A Starting Point
Every organization has positions of leadership. Regardless of how small or large the organization, there is a group of people or a team that helps set the direction of the organization and strategizes tactics to help the organization perform well. Oftentimes, people who find themselves in leadership positions got there because of the skills they learned and mastered in previous positions within the organization. Waking up one day to find that you have moved from a job in which your skills and expertise centered on achieving a discreet task, to one of leading the organization can be an off-centering experience. Taking time to reflect on your new circumstances is essential. Helping people who find themselves in this situation is even more urgent. I use this matrix to help people clarify their thoughts when they are new to a leadership position.
A Simple Leadership Matrix
How to Use the Matrix
On the left axis, there is your “why” or purpose. Too many leaders lose track of the reason they started in their careers. Reconnecting to your deep, professional purpose creates a “decision-making lens”. In this sense, a lens will filter decisions and helps prioritize decisions that are really important from ones that are not so important. Write down a one or two sentence statement that explains your deep purpose in your professional life. I am not going to go too deep into explaining the importance of “why”, Simon Sinek in this viral video does a great job. (The 20 minutes you spend watching this video is the best use of your leadership development today.) I do, however, have a suggestion on writing your “why”/purpose.
Make sure your why/purpose statement is not too transactional. The goal of the statement is to connect with a deep desire that intrinsically motivates you. For example, my purpose is to serve underserved, poor, rural communities. Notice I did not say “I want to give rural communities skills to help them thrive in the 21st century”. Although this statement sounds good, it is transactional. It limits me to being a “skill transfer” agent. I want to accomplish more. Your why/purpose statement comes from deep inside your soul. It is almost an oxymoron to state that the statement must be broad and deep. Broad in the sense that it allows you to act in many different areas and deep that it motivates you through tough times.
The “how” are the skills that you need to accomplish your why/purpose statement. Taking the time to create a list of skills that you need to help you reach your purpose is not easy. The skills you need are constantly changing depending on the changed circumstances you find yourself in. A skill set that helps you with one particular project or situation may be helpful in your next situation, but not enough to be completely effective. You are always evolving.
Let’s look at the matrix more closely to see how it can be used to help start a conversation with a leader (whether it is yourself or someone you are helping).
The 4 Quadrants
Quadrant 4: A leader in this space has low purpose and low skills. Through no fault of their own, they may have been promoted beyond their ability and are floundering. There are also people in this space who have not taken the time to reflect on themselves and their position. Oftentimes these people believe they have all of the answers are refuse to listen because they do not want to damage their ego. The best resource to help leaders in this area is the work of Brene Brown and her framework of vulnerability. Unfortunately, many people in this space probably are not going to be effective leaders.
Quadrant 3: Leaders in this space have high skills but low purpose. These are leaders who need to connect with their deep purpose so they can utilize their skills effectively. People in this space may not be aware that they hold the skills needed to accomplish their goals because their goals and purpose are not well defined. Helping these leaders align their skills with their purpose helps them as individuals and helps the organization in which they serve.
Quadrant 2: Leaders in this quadrant have low skills and high purpose. We have all seen leaders in this quadrant. They are the passionate believers in a cause who mistakenly believe that the world will bend to their wished because their purpose is so obvious and good. They forget that leadership is about influencing people and organizations and the study of how to do this is important. Professional learning for these leaders should start with Peter Senge and systems thinking. From there, the specific skills needed to match the circumstances the leader finds themselves in can be mapped out.
Quadrant 1: Leaders in this space have high skills and high purpose. This quadrant is aspirational for most of us since we are always evolving our skills. However, most of us have had the pleasure of working with (or for) someone in this space. They are effective leaders who make leading look easy. You know you are with a great leader if they make their job look easy. We all know that it is not easy to effectively lead an organization, but leaders in this quadrant make it look easy.
Now It’s Your Turn!
Please use this matrix in your own organization as a conversation starter. This is not meant to be a a unified theory of leadership. It is meant to be a conduit to start a conversation. Good Luck and let me know how it works out for you!!