Society wants to know how to create better leaders in business, government, and not-for-profit organizations.
Over my career, like others in my profession, I originally focused on individuals—identifying the most important competencies, traits, or skills. The goal was to discover leadership’s secret ingredients. Once found, we could share that information with others and produce better leaders.
My beliefs have evolved. I believe leadership development is more like a spiritual journey. Spiritual journeys are personal and profound. They involve complex questions, exposure to new ideas, deep reflection, and guidance from others who have been on a similar path. Today my leadership work centers around three key principles.
Principle #1: Leadership is a verb, not a noun, which involves moving an organization, process, and/or idea from Point A to Point B.
Principle #2: Focus on the “how.” The better you are at communicating how a person leads, the easier it is to identify the right job opportunities, build better teams, and position leaders for success.
Principle #3: Focus on teams. Business is too complex to have all the necessary experience, knowledge and skills reside within one person. Build teams that trust each other and have what it takes to achieve the vision, mission, or strategy.
I created the Leadership Preferences Survey (LPS), to better analyze how people lead and build more effective teams (find it online at tedfleming.com).
I’ve identified four basic leadership preferences—vision-centered, customer-centered, organization-centered, and people-centered. The goal is to build teams that draw upon the strengths of all four preferences while compensating for the weaknesses of each.
Developing new ideas, products, and services is the best way to move an organization forward. They lead by creating and communicating a compelling vision of where they wish to take an organization or group.
Core strengths are the ability to create new ideas, concepts, products, and services by making connections among previously unrelated notions. These leaders focus on the strategy, possibilities, and potential of a group or organization. They have broad knowledge and perspective and are future oriented.
I believe Richard Branson is a vision-centered leader. He was successful with his airline, Virgin Atlantic, but he expanded into entertainment and aerospace.
Understanding and meeting customer needs is the best way to move an organization forward. They lead by focusing on customers and their problems.
Core strengths are the ability to see how trends will affect the current marketplace. They can translate firsthand customer information into products and services that add value. Customer-centered leaders are good relationship managers and excellent problem solvers. They are present oriented.
I believe Sara Blakely is a customer-centered leader. Her Spanx organization delivers practical value to customers by manufacturing shaping underwear for women and men that helps them look thinner.
Building a predictable and repeatable system for delivering products and services is the best way to move an organization forward. They lead by focusing on internal processes, policies, and procedures.
Core strengths of an organization-centered leader are the ability to organize people and their work to get things done. They can translate people, policies, and processes into products and services that add value. Organization-centered leaders are excellent negotiators and know how to build effective teams. They can maneuver through complex, large political organizations effectively. They are past oriented, i.e., they focus on what has worked in the past and how to apply that to the present.
I think Ursula Burns is an organization-centered leader. Burns was the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company—Xerox. She often is quoted as saying, “No fancy words, bold bets, and back to basics.”
Developing people and providing them with opportunities to shine is the best way to move an organization forward. They lead by developing the people who work around them.
Core strengths of a people-centered leader is the ability to translate employee potential into products and services that add value. People-centered leaders are good judges of talent and excellent mentors. They can create climates where employees want to do their best. They empower others. People-centered leaders are present oriented, i.e., they focus on what they can do in the present that will prepare employees for the future.
I believe Shonda Rhimes is a people-centered leader. Rhimes guides teams of writers and production staff to create television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal.
Use Leadership Preferences Insights to Build Strong Teams and Drive Results
Use LPS information to build strong, diverse teams that link to business results:
- Vision-centered leaders are your link to competitive advantage; they keep you one step ahead of the competition by focusing on the future and what is possible.
- Customer-centered leaders link you to top-line or revenue growth; they ensure your products and services address a current need that will generate sales.
- Organization-centered leaders link you to bottom-line growth; they add processes and systems that generate profit.
- People-centered leaders allow you to implement the vision and deliver on your promises by identifying and developing your most important resource—your personnel.
Ask yourself: 1) Which perspectives are missing from the team; and 2) What build, buy or partner strategies can I employ to close the gaps?
Understanding the preferences of those around you allows a leader to translate strategies, tactics, and messages into a language that others can understand, improving the overall effectiveness of communication.
Profiling an entire organization or sub-unit identifies whether the culture is internally or externally focused, whether it emphasizes the people or the process. With this knowledge, you can introduce people, values, and beliefs to focus the culture to achieve results.
It is getting rarer for a manager to both be in the same physical location as his or her team and be able to oversee all the work of the team. Individuals and groups are expected to become effective and self-governing. You must recognize and communicate what type of leader you are to achieve results and drive change
Excerpt from “Develop: 7 Practical Tools to Take Charge of Your Career” by Ted Fleming (October 2020).
Ted Fleming is the head of Talent Development for a Fortune 10 company with more than 300,000 employees. His responsibilities include learning and career development for all employees, executive development, and providing business consulting solutions. Fleming has more than 30 years of experience in the healthcare, financial services, and education industries as a strategic planner, consultant, business owner, and general manager. He speaks extensively on topics including managing your career, executive presence, driving business results, leadership, creativity, and innovation. Fleming is the author of “Develop: 7 Practical Tools to Take Charge of Your Career.”