Leadership – Piloting the Motorcycle in a Specific Direction:  Part 1

First, leadership is about “leading people, not managing things”.

In the last post/discussion, I introduced this thought – ALL successful leaders, or leadership teams, provide the same four “leadership whats” for their organization(s) – just like riding a motorcycle.  The four “leadership whats” include:  (1) pilot the organization in specific direction(s); (2) provide thrust/power to move the organization in the desired direction; (3) manage/mitigate risks of piloting the organization; and (4) make changes in the organization’s direction, thrust and risk based on current and anticipated situations/changes. 

Each of these four “what’s” can be broken down into finer and finer specifics. This post/discussion focuses on some specifics of piloting the organization in specific direction(s) which is analogous to steering the front wheel of a motorcycle.  Arguably, piloting the organization(s) in the proper direction(s) is the most important “what” a leader, or leadership team, provides.  If an organization does not have direction(s), or is being piloted in the wrong direction(s), then success will be fleeting.  But what are some specifics that leaders provide to establish the proper direction of an organization?


Leadership Cycle

Leadership Cycle


This post/discussion focuses on the first, three “whats” – Vision/Mission, Values and Culture

Gertrude Stein states – “It is awfully important to know what is and is not your business.”  Vision and mission “whats” provide the cornerstones for any organization and are usually published as vision and/or mission statements.  For example, in Southwest Airlines early years their vision/mission was to “Give People the Freedom to Fly”. These “leadership whats” sets an organization’s purpose and direction that all other “leadership whats” will be based.    Each major business unit and department should have their vision and/or mission statements that support their organization’s top vision and mission.

The next “leadership whats” are an organization’s values that define and provide direction on how an organization’s people behave, think, act and make decisions, and are usually documented and published with the organization’s vision and mission statements.  Organization values can be grouped into sets of “core values” and “operational values”.  Core values, people focused, represent shared beliefs and expectations on how they behave and treat other people inside or outside of the organization, and build relationships.  Examples of core values focus on areas like integrity, treat others with respect, teamwork, have fun, celebrate success, be proactive, work hard, make excellence a habit, great attitude, etc.  Operational values, business focused, represent the shared convictions and expectations of what is important for the organization to be successful/profitable and must be aligned with the organization’s business model.  If the organization excels at these operational values, they can adapt to change, grow and be profitable.  Examples of operational values focus on customer service, innovation, reliability, safety, easy to do business with, low costs, low prices, profitability, etc.  Arguably more important than documented vision/mission and value statements is how an organization’s leadership communicates and lives these “whats” every day – do they “talk the talk, AND walk the walk”.

As the result of and closely related to an organization’s vision/mission, and core and operational values is the third “leadership what” – organization culture.  Culture has been defined by many as “a general term that outlines the collective attitudes, beliefs, common experiences, procedures, and values that are prevalent in an organization”.  Pretty nebulous.  I have found defining organization culture is like defining quality – “it’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it”.  Unlike an organization’s vision/mission, and values that are usually documented and published, an organization’s culture is not.  A positive culture, one in alignment with vision/mission and values, will have its people highly ‘aligned/invested’ in the organization, culture and success.  A positive culture results is an organization that exhibits traits like high trust, loyalty, productivity, performance, results, etc., and lower conflicts, turnover, setbacks, etc.  A dysfunctional culture and/or one not in alignment with vision/mission and values can be a toxic environment  exhibiting traits like trust issues, high level of conflicts and politics, CYA attitudes, ragged performance and results, high turnover, low or negative growth, etc.

These first, three “whats” must be in place before the fourth and fifth “whats” can be determined and effective.  We will cover these remaining “whats” in the next post/discussion.