Leading at Work
The most obvious place where you might find yourself needing to lead is at work. If you have people who work for you, you need to get them to do their jobs. You might have to get other departments to buy into your plans or talk your boss (everyone has at least one) into accepting your recommendations. That means gaining active cooperation.
Spreading Leadership Around
Leadership can't be relegated to managers, either. Many aren't good leaders, and even the best managers can't oversee all the things that need to be done. If no one below the managerial level is willing to lead, nothing gets done. Small tasks in and of themselves may seem insignificant, but add them up over a long enough period of time, and inattention can turn to financial disaster for the entire company.
Counting on your official authority is dangerous in business. Although you technically can give orders to employees working for you, everyone knows that the same employees can become uncooperative enough to discredit your work and even cost you that position. When working with your peers and superiors, issuing orders isn't possible. To get along in business, you must learn how to lead.
Look at the U.S. steel industry. In the 1960s and 1970s, seemingly everyone at these corporations assumed that times would always be good and that they would never have to buckle down and work hard. The money was too good, and although the work was hard, things were going along as well as they always had.
Well, almost. During that same time, upstart companies — first in Japan, and then throughout the rest of the world — focused on leadership in technology, effort, and business models. The U.S. steel market began to weaken. Steel managers blamed labor, labor blamed the managers, and both blamed that damned foreign competition. A major domestic industry was crushed because it wouldn't take the direction it needed. More simply put, there was no leadership on any level.
Contrast that with the Japanese automobile industry. Decades ago, analysts and major industry players considered it a joke. The cars were poorly built and lacked style. So Japanese manufacturers like Toyota decided to make a change. Japanese managers brought over quality-control expert W. Edwards Deming, who taught them new ways to design and build.
Leadership hasn't made only Japanese firms. Korean conglomerate LG worked hard to crack the U.S. market in appliances and consumer electronics. Success required a concerted effort over fifteen years, with contributions from engineering, finance, marketing, and customer service. Now the company has one of the best-recognized brands in this country, all because leadership brought the company together.
Year after year, company leaders pushed to get better at what they did. They inspired workers, who picked up the cause as their own. Then an amazing thing happened: Everyone became a leader. Those who worked on assembly lines would suggest how to do things better where they were. Engineers pushed the boundaries of quality design. Managers listened while setting the overall direction. These days, Japanese companies continue to lead an entire industry in quality, features, and financial success.
There are some remarkable aspects of the ascendancy of the Japanese automobile industry. One is that it was clearly an effort that required leaders at every level. Another is how adaptable the concept of leadership is. Not only did it work in the Japanese home offices and factories, but it worked in every location to which it was exported. Compounding the irony is that some of the leading facilities were established in the United States.