Our lives today seem to be run by mathematical equations and algorithms. Google finds our search requests with sophisticated algorithms. Amazon uses algorithms to suggest items for you to purchase based on your previous shopping history. Airlines recalculate and publish revised airfares multiple times a day in order to maximize load and profit based on a supply and demand algorithm using multiple inputs such as impending weather, holiday schedules, time of day and even world events.
It seems that almost everything in life can be reduced to a formula or algorithm. When you think of an algorithm in the most general way (not just in regards to computing), algorithms are everywhere. A recipe for making food is an algorithm. Simply a sequence of steps in order to deliver a final product; in this case a perfectly baked cake.
An algorithm is a self-contained sequence of actions to be performed, usually by a computer. Algorithms perform calculations, data processing, and/or automated reasoning tasks.
And recently the news is filled with stories of self-driving automobiles and the intelligent algorithms that integrate all the various data inputs to successfully navigate from point A to B on busy roads with no human intervention.
The Leadership Equation
Can we use a simple equation to help better define leadership?
The concept of leadership, that is the actions taken by an individual that make her/him stand out from others in their ability to get things done and do the right things, has been written about, debated, discussed, argued and theorized, taught and retaught for thousands of years. Today there are literally hundreds of books on the market about leadership. Leadership books for teachers, developing early childhood leadership skills, business leadership principles, board leadership, military leadership skills, NGO leadership, etc. Most are a collection of attributes that, according to the author, makes one a leader. One of the most popular is a book by John C. Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. There’s even a book titled, Leadership for Dummies!
In my search for simplicity and to help business executives face the growing challenges of leadership in today’s complex global marketplace and changing political landscape, I have tried to look for a simple yet effective equation any person facing leadership choices can use to be more effective.
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. ~Albert Einstein
So far, the following equation has proven to be extremely useful in helping leaders understand their role and how to execute their responsibilities. It’s very simple, yet at the same time profound.
LEADERSHIP = ACCOUNTABILITY > AUTHORITY
Authority is how our role or job is defined in terms of decision limits, span of control, delegated authority, scope of budgets, purchasing limits, etc. These are usually formally detailed in a job description. In a perfect world, that would be enough for a person to carry out their duties effectively.
Unfortunately, our authority is not absolute and there are others in the company or team with responsibilities and authority as well. And I have never seen a job description or responsibility matrix that can cover all contingencies and aspects of modern business life. So there are gaps. The following diagram is one I often use in leadership workshops to show how authority levels are not enough to get the job done in all situations.
What About the Gaps?
As it is easy to see, no matter how complete the authority roles are developed, there are always gaps, which lead to statements such as, “that’s not my job”, “I did what I was supposed to do, it’s not my fault we didn’t get the result”, “she’s overstepping her bounds and interfering with my department”, “I did my job, you do yours”, etc.
Leadership is about closing the gaps and getting things done, effectively, on-time, in budget, and improving the organization and it’s people along the way. And it can only be accomplished when accountability is greater than authority. Leaders take responsibility for the bigger picture, beyond their stated level of authority. They keep the mission and purpose foremost in their mind, not their own budgets or functional goals. With a mindset of accountability, the gaps can be easily eliminated because everyone is working with the same overall enterprise objectives in mind.
We use this diagram in our leadership workshops to stimulate a discussion, particularly within a senior team, on what it will take to eliminate excuses and blaming (victim attitudes) and build a culture of accountability and high performance. You would be amazed at the animated discussions that ultimately lead to a new understanding of leadership.
When someone is a real leader, you hear things like; “I know I didn’t create it, but it’s my problem now!”, “I’ll help whomever and do whatever it takes to help us win!” How often do you hear that inside your company?
The highest form of leadership is personal accountability!
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!