Organizations develop vacuums as they evolve over time. However, organizations like nature “abhor a vacuum” and something normally fills the empty space. The idea of nature “abhorring a vacuum” or horror vacui arises from Greek philosopher Parmenides in On Nature. Today, the media uses the expression on a regular basis to account for the lack of strong leadership or approval of a leader’s actions during a crisis. A recent example would be the multiple news sources that cited a “lack of leadership” as a primary cause of current economic downturn. Within organizations, typically we use this idiom to describe a lack of leadership-related outcomes: communication, planning, vision, or change management.
In order to prevent a vacuum from developing a leader has to add value in three different ways (see Figure 1). As an individual employee, we add value by exceeding expectations, meeting our organization’s goals, improving on work processes, gaining new skills, and supporting others. As leaders, we are expected to add value as individuals as well as leverage the capabilities of others. In other words, we help employees reach their full potential while concurrently meeting the organization’s goals. The final piece of the value adding equation is the component that relates to adding value to the shareholders or citizens as well as the employees. This basic contribution increases organizational value and employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity through communication, visioning, and planning. This is a monumental task when you consider that it takes years for most of us to:
- understand the factors that enable us as individuals to add the most value while finding balance with those things that reduce our value;
- learn to analyze what motivates others and how it differs across individuals and changes over time; and
- develop the skills to motivate and coordinate others in the most rewarding and productive manner.
So, how as leaders do we find this critical balance? There are three major actions we can take to increase the value we add as leaders:
- Become value experts
- Recognize that variation in factors
- Continually work to improve factors
Become Value Experts
Leaders more than anyone else have to become value experts and understand how value can be calculated and increased. Although peer employees can play a minor role in improving the contributions of others, it is primarily the purview of leaders to increase value. Each of us need to develop the skills to take an inventory of characteristics of those that work for us, determine the best method of building on those characteristics, and encourage and monitor progress.
Recognize Variation in Factors
As most new leaders discover, the competencies that helped you succeed individually are not the same ones that enhance the value you add as a leader. SHRM does a nice job summarizing the major leadership competency categories: leading the organization, leading self, and leading others (http://www.shrm.org/Research/Articles/Articles/Pages/LeadershipCompetencies.aspx). Although about half of the competencies on the list would be needed to advance in most organizations, the degree of attainment could be less than what a leader would typically need on a regular basis.
Continually Work to Improve Factors
Understanding how people work and think significantly improves the value we add as leaders. It is on this foundation that we are able to begin to develop strategies for engaging employees in the most productive manner possible. Gaining these skills and putting them into practice takes effort and experience. Even if the basic characteristic is present, practice will improve results.
As leaders, we are charged with taking the resources we are allocated and maximizing their value. A simple analogy that conveys the expectation of all leaders is that some squander what they have, some struggle to keep what they started with, and some produce returns on the investment of resources. If we are to add value as leaders, we want to produce high returns.