Levels of Leadership = Levels of Contribution

By Wikus van Vuuren, Director: Quality & Compliance at GIMT (Graduate Institute of Management and Technology)

Leadership today is driven by an important principle – it happens at all levels of the organisation, irrespective of its size. Any organisation that believes effective leadership revolves around the executive team, which in turn offers sufficient capacity for survival and competitiveness in the New Economy, is sadly mistaken.

By definition leadership is about contribution and is therefore not status or hierarchy dependant – it is however contribution dependant. So if we talk about levels of leadership it is more about the levels of contribution that individuals make to the organisation.

In the same vein leadership growth and development should be focused on growing various levels of leadership contribution.

All leadership development starts with Personal Leadership. This is based on the assumption that if you cannot lead yourself if you cannot lead others. At this level of leadership the focus is on personal mastery and the resultant ability to make a worthwhile and sustainable impact and influence operational effectiveness of team members.

The following levels of leadership contribution can then be identified:

· The first true level of leadership contribution is Team Leadership, where the individual will be involved in leading work teams, maintaining operational efficiency and pro-actively driving and promoting quality and productivity. This level of leadership is about the ability of the leader to achieve through others.

Many organisations have enough people to contribute to the abovementioned levels of leadership. Furthermore, in terms of leadership development the transition of an individual to this level of contribution is relatively achievable.

The major challenge appears when leaders have to make the transition between short-term and long-term focus. The first level of leadership contribution is primarily about achieving set and definable short term objectives such as daily performance targets within defined departmental boundaries.

The next challenge of leadership, and the resultant level of contribution, requires cross boundary and a longer term focus:

· Tactical Leadership requires leaders to focus more energy on driving continuous improvement – i.e. improving what is being done currently. Innovation becomes a key focus and a mindset shift is required to more of a long terms and strategic focus. Leaders operating at this level think beyond boundaries in integrate often competing business areas to focus on a common objective; and

· The third level of leadership is Transformational leadership that takes the above beyond the realm of the organisation and shift primary focus to building sustainable competitive advantage (leaving a legacy) and positioning the organisation based on an understanding of the bigger picture and external pressures and forces.

Making any of the above leadership contributions requires awareness. High impact leaders are aware of the contribution they can and cannot make – they have sufficient personal insight to understand strengths and weaknesses and how to harness these effectively.

But ultimately leadership is about conscious choice - making any level of leadership contribution requires the individual to consciously choose this path as opposed to that of mediocrity.


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