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THE CHALLENGE OF LEADERSHIP

Ambassador Charles A. Ray


In his autobiography, My American Journey, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell defined leadership as the "art of doing what the science of management says is impossible.


If managing people is like herding cats, then leading them is like herding butterflies. At least with cats, if you have enough catnip, milk, or other delicacies that they like, they will follow you. You might not get them to do much else, but they will follow as long as the lure is there. With butterflies, on the other hand, even the most colorful and fragrant flower does not guarantee they will circle in your orbit.


The work force of today is more like butterflies than cats. Cats are feral, allowing themselves to be tamed only to a degree sufficient to get them fed. Butterflies are flighty, ephemeral and variegated creations that flit from flower to flower, often flying into windshields or other immovable objects, smashing themselves in the process. Leaders in today’s workplace have to contend with the fact that employees come from different generations, and respond to different motivators. In one workplace, you can possibly have members of the Virtual Generation, the Millennial Generation, Generation X, the Disco Generation, Baby Boomers, and even a few holdovers like me from the tail end of the Silent Generation. Any attempts to motivate such a multi-generational work force using a one size fits all method will lead to failure and frustration.


As a leader, you must know your employees, like a dairy farmer knows every cow in his barn. This will require you to come out from behind your big desk, open your door, and walk around. Talk to your people, but more importantly, listen to them. Get to know what is important to them; what they hope to get out of work.


Some will complain that this takes them away from getting work done. I would counter that this is the leader’s work. Those who fail to grasp this basic fact will basically ----- FAIL. Maybe not in the short run because a smart, hard working individual can get a lot done on his or her own. In the long run, however, the person who does not invest in work force development and empowerment is destined to end up in the "flat on the face in the middle of the road with a big truck coming" position.


You can contact me at this site or at rayca7@yahoo.com. For more of my writing on leadership and other topics, see my blog at http://www.redroom.com/author/charles-a-ray.


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