What is your definition of good leadership? There are as many definitions of leadership as there are religions; but one sagacious refinement of the art is Dave Geenens, the author of "Leaderslip." Dave opines leadership as being the art of optimizing co-operation.

As most of us begin our management career, we are exposed to two polarities in the practice of leadership. Dave calls one the "Sharp Pole," the pole of harshness in style, covered with metaphorical shards of glass, a style akin to the controversial turnaround CEO "Chainsaw Al," or the man known at GE as "Neutron Jack," because when Jack Welch left a building the people were gone, but the building was still standing. The other polarity he calls the "Warm Pole," a Ben & Jerry's style, with a softer berries-and-cream approach of coaching employees.

Our intuition tells us that neither is the perfect way. Yet our definition of leadership has developed based on these distortions.

Leadership: The Art of Optimizing Co-operation
If someone isn't performing, too often we oversimplify the decision. We ask ourselves, do we let them go or do we try to coach them? We don't ask the question of what will improve the overall co-operation throughout the team.

Most of us have a learned response for reacting to a situation. Let's look at two examples. First, a woman violates an attendance policy by taking off work for an entire week after already depleting her vacation and sick days. Those following the policy would fire her and claim that they must enforce the policies. Yet the facts are that she is a single mom that had to stay home to take care of sick kids who wouldn't be accepted into daycare due to illness.

In another incident, a fellow misses one mandatory weekend and he is caught hitting golf balls while missing this required work weekend, but he is a top salesperson and so, management says, it’s not worth letting him go. Moms hear this story and what do they think? Should they get into sales and take up golf or leave this dis-functional company?

How can you audit or tell if you are adequately walking between the Sharp or Warm Pole? When do you use discipline or not use discipline? A simple key is to ask, What will build co-operation and/or what will hinder it? The fact is that the human conscience is a magnificent thing that can guide and build both our heart and business.

Is your concern for legal prudence circumventing your goal of optimizing co-operation, are you too often keeping the letter of the law and violating the spirit of the law? Don't listen to the lawyers without listening to the conscience of your culture.

Too often, HR and lawyers are running our companies and not our hearts. You are a leader of people, families and fragile human spirits that are built or destroyed by your attentiveness to your heart as much as your mind.

On a macro level, these same competencies apply to your market. One California client of ours has mastered the art of "co-opetition." They are the masters in their niche of getting their competitors to work with both them, other competitors and customers to not just better serve but actually expand the market. This is the ultimate proof of not just organizational leadership but market leadership. The question is, what must you now do, to take your leadership to a higher level of co-operation, or a co-opetition level of success, in your team or market?

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