Veni Vidi Vicious
October 20, 2009 1:27 PM   Subscribe

How do I become an effective leader?

I'm a new member to an organization, and I've been tasked with the head position for our 20-member recruitment class.

I've held management positions in the past, but I still feel relatively inexperienced. That is, I'm learning everything on the go. We're pretty much a ragtag bunch who all met within the last couple weeks. As far as I know, I've earned everyone's respect and haven't violated anyone's trust.

For those with experience, what are some issues I can expect to come across? Any anecdotes and advice are welcome.
posted by Christ, what an asshole to Human Relations (16 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend checking out The Servant -- it's a very quick read but has a lot of gems about effective leadership.

You might want to start with:
- What is your group supposed to achieve/do?
- What are the goals of each individual in the group -- what do they want to achieve/do?
- Break down the work you're supposed to get done and try to assign tasks that people want to do.
- Check frequently to ensure things are getting done until you know each person's strengths and weaknesses.
Sorry if that's too obvious...
posted by elmay at 1:32 PM on October 20, 2009

I would recommend The Leadership Challenge as a good resource. It is very research based and aimed at the idea that everyone in the organization is a leader at certain times and places.
posted by never used baby shoes at 1:42 PM on October 20, 2009

You might be interested in two courses at MIT Sloan that have notes and readings available through Open CourseWare. The Leadership Lab and Practical Leadership are both quite good.

McKinsey's Dialogue on Leadership is also a decent online repository of research and interviews.

Also, if you can get someone to spring for the cash, the vLeader simulation is one of the better virtual training experiences I have seen, though the course can be a bit hokey, it does a nice job of getting you to think about leadership styles.

I should note that I teach at a business school, but do not focus on leadership in particular. If you have something specific in mind, I may be able to point you in a particular direction.
posted by blahblahblah at 1:43 PM on October 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

And I should add, being a leader is a process that never seems to be one that you stop learning about. I still am, after several years in identified leadership roles with my organization.
posted by never used baby shoes at 1:49 PM on October 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think the one piece of advice I would give you is that while management has given you the authority and role to lead, real effectiveness comes from how your people view you. If your people do not believe in you as a leader, or you do not project their perception of a leader back to them, leading well will be a difficult task. Organizations often thrust people into leadership roles without preparing their charges for the change, leading to a variety of emotions from those being lead.
posted by arimathea at 1:55 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, i'd check out Leadership without Easy Answers; I think it's by Heifetz.
posted by arimathea at 1:56 PM on October 20, 2009

Be clear about your goals. Be clear about everyone's role in meeting those goals. Work hard yourself (lead by example). Listen to input, then make decisive choices. If you make a mistake, admit and try again. Be willing to take responsibility for the group's actions. Praise or teach. Do not publicly criticize. Have fun.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:32 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Veni Vidi Vicious"

Heh. I think you're ready for The Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.
posted by paulsc at 2:46 PM on October 20, 2009

Commander Rachek's Guide to Leadership in 3 Easy Steps:

Step 1. If this is for a project with a definite due date, write down a list of everything that needs to be done by the due date; make a schedule. If this is an ongoing organization (like a club, business, or charity), then write down everything that needs do be done every day, week, month, and/or year.

Step 2. Assign every single task to someone else. Do not bank on doing anything yourself, unless you have very specialized knowledge or skills; if this is the case, you will need at to assign at least one person to help you with management stuff.

Step 3. Sit around and handle problems as they arise. Where possible, give advice instead of doing things for people. Assign busywork as necessary to keep loiterers busy. Continue to do this until the project deadline and/or retirement.
posted by Commander Rachek at 4:09 PM on October 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure exactly what sort of thing you have to deal with, but I've been sort of thrust into management positions from time to time on a sot of ad hoc basis and I've found How To Manage Smart People to be helpful and informational in some of the things I didn't know well or wasn't good at. That is: if you're working with people who don't need sort of coaching and cajoling [and I don't know if you are] one of the best things that you can do is stay out of the way, let them do their work, check in often without hovering (somehow) and find a way to ask them (in whatever language/verbiage is appropriate) "What do you need from me in order to kick ass on this project?"

Delegate, be decisive, be approachable but don't work too hard to be anyone's friend. Be fair, be decent, be the go-between between your group and whoever is telling your group what to do.
posted by jessamyn at 5:04 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Actually, I like leadership literature a fair bit, but right now I don't think I would join those recommending a reading project. You are already immersed - pay attention, learn, reflect, and then read some leadership books. One learns more in reflection than during the midst of a project. You've accepted the role, you're going in as the leader you are now, and you will keep learning and changing as you go.

What you can learn now are some tactical skills:

1. Don't take your own notes or minutes. Designate someone to do that, and ask them to write them up and circulate them within X time after the meetings. Those notes should capture everything discussed. If you want to make sure something appears in the minutes, call it out "Rob, can you be sure to note that the police chief wants to say a few words at the banquet." Whatever.

2. Follow through. Do all the actions you say you're going to do.

3. Be prepared. Share an agenda a couple of days in advance of meetings. Timekeep relentlessly, or assign a timekeeper.

4. Observe how your volunteers/staff are doing on their projects. Check in frequently. Do they have what they need? Encountering any problems? Feel lost? Need help? Have questions? What are they finding hard? What's going well?

5. Don't follow every idea down the garden path. Focus on the tasks at hand. Ideas for next year or "if we had a..." can be immediiately relegated to a "Future" list that captures all those ideas, but that you won't revisit until next time.

6. Listen, but be comfortable with your decisionmaking. Don't be stiff and don't worry about losing face if you try a decision, and it's not working, and you need to rescind it. IT's not hard "We tried it, I had high hopes, but it wasn't working. Let's go back to Plan A." Too often leaders get ego invested in doing things the way they initially said they wanted to do. If it's not working, and you admit it and move on, you are being a lot more effective than if you force a change that is not producing desired results.

It might help if you can describe what sort of expectations there are for your leadership. What does it mean to be 'leader'? Does it just mean convene group meetings? ARe you supposed to define projects? Develop them? Execute them? Do you report to anyone? Does anyone specific report to you? Are all 20 other people on the same level, or are there sub-responsibilities? Are you producing an event? Creating a product? Different kinds of leadership skills are involved in all of these.

The most important thing I think I've learned in leadership is this: "Leadership is storytelling." It really is. Leadership is the art of getting a group of people, all with disparate minds and ideas in those minds, to collaborate productively on something, being sure they all make a contribution to the work. The most important tool in all this, honestly, is story. Who are we? Why are we doing what we're doing? What are the qualities of our team? What are our hopes? Where have we come from? Where did we start? What have we accomplished already? How should we feel about that? Always start with the beginning, honor past effort, acknowledge present situations and emotions (be they positive or negative) and then move toward that vision of the future toward which you're working. It's always a story with a beginning, middle, and end. People want to be part of a wonderful, well-told, story.
posted by Miko at 5:05 PM on October 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

Read The First 90 Days. Then read Small Unit Leadership. After a long time, read Scenarios. Congratulations - you've learned everything worth learning from a 16 course MBA.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:04 PM on October 20, 2009 [10 favorites]

You also might consider reading through some of the more recent papers on neuroscience and leadership. And some of the classic papers on double loop learning including this paper from Chris Argyis which I think is an oldie, but goodie.
posted by cheez-it at 8:39 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

What Jessamyn said. You're here to help your workers, not the other way around. For the most part, simply don't be an obstacle.
posted by xammerboy at 9:53 PM on October 20, 2009

Be proactive, and never assign someone a task that they don't feel you'd be willing to do yourself.

The One-Minute-Manager is a tiny book on management that says in many more words what others have already said; don't do much, in fact, do as little as is still good.
posted by talldean at 7:56 PM on October 21, 2009

Robert E. Lee on Leadership.

Don't laugh--a Harvard professor recommended it to me, not an Alabama cousin.

There's a wealth of insight on dealing with causes that are all but lost, people who are participating for personal glory, and individuals who have failed catastrophically. I found it very helpful.
posted by jefficator at 2:15 PM on October 22, 2009

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