The myth of the ‘perfect leader’

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

The concept of the “complete leader” who has it all figured out is finally bowing before the sheer complexity of modern problems.

After working with hundreds of people who struggled under the old myth, researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management and MIT Leadership Center have come up with a new theory: distributed leadership.

This model has four components: sense-making (understanding context); relating to others; visioning; and inventing.

You may choose to develop the capabilities you’re weakest in, but it may make more sense to focus on your strengths and bring in others who can compensate for your weak spots.

Have your team use this framework to assess their strengths and weaknesses and to balance their skill sets.

1. Sense-making: To grasp new conditions, draw data from multiple sources. Involve others in your analysis, saying what you think you see. Use your initial observations to test (truly test, not just bolster) your conclusions. Don’t apply existing frameworks to new conditions; stay open to possibilities.

2. Relating: Many executives who try to create trust, optimism and consensus reap nothing but anger, cynicism and conflict. This happens when they have a hard time relating to people who see the world differently. Encourage others to give their opinions, and then listen with an open mind. When you weigh in, don’t just give the bottom line; explain your reasoning and make a case. Review how you receive advice and how you work through difficult problems.

3. Visioning: Having some trouble here? You’re not alone. Develop a vision about something that inspires you. Get ready to explain why people should care. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to pull it off, but do enlist help by conveying images and stories that will inspire people to act.

4. Inventing: Never assume that the way things always got done is the best way forward. When a new task comes along, encourage and be open to new methods. Look for new ways of grouping people. Ask: What other options do we have?

— Adapted from “In Praise of the Incomplete Leader,” Deborah Ancona, Thomas Malone, Wanda Orlikowski and Peter Senge, Harvard Business Review.

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