mark, Chapter 10, vv. 43 & 44

Therefore, desiring to rule over the people,
One must in one’s words humble oneself before them
And, desiring to lead the people,
One must, in one’s person, follow behind them.

~ Tao te Ching

James MacGregor Burns (1978) began a conversation about ‘transformative’ versus ‘transactional’ leadership forty-three years ago that retains considerable traction. He defined what leadership ‘does’ as follows:

“The function of leadership is to engage followers, not merely to activate them, to comingle needs and aspirations and goals in a common enterprise, and in the process to make better citizens of both leaders and followers.”

In this, Burns took the discussion of leadership beyond the ‘traits’ of a leader to arguably the heart of the matter… contingencies in context between leaders and followers (though not the language he would have used).

Leadership, of course, implies that followership of some sort is happening as well. Eschewing dualism, my take on this is that not only are the qualities of both so intertwined that examination of either, alone, begs meaning. Depending upon context and vantagepoint, ‘followers’ often lead and ‘leaders’ often follow. In the latter vein, Robert Greenleaf (1998) proposed the notion of ‘servant leadership’, with a focus on ministering to the needs of followers.

In truth, good leaders both transact and transform. Considering the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that dualism diminishes, one might posit that the effects of leadership are reflected in the vibrancy and flexibility of an organization’s culture. Lackluster leadership results in a work culture driven by negative reinforcement, with response effort primarily driven by what must be done to achieve a minimal standard. A work environment rich in available positive reinforcement motivates us all to achieve a maximal standard of engagement throughout the organization. So, what exactly is engagement? Aubrey Daniels (2009) defined engagement as “a non-specific, non-scientific term used to describe the amount of positive reinforcement available in the workplace for value-added behavior”.

A salient function of leadership, then, is to reinforce the discretionary behavior of others. With that in mind, anyone can practice leadership, regardless of job title. For some time now, at SD, we’ve been using an ‘engagement’ app, Kazoo, to do just that. Kazoo provides a company-wide platform, referenced to core values, where everyone can recognize and reinforce the value-added behaviors of co-workers.

Scrolling through the recognitions on Kazoo I am delighted to come to know of the myriad (specific to broad-brush) ways SD folks support each other.

Some examples:

“Thank you for taking the extra time to explain our guy’s program changes the other day. I was struggling to get it right.”

“You showed up, when I least expected it, just in time to help me turn things around. Thank you for all you do.”

“For the after-hours texts, the endless support, your kind heart, and your brilliant mind that you are always sharing with me I give you all of my remaining points for April…which could never be enough to truly show my appreciation for you. Thank you for being you and for everything you do for me and the whole SD family!”

“You are the epitome of what a great BI should look like. You have such a natural skill and calmness about you that is an asset to have in all situations. I learn so much every time I am able to observe how you handle any situation. Thank you for always being such a great model of what I am constantly working toward each and every day. You’re an absolute rock star and such a valuable member of our pod!”

Value-added indeed! This is a rich soup of leadership behavior. Each and every SD person has the means of true leadership at hand and is putting it to good use. The quantitative impact is great. The qualitative impact is profound. Leadership is an act of nurture. Followership is an act of growth. We can all do both.

Burns, J.M. (1978). Leadership. New York, NY: Harpercollins Publishers.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1998). The power of servant-leadership: Essays. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Daniels, A.C. (2009). Oops! 13 management practices that waste time and money (and what to do instead). Atlanta, GA: Performance Management.

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