04 August 2009

Leaders Are Framers

Since not much can be said about what leadership actually is, but people talk about leadership a lot, they must be talking about something else. I think they're talking about the incredibly complicated art/science of framing reality.

According to a study by the Hay Group, a global management consultancy, there are 75 key components of employee satisfaction (Lamb, McKee, 2004). They found that:

  • Trust and confidence in top leadership was the single most reliable predictor of employee satisfaction in an organization.
  • Effective communication by leadership in three critical areas was the key to winning organizational trust and confidence:
    1. Helping employees understand the company's overall business strategy.
    2. Helping employees understand how they contribute to achieving key business objectives.
    3. Sharing information with employees on both how the company is doing and how an employee's own division is doing - relative to strategic business objectives.
I think this illustrates THE thing that people in leadership positions have to do. They have to frame reality for everyone else.

There is more in the world than we can possibly perceive, and there is more in what we can perceive than we can possibly focus on, and there is more in what we can focus on than we can possibly make sense of. Appropriately, this scares the bejezus out of us. No matter how well we manage to understand the world, there will always be (infinitely?) more that we do not understand. This awareness leads us all to the obvious conclusion that if we can only understand part of the world, it should be the most important part.

But how can we be sure we understand the most important part of the world if there are things we don't understand? Maybe the most important part is one of those things we missed. This universal doubt drives all of us to the next obvious conclusion; to ask someone else.

Since we are searching for the most important thing, upon which we can focus, we naturally assume it can be known. Therefore it makes perfect sense that someone else could know it. Whether or not they actually do cannot be determined, but they could know it. We look for a framework we can use to understand the most important thing, and from there to build our life around.

Leaders provide that framework for us. They tell us what is important. This is why leadership looks the same at all levels, including personal, because everyone has some idea about what might be important. Leadership is touchy because when an organization tells us what is important we might be grateful, or we might be offended. Or we might be apathetic. It all depends on how we frame reality for ourselves and how our personal framework meshes with the leader's framework.

When the leader's framework contradicts our own one of them has to be rejected, so either we think we are wrong or we think the leader is wrong. When the leader's framework merges with our own we feel completed. It is that feeling of appropriateness that creates a leader-follower dynamic.

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