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Leadership Acumen

Executive Overview and Tour
Leadership Acumen: Issue 9, May, 2003
© Banff Executive Leadership Inc.

Is Your Staff as Committed to Results as You Are?

Have you ever wondered if your staff is as committed to achieving the goals and results set for this year as you are? You come in early, work late, and put in high intensity days to achieve corporate goals. Yet, as you observe the work ethic of your employees, you wonder if they share the same commitment to success.

If you are like most senior leaders, this is a common scenario. What you do next and how you handle yourself can make a huge difference in your effectiveness as a leader.

Energize the System:
Let's be frank. Today's business environment is very challenging. The demand for achieving results - whether you are leading a business, a government department or a not-for-profit organization - is intense. As a senior leader, the Board, other senior leaders and the larger community, rely on you to achieve the results outlined in the plan no matter what the changing conditions around you. This requires sustained intensity as well as creativity and adaptability as you move forward.

However, chances are you can't achieve all the results by yourself. That's why you are a senior leader of a larger group of people, resources and often external suppliers/partners. A significant expectation from everyone in the system/network that you lead is that you will 'energize' all the elements. This includes motivation, clarity of priorities, roles and context, mobilization of resources required, and reduction or elimination of barriers.

Some leaders energize their system through fear. Others energize the system by directing everything - telling people what to do. Still others essentially start little fires of motivation across the system, and then fan the flames of empowerment and creativity - releasing the natural energies throughout.

Fear certainly gets peoples' attention. And as everyone has experienced, stimulates the 'fight & flight' response: narrowing of focus, heightened attentiveness, and increased strength/effort. Unfortunately, the fear approach is short lived. Human beings can not physically or emotionally sustain this kind energy. Leaders who rely on fear to achieve results often create cycles: fear - back off - more fear - back off - etc. Companies forced to repeatedly downsize and cut operations as a result of a significant loss of business (i.e. airlines, high tech firms, under-funded social agencies) have been dealing with this reality for some time now. These continuous fear-based energy cycles have now resulted in an exhausted, weary, and almost hope-less workforce. In addition to results risks, real side-effects such as safety issues are potential risks too. These are dangerous circumstances for leaders trying to achieve results for the longer term.

Leaders who try to direct everything in today's environment must rely on the transference of their own personal energy to the others in the network. Perhaps we adopt this style because of our own anxieties or pressures from above, and/or we feel we can't trust others to make decisions or react the way we would. So, we remove this risk and uncertainty by resorting to a very directive and delegating style. (Delegating would be preferable to directing, though often we witness poorly enunciated delegation leading to confusion and assumptions.) While this approach is less draining and demotivating to employees than the fear-based approach, it is incredibly draining to the leader. Employees and suppliers wait to be told what to do, then do what they are told. Over time, their sense of responsibility, self-motivation and initiative-taking can atrophy. This requires more time, attention, and energy from the leader. While initially fast and efficient to get started and see results, the network's sustainability and ingenuity becomes almost entirely reliant on the leader. As his/her own energy and creativity depletes, so does the capacity of the network to achieve results. The leader risks burn-out and replacement.

Many organizations facing turn-around challenges, new business unit start-ups, mergers, or cases where the Boards are demanding strong personal and short-cycle accountabilities from senior leaders, often default into this style. While they might talk the talk of 'empowerment' or 'team', they actually walk something less effective.

The best way to energize a network is to release the stored or natural energies contained within. Of course, we see this in nature, in our bio-systems. And sometimes less obvious, we fail to recognize that our organizations are bio-systems too. So, why not use the processes of empowerment and inner motivation to get people enthused by the challenge(s) and their personal abilities to make a difference?

Unfortunately, empowering leadership requires an up-front investment of time and energy before the results are obvious. This is the risk that often turns even the most well-meaning leader back to one of the other styles during times of intense challenge. However, if you can fight through these risks and indeed make the effort to: clarify goals, discuss/examine the directions and values of the organization, help members of the team to self-define roles, inter-connections, accountabilities and reflect on the experience they can draw upon to exert good judgment or adapt processes in the leader's absence, then a whole collection of little fires get ignited. With the leader's continued coaching, re-framing of context and priorities, and ongoing encouragement, the network's overall energy grows, its capacity for innovation and adaptability multiplies, and its performance is much more sustainable - at even higher levels. This also leaves some time and energy with the leader to step out of the tactical and become more strategic.

This kind of leadership is also appropriate in situations of crumbling market share, depressed share-price, turn around, growth/expansion, or start-up situations.

Empowerment vs. Delegation vs. Directing:



Shared leader-'EE
Self control of 'EE
within parameters of task established by manager
Employee works
through check-list of actions/activities from leader
Heart Mind External threats/ promises
Guideposts Org. Vision
Clearly enunciated goals and measures
Personal standards of excellence and contribution
Task Definition:
- Financial
- Quality
- Deadline
- Std. practices
Action Checklists:
- Items done
- Timelines met
- Frequency of activities
- Minimum stds.
Success Measures Advancement toward corporate/ community goals
Attainment of objectives
Good judgment exerted by employees
Tasks achieved
Personal abilities expressed within acceptable parameters
Completed actions
Minimum compliance
Unlimited Limited by Leader's ability to delegate effectively/ regularly
Limited by Leader's energy level
Narrowed by lists
Minimum compliance does not ensure sustainability

Why Not Ask Your People?
So, you are still wondering about your staff's commitment level. Why not ask them?!
Most employees come to work each day wanting to do a good job and make a difference. Sometimes however, when corporate goals are not clear, and what is expected of each employee is not well defined, they lose motivation, creativity and energy. Fear for their job or failure to please the boss can also immobilize them at the very time you need all their energy.

Asking the question is not without its risks. They may actually tell you things you weren't expecting, including pointing to lack of clarity, mixed messages, that you're actually 'directing' while talking about team or empowerment.

Be courageous! If you are honestly trying to do the best for the organization and your people, they will likely be quite forgiving, and indeed welcoming of the opportunity to chat. You may have some of your flaws pointed out too. But don't worry; you can work on fixing them together! An open, honest dialogue, with good listening and avoidance of defensiveness, and with a focus on the Vision, Values and clear objectives for performance will work wonders to energize the network! This is the first step towards a more empowering and sustainable delivery of results too.

Be sure to talk about the importance of the things your team is working on in the bigger picture of the organization's overall goals, and review each person's role within the team. Don't forget to celebrate the successes and innovations along the way, and to recognize both individual and team effort. These 'little things' can be BIG motivators, and they can go a long way towards ensuring your organization achieves your results! Chances are that your staff really wants to be committed and engaged in important and meaningful work. As a senior leader, it is up to you to unleash their energy, creativity, and good judgment to help attain those results.

Lead on!

Banff Executive Leadership Inc. offers public and customized programming to improve Board Governance and Executive Leadership Practices. We also provide coaching and consulting services to Boards and Executives to help enhance their leadership practices. Please contact us if we can be of further assistance.

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Reference PDF Format Articles

Leadership @ Internet Speed

Leading in a Networked World

High Performing Boards

Exploring the Social Contract of Senior Leader

“The Leadership Track”


“Leonardo Please Call the Office”


“How Leonardo Translates for the Active Manager Today”


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Past Leadership Acumen Newsletters

Leadership Acumen, Issue 1 - August 1, 2002
The REAL Work of Governance

Leadership Acumen, Issue 2 - September 5, 2002
Bridging the Two Solitudes of Business and Government

Leadership Acumen, Issue 3 - October, 2002
Sustaining Canada as a Trading Nation

Leadership Acumen, Issue 4 - November, 2002
Determining the Intangible Value of Board Governance

Leadership Acumen, Issue 5 - December, 2002
Why Is Leadership So Important to Develop Anyway?

Leadership Acumen, Issue 6 - January, 2003
Leadership Deployment vs. Leadership Development

Leadership Acumen, Issue 7- February, 2003
Improving Executive & Board Decision Making!

Leadership Acumen, Issue 8- March, 2003
Transparency - Exactly what do you mean?

Governance & Executive Leadership Toolkit
An evolving series of tools for Boards and Executives to improve their performance.
[As we are a Canadian organization, we accept Canadian resident organization's Canadian dollars at par.]

1. Board Governance Practices Inventory - Now Available
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The competency - based assessment identifies the frame-of-reference a Director brings to 25 key governance practices and their balance of focus across 6 key areas of governance work. [Network Scan, Relevancy & Community Engagement, Oversight, Perspective & Ethical Reflection, Risk Management, Diplomacy & Influence, Communication and Interpersonal Skills.] Price: US$ 12 each plus tax & shipping

2. Executive Leadership Practices Inventory
This is a competency based assessment tool that can be used for 360-degree assessment, or self-assessment. Built from over 10 years of ongoing competency research, with input from over 4,000 users in Canada, the US, and foreign organizations, it is specifically focused on those who are at the General Managers, Vice Presidents, Assistant Deputy Ministers, CEO and other executive leadership levels. Price: TBD - release for July 2003

Exploring the Web!
This month, the connections take you to sites with more perspectives on performance, directing, delegating and empowerment. Add some 'grist' for your leadership mill…


Leadership Cults and Cultures


The Impact of Narcissism on Leadership & Sustainability, by Bruce Gregory.


The Challenge of Leadership Effectiveness: Delegation


A Leadership Empowerment Styles Questionnaire. Give it a try!


Abstract: Beyond Empowerment: Building a Company of Citizens - Harvard Business Review, January 2003, Special Issue, p.48.


The New Leadership - From Delegation to Empowerment. American Management Association Article

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