Renowned leadership expert John Baldoni has a compelling and insightful viewpoint on this subject. John was kind enough to write the foreword for my book, You – According to Them, and I would like to share an excerpt. In this essay, John discusses his thoughts about a style of leadership that has proven to be worthy of the highest honors in many organizations.
“Leadership lives in the high visibility of center stage. We all know certain leaders who crave the spotlight, while others accept it reluctantly. Either way, their success positions them at the front of the corporate theater. Some leaders, however, take a different approach to that starring role. Rather than limiting their contact to the first few rows of the audience, they deliberately make the shift to leadership “in the round” for better access to the full spectrum of their operations.
Among the successful leaders who follow that philosophy is Frances Hesselbein, former CEO for Girl Scouts of the USA and current executive director with the Leader to Leader Foundation. Hesselbein likes to run her organizations from the center, using something she calls “circular management.” We can learn two important lessons from this idea of 360° leadership and the people like Hesselbein who have used it successfully.
First, leaders who purposely increase their visibility throughout more layers of the corporate hierarchy can gain a number of advantages. For example, the CEO of a small publishing firm I know makes a habit of frequenting the shipping room when book orders are heavy. Rolling up his sleeves to pack boxes sends a powerful message to his team that everyone shares the workload, and the experience allows him to gather direct feedback from a more diverse group of employees. That increased sense of awareness gives him the insight to make better business decisions when he returns to the executive suite.
The second lesson we can take away from this concept is the understanding that visibility is a two-way street. Putting ourselves in a position on the leadership stage to see more clearly also allows us to be seen more clearly. In times of crisis, a highly visible leader can reassure employees that someone is in command and everything will be okay. However, the intense scrutiny isn’t just reserved for those moments. Giving others a 360° view of everything we say and do comes with some risk.”
Since the people around us have the vantage point to see things we sometimes can’t, they often view our behaviors and communications in a very different light. They may or may not know our true intent, and that can occasionally lead to negative interpretations. Unless leaders (or those seeking to advance) are actively looking for those potential misperceptions and working to correct them, their leadership presence can be undermined, their reputations can erode, and even the most promising careers can be derailed. I refer to these unintentional misperceptions as our professional blind spots.
Whether you are already standing in the leadership spotlight or working your way toward a starring role, think about your own leadership style. What do you want to project from center stage? More importantly, what does that look like to the people around you? How can you ensure that the performance your audience members experience is the same one you intended to give?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. And if you’d like to learn more about the powerful impact of perceptions in business, I hope you’ll check out my book, You – According to Them, available on amazon.com.