Aug 21 • 9M

What is Leadership

Weekly Roundup Aug 21 2022

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Todd T. DeVoe
This podcast features strategies and advice from today’s leaders and experts in emergency management. Its purpose is to empower and enrich current and future leaders.
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Influential leaders take a personal interest in the long-term development of their team, and they use tact and other social skills to encourage team members to achieve their best. It isn't about being "nice" or "understanding"—it's about tapping into individual motivations to further an organization-wide goal. 

The Components of Success

It is not hard to state what successful leaders do that makes them effective in a few words. But it is much harder to tease out the components that determine their success. 

The usual method is to provide adequate recognition of each team member's function so that he can foresee the satisfaction of some significant interest or motive in carrying out the group enterprise. 

Crude forms of leadership rely solely on single sources of satisfaction such as monetary rewards or the alleviation of fears about various kinds of insecurity. The task is adhered to because following orders will lead to a paycheck, and deviation will lead to unemployment. No one can doubt that such forms of motivation are effective within limits. Mechanically, they do attach the worker's self-interest to the interest of the employer or the group. But no one can doubt the weaknesses of such simple techniques. Human beings are not machines with a single set of push buttons. People have a complex response to love, prestige, independence, achievement, and group membership and are unrecognized on the job. They perform at best as automata who bring far less than their maximum efficiency to the task and at worst as rebellious who consciously or unconsciously sabotage the activities they are supposed to be furthering.

Ironically, our primary image of "the leader" is so often that of a military commander because—most of the time, at least—military organizations are the purest example of an unimaginative application of simple reward and punishment as motivating devices. The invention in World War II of the term "snafu" (situation normal, all fouled up) epitomizes what literature about military life from Greece and Rome to the present day has amply recorded. The enlisted members do not always respect the leadership in the military, the command has no clue what is going on in the field, and only the member of the team they are with are fully trusted, and everything else is suspect. 

In defense of the military, two things are relevant: 

  1. The military undeniably has unique problems. Because people get killed and have to be replaced, there are important reasons for treating them uniformly and mechanically.

  2. Clarity about duties and responsibilities, as maximized by the autocratic chain of command, is not only essential to warfare but has undoubted importance for most group enterprises. Any departure from an essentially military type of leadership is still considered a form of anarchy in some circles.

We have all heard the cry, "somebody's got to be the boss," and I suppose no one would seriously disagree. But it is dangerous to confuse the chain of command or table of organization with a method of getting things done. It is comparable to the diagram of a football play, which shows a general plan and how each individual contributes to it.

The diagram is not leadership. By itself, it has no bearing on how well executed the play will be. Yet that very question of effective execution is the problem of leadership. Rewards and threats may help each player to carry out his assignment. Still, in the long run, if success continues and morale is to survive, each player must not only fully understand their part and its relation to the group effort but also want to carry it out. Every leader's problem is creating these wants and finding ways to channel existing urges into practical cooperation.

People Are Complex so are Relationships  

When the leader succeeds, it will be because he has learned two basic lessons: people are complex, and all people are different. 

Human beings respond not only to the traditional carrot and stick used by the driver of a donkey but also to ambition, patriotism, love of the good and the beautiful, boredom, self-doubt, and many more dimensions and patterns of thought and feeling that make them human. 

The strength and importance of these interests are not the same for everyone, nor is the degree to which they can be satisfied in their job. For example:

  • One person may have a deep religious need but find that fact irrelevant to daily work.

  • Others may find their primary satisfactions in solving philosophical problems and never be led to discover how They can apply their love for chess and mathematical puzzles to their work. 

  • Or still, another may need a friendly, admiring relationship that is lacking at home and be constantly frustrated by the failure of their superior to recognize and take advantage of that need.

 An ideal organization should have workers at every level reporting to someone whose dominion is small enough to let him know those who say to them as human beings.

Secrets of the Symphony

The director of an orchestra may perhaps serve as a valuable model for some of the essential relationships which run through all leadership situations:

  1. Obvious enough in this context, but not always remembered, is that the people must have the requisite skills and training for their roles. Not all group failures are the boss's fault. John Williams could not get great music from a high-school band.

  2.  Must be established. A psychological setting

  3. for the common task. A conductor must set up his ground rules, signals, and tastes so that the mechanics of getting a rehearsal started do not interfere with the musical purpose. Just as the conductor must agree about promptness at trials, talking between numbers, new versus old music, and a dozen other things that might otherwise come between him and his colleagues in their common aim. So every organization must have rules or customs which are clearly understood and quickly followed.

  4. Most importantly, the musicians must share satisfaction with their leader in producing music or music of a certain quality. Unless they individually achieve a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment, their leadership has failed, and they will not make great music. Some distinguished conductors have been petty tyrants; others play poker with their musicians and become their babies' godparents. These matters are essentially irrelevant. What the great conductor achieves is each instrumentalist's conviction that they are taking part in making a kind of music that could only make under such a leader. Personal qualities and mannerisms may have secondary importance; they may serve as reminders, reinstating and reinforcing the vital image of a conductor with the highest musical standards. 

Leadership Is Helping People Grow

Despite what we sometimes think, leadership consists of a lot more than just "understanding people," "being nice to people," or not "pushing other people around." Democracy is sometimes thought to imply no division of authority or that everyone can be their boss. Of course, that is nonsense. Leadership can be democratic in providing maximum opportunity for growth to each team member without creating anarchy.

The orderly arrangement of functions and the accurate perception of a leader's role in that arrangement must always precede the development of their abilities to the maximum. A leader's job is to recognize roles and functions within the group that will permit each member to satisfy and fulfill some primary motive or interest.

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