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Leadership And The Elephant

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/17/2017 | 10:07 AM

Much is misquoted and/or misapplied from the fable of the blind men and the elephant. Each man has a limited physical understanding of one feature of an elephant's exterior infrastructure. So, where one imagines a wall, another perceives a hose, or fans, or a tail impersonating a rope.

And, so it is that almost everything I read about elements of, or tips for, leadership is fragmentary at best, and misleading at worst. Now comes the part at which I become conflicted. Shawn Casemore quite recently summarized elements of employee engagement, which relates closely to empowerment—and leadership behaviors. Not to pick on Shawn. I don't know him, and I couldn't possibly pick him out of a police lineup. And, realistically, there are print and electronic limitations on the real estate available for blogs, posts, columns, and the like.

Any event, Casemore lists five keys to engagement. My peptic upset relates to the genuine reality that leadership is not a slogan, not adopting a fistful of tips, or learning the mantra of "keys", but is a complex, robust, flexible, and people-centered lifelong commitment.

Today's keys are sensible, to be sure, but woefully incomplete, and not useful without both intellectual and emotional internalization—and repetition until one's significant other complains bitterly.

They are easy to say, and difficult to master. The opener is dialog. No secrets, no hidden messages, no weasel-wording, no euphemisms, and no obfuscation. Without honest and full dialog, the other keys are just so  much blah, blah, blah.

Then come meetings. No artifice, no predetermined agenda or time frame.But, no hiding behind email and emotion. Facts. Relentless pursuit of correctives.  In-person, face to face.  Look into the others' eyes; you will get a sense of the soul.

Agreement on collaborative goals. That ought to go without saying, but, for whatever reason, needs to be covered over and over again in a dynamic environment.

Active listening. Developing the sense and sensitivity needed to ask good and relevant questions, and lots of them. Relax. The answers will come later. The tendency is to give answers, or issue orders, before the question gets fully formed and clarified.

Visualization. Make as much as feasible visible.  Processes. Final appearance. Performance status. Progress toward goals. Deviations from expectations.

All these are, or should be, part of the leadership package. So, do keep them in mind. But also buld a full suite of leadership behaviors and attributes to provide some context for all the elements that a leader must master to be effective over the long haul.

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About Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven (1939 - 2017) was Managing Principal of the van Bodegraven Associates consultancy and Founding Principal of Discovery Executive Services, which develops and delivers supply chain educational programs. He was formerly Chair of the Supply Chain Group AG, Partner at The Progress Group LLC, Development Executive at CSCMP, Practice Leader with S4 Consulting, and a Managing Director in Coopers & Lybrand's consulting practice. Concentrating in supply chain management and logistics for over 20 years in his 50+ year business career, he has led ground-breaking strategic, operational, and educational projects for leading US and global clients. Art was principal co-author of DC Velocity's Basic Training monthly column for a decade, and was the principal co-author, with Ken Ackerman, of Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management, the definitive primer in the field. His popular blog, The Art of Art, has been a staple of DC Velocity's web site since its inception.


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