What It Takes to Lead Now (HBR)

A majority of managers just don’t understand what it means to be a leader.

That’s a conclusion that I draw from a recent global survey by McKinsey and Company about what it takes to manage corporate performance. Only 48% of managers surveyed believed that they need to inspire and only 46% believed it was their responsibility to provide direction during this crisis. The numbers for inspiration and direction actually drop to 45% and 39% respectively when considered as behaviors for how to manage post-crisis.

More troubling, only 30% of managers felt that they needed to motivate their employees during the crisis and just 23% did post-crisis. The need for accountability ranked low too, just 23% for crisis and only 18% post-crisis. Innovation also ranked low, just 33% believed it was necessary now, but some 46% did believe it was necessary post-crisis.

If a majority of managers do not feel that inspiration and direction are necessary for managing corporate performance, and that motivation and accountability are not essential, then our companies are in far worse shape than imagined.

The study does not measure what I believe most managers think their jobs are: getting things done. But execution without adequate leadership is short-sighted. It will carry a company through a quarter or a year, but it will not provide a foundation for what organizations really need to do, and that is to grow. Leadership requires foresight as well as the ability to execute. Foresight points you in the right direction so that your execution can serve customer needs now and lay the foundation for continued service.

Therefore, it is necessary to reframe what inspiration and direction means.

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First posted on HBR.org 11/13/2009