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Leadership: Is There an App for That?
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
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There's an app for just about everything these days: Some are useful, some are entertaining, and some are downright weird. And sure enough, there are apps on leadership, too.

Dale Carnegie Training has several leadership apps: Personal Leadership, Team Leadership, Company Leadership, and the Secrets of Success, available in English, Arabic, Portuguese, and Spanish. There is Speak Like a CEO from McGraw-Hill, which supposedly gives you the secrets for better communication in any business environment. Numerous other so-called leadership apps deliver articles and summaries from books on leadership, while others provide a leadership self-test followed by standard developmental reading.

But can leadership really be reduced to an algorithm or a collection of clichés?  

There Is No Shortcut for Effective Leadership 

Leadership is a journey from novice to master that requires facing tough situations, making difficult choices, and learning from mistakes. It also takes a healthy understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses. You don't get those by reading a book or glancing at your iPhone. 

You Develop Leadership Acumen Through Leading, Not Reading. 

Those who really want to improve their leadership don't just go to advanced management courses at a top business school, although a few such courses do teach the basics and use excellent case studies and scenarios to confront students with challenging leadership choices. But in many ways the best leadership training is experiential. It’s a combination of fundamental leadership principles, personal courage, and tough choices, combined with an understanding that the context often drives the choices a leader can make.

And those interested in becoming leaders don’t rely on leadership apps or textbook learning. They volunteer for the toughest jobs in the company. They willingly raise their hand to clean up the messes of poor M&A integration and failed ERP implementations. They open new regions far from headquarters, creating new markets and products. They get up to their eyeballs in the issues, both business issues and people issues. They don't give up, but they are willing to pull the plug rather than throw good money after bad. They make the decisions others avoid. They lead long before acquiring the title of leader. 

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Effective Leadership Is About Fundamental Leadership Principles Combined With Situational Understanding.  

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps (and other modern military forces) drill into all its officers the process of mission-command-control through constant case studies, war games, and simulations. But on the battlefield or deep behind enemy lines there might not be a well-rehearsed scenario to fit the current situation. That's where the mission comes in. In the mission-command-control process, the only constant is the mission. Command orders may change due to updated intelligence information. And the control structure can shift rapidly if the "boss" is taken out of action. Plans often change, but the mission (and the values that go along with it) remain as the key guiding principle.

If more business leaders would clearly articulate the mission and the leadership values, it would be easier to make better decisions in the field. Remember the core principles of how leaders behave in this company—if you don't have these principles, you get behavior formed from however the person grew up or from her last company. And lack of alignment among leaders is a recipe for disaster.

Case in Point 

The case of the tampered Tylenol capsules in a Chicago store in the 1980s was a potential brand disaster for Johnson & Johnson company. In fact, a Wall Street Journal article predicted the company would never recover. However, due to a strong set of leadership principles and company values that had been baked into the culture, the company adhered to its mission of customers first and shareholders last.

Regional executives pulled all Tylenol products from all stores, nationwide, and ran huge public communication campaigns for people to destroy any Tylenol product in their homes or offices. The company reviewed everything about its manufacturing and packaging processes, coming up with new tamper-proof bottles.

The Tylenol crisis is now taught in MBA classes as a classic case study of how strongly held leadership principles and values combined with situational understanding and empowerment at the local level averted further deaths and financial disaster.

Bottom line: apps don’t make hard choices, leaders do! Something to think about next time your smartphone pings you.

About the Author
John R. Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership teams. He is an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. Learn more at www.johnrchildress.com. 
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