There are a number of things to love about being in the business of leadership development. Somewhere near the top of the list is that I frequently have the opportunity to “talk leadership” with real leaders. By definition, these leaders have enviable track records of producing significant results while building legacies defined by the positive personal impact they have had on people.
One leader who fits that description to a T is George Morrow. If you Google his name and conduct a cursory review of his body of work, you’ll find that pretty much everything he ever touched during his career turned to gold. Early on, he was a key driver in Merck’s rise to prominence/dominance in the pharmaceutical industry. He went to Glaxo and established a commercial culture that shattered sales records and a work culture that was legendary. He finished his career by producing more of the same results at Amgen.
I was honored to sit with George a while back and reflect on the art and science of leadership. My part of that exchange was to ask a few questions and then practice my active listening skills. Listen to this podcast, “Leadership Soup,” to hear his comments verbatim.
The central themes of those remarks are offered here:
Leadership and Change
Leadership was, is and forever will be “joined at the hip” with organizational change. In that context, leadership can be distinguished from management as follows: Management is what you do when you know “what good looks like.” In essence, you have been there and done that, and now you are attempting to do it again. Leadership is what you do when you are literally charting a new course. There is no blueprint to follow. Conversely, you are developing a blueprint for others to follow.
What Leaders Do
When you reflect on the enormity of formal and informal research that has been published over the years on the topic of leadership, it is nothing less than overwhelming. Keep the process of change front and center, and consider these four foundational and interdependent elements of what George describes as “leadership soup”:
- Vision: Leadership frequently starts with a challenge or an opportunity and, somewhere along the line, somebody who asks the question, “What if…?” Simply stated, leaders see things that others don’t see.
- Motivation: Leaders also have the ability to articulate their vision in a manner that gets people on board. They can describe a compelling future state that mitigates the challenge or takes aggressive advantage of the opportunity. At some point, people who receive the message truly get it and become emotionally invested in the future state that the leader describes.
- Execution Animal: Leaders are defined (at least in part) by their outcomes. Achieving those outcomes entails the ability to put vision into action: to plan. Everybody impacted needs to know, embrace and execute that plan until the desired outcomes are achieved.
- Coaching: Along those lines, leaders understand that executing a plan (especially when it is defined by change) is an iterative process. New skills need must be defined, taught and reinforced. Time has to be allotted for that cycle of development to emerge as the new normal.