Thursday, December 24, 2009

Leadershift: Five Leadership Lessons

The analysis of leadership is a topic of interest for countries, organizations and individuals. Largely discussed whether a leader is born or made, contemporary authors have analyzed the topic under a practical perspective, offering advice, and lessons learned to develop key leadership skills.

The following blog extracts five key leadership lessons from “Leadershift” a video produced by Joel Baker.

If you are interested to use a learning video to increase leadership skills in your organization, you should explore this learning resource. Below is a summary of the video.

Leadership lesson 1: Focus on the future

Joel Baker introduces the importance for 21st century leaders to focus on the future: “leaders build bridges between today and the future”. Baker explains that the difference between a leader and a follower is the breadth of responsibility to focus on the future. While a leader spend most of their time on the future, followers focus on day to day activities. According to Baker, effective 21st century leaders dedicate a significant time creating new scenarios, helping people to see links and connections with a strategy, and building bridges that connect the present with the future. Baker considers that “a leader is someone that you chose to follow to a place you would not go by yourself”. This leadership lesson challenges us to avoid routine work, and to dedicate a significant amount of our time to build future states, anticipating the unexpected and creating new conditions. By practicing this lesson, we will develop a powerful habit, and the ability to create bridges that connect the present with the future. As Baker states it, the rule is simple: if you can not see, you can not lead.

Leadership lesson 2: Understand the nature of change

21st century leaders must be open to new paradigm shifts. The video presents two cases where new ideas, brought new changes and broke existing paradigms.
The first case shows as an example the invention of the Internet. In the 80’s the Internet did not have the success that it has nowadays. It took nearly a decade to massively utilized the Internet, due business leaders did not see its potential –including Bill Gates.
The second case was the creation of solar energy by Leslie Danzinger of Lightpath Technologies of Albuquerque, new Mexico. Leslie integrated a team, and built something that was considered impossible: create a lens that had the capacity to capture solar energy in a small cell.
These two examples help us to better understand the nature of paradigm shifts. In both cases, changes are brought by people with little or no credibility, and they come before they were actually needed or expected.
Another element to consider is the need to break comfort zones. Current success may affect the possibility to see new opportunities. Multiple changes occur every day, requiring us to be open to new ideas. These changes may seem crazy in the beginning, and may be challenging comfort zones, but they may also represent our future success.

Leadership lesson 3: Appreciate complex systems and how they work

The video help us to analyze the impact of our decisions on the system as a whole. The two examples presented in the video are a bridge that collapses and the millennium bug.
These examples showed that small actions have a major, and sometimes unexpected impact. For example, in the 70’s when computers started, programmers decided to use only two digits to represent the year. The decision was made to save precious processing memory, nevertheless, no one thought on the major impact of that small decision will have in the year 2000. Computers would read 2000 as 1900 representing a major risk for organizations worldwide. Fortunately, organizations prepared emergent strategies and properly managed the issue without major consequences, nevertheless, the economic impact, and attention dedicated was significant. This lessons reveals that leaders have to think systemically; make decisions and actions with a clear understanding of the system as a whole.
Other authors also reinforce the importance of systemic thinking, Peter Senge (1990) for example, considers systems thinking as one of the five disciplines of a learning organization. He urges to see the forest and the trees “systems thinking encompasses a large and fairly amorphous body of methods, tools, and principles, all oriented to looking at the interrelatedness of forces and seeing them as part of a common process”. (p. 89).
Leaders must develop critical skills to analyze complex systems, and make informed decisions. Additionally, leaders have to anticipate, prevent and mitigate non-desired effects or consequences.

Leadership lesson 4: Leaders have a profound impact on productivity based on his/her style of leadership
What is the impact of a charismatic leader on productivity? According to Joel Baker a charismatic leader can increase their people’s productivity by more than twenty times.
The video shows what charismatic leaders do to create positive and productive work environments. Successful leaders exercise the following six strategies: enthusiasm, positive control, excitement, setting high standards, expecting the very best from their people, and sharing the decision making process.
The analysis of own leadership style is required to increase awareness of oneself and to identify the impact oo our actions on others. Furthermore, as Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey recommend with their Situational Leadership theory developed in the late 1960’s, leaders have to analyze situations, and adopt the most convenient leadership style -directing, coaching, supporting, or delegating, depending on the level of maturity of their people.

Leadership lesson 5: Leaders create a shared vision of the future
The fifth leadership lesson presented by Joel Baker reinforces the importance of a shared vision. The video presents two cases where a powerful vision helped to achieve outstanding results. The first case is the story of Delancy Street in San Francisco in 1971, where people –ex cons, create a visionary future, applying business work ethics and human values to lead a rehabilitation program and make “winners” out of a “loser” society.
The second example, is applied to the world business environment. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Build to Last examine how visionary companies obtain six times higher returns than their nonvisionary competitors. Additionally, visionary companies obtain fifteen times higher returns than the overall companies from the stock market.
A shared vision is developed collectively, and nurtures the team to achieve outstanding results. The role of a leader is create the conditions to unleash the potential, and focus staff on a collectively desired future.
A good reflection for us is to analyze how much time do we dedicate to develop a shared vision for the future. The answer will define if we are leaders or managers.

Baker, Joel. Leadershift: Five Lessons for Leaders in the 21st Century.

Senge P. (1990). The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Currency Doubleday.

The Blanchard and Hershey Model. Retrieved on April 11, 2006 from:


  1. I have not seen the video. Thank you for sharing the synthesis. I wonder if the same five lessons or "recommendations" also apply to all managers? Moreover, I would argue they are reccomendations for any 21st century professional--regardles of the formal authority they have in the organization.
    So, is leadership something you ARE or, rather, something you DO, regardless of your "position" in the organizational hierarchy?

  2. Excellent stuff!!! Leadership program will teach you how to stop managing and begin leading; and, thus, make you a key part to your association's future. Thanks