Leadership by Way of Inheritance


Far be it for anyone to conclude that leadership is a perfectly ordained process in which style, substance and circumstance synchronize to form a finely pitched symphony on its way to being heard at Carnegie Hall. Leadership profiles are a one-dimensional view of a set of experiences that highlight navigational accomplishments in turbulent waters. After all, who would write a book about leadership that focused on the beauty and serenity of the process? Who would read it? Other literary works discuss the importance of steps, ways, methods, and approaches that are best remembered by the numerical anchor that distances one from the other. Fold in the rather lengthy array of discussions that position leadership from the top, middle or bottom of the organization, and when the dust settles, anyone who has aspirations to becoming a leader, of sorts, is guided by insights and perspectives garnered from daily and historical experiences. The evidentiary patterns emerge to reveal an expanding circle of new leadership insights that ignite the soul, excite the mind and position the person for the kind of challenges that transform and transcend the human spirit. It’s not quite so messy, is it?

Some of these broad brush descriptions of a leadership path or method start with the assumption that everything described can be applied to any situation. While a certain level of flexibility should be built into all leadership styles, the context of the circumstances is the strongest indicator of the demands that will be put upon the leader. Ideally, anyone going into a leadership scenario would love and crave the option to pick all of their team members. Good, bad, right or wrong, there is something about working with individuals with whom one has a pre-existing relationship that, somewhat, softens the challenge by adding a level of loyalty that minimizes some of the stress of leadership. When the selection process is based on a competent previous history or a belief in someone who is looking for a chance to shine, under the right leadership, then there is less mess to clean up and more possibilities to explore. The clean slate scenario, Leadership by way of Infusion, allows the leader to shape and craft the picture to achieve the best possible results.

The infrequency of the Leadership by way of Infusion process is off-set by the frequency of its equally important and more daunting twin, Leadership by way of Inheritance. The scenario that most leaders, irrespective of organizational level, take on is the one in which the team is already in place and there are rare opportunities in which to alter its make-up. What do you do when you are the new leader in the established system? The system being not just the organization itself, but the one that the team has established for itself. Unless one is in the military, a command and control leadership style is rarely useful to a team that already has its own way of meeting productivity. The greatest challenge for any new leader in that scenario is finding the most effective way to begin building a relationship with the team members. The team, more or less, trusts one another so the new leader is obliged to establish and build trust. The wisdom of silence, observation, questions and seeking input sends the message that the leader is equal in concern for the work and the team. There are those who advocate the first 100 days of learning before doing, however the rather fast pace of the workplace and the constant changes that occur at the global level dictate a plausible 30-day platform of learning before doing. Keep in mind that the established team views the leader as the one who is invading their domain. Just as any species identifies ways to survive, the established team is taking notes, making observations and sharing conversations about the style and substance of the new leader as a way of ensuring their survival. Leadership by way of Inheritance offers an opportunity to infuse into existing patterns and norms to enhance what’s in place and begin the subtle shift toward becoming something better.

By guest blogger, Lee Meadows, PhD

Dr. Meadows is a professor at Walsh College, teaching online and on-ground management and MBA courses. In addition, Dr. Meadows is a keynote speaker, training and development consultant, and motivational speaker for corpo­rate and community groups and professional associations.

In 2006, Dr. Meadows published “Take the Lull by the Horns: Closing the Leadership Gap”. He is also the author of numerous articles on leadership, management, diversity, career paths and projections and education.