Abandon the Dead Horse: It’s Time for a New Approach to Leadership

Abandon-the-Dead-Horse-Hampton-HopkinsThe Dakota Indians had a common wisdom that said when one is riding a dead horse the best strategy is to dismount. Too often, leaders tend to over-think this dilemma by implementing myriad strategies that ignore the horse. Our challenge is to think beyond the cliché leadership skills that have been incessantly discussed and instead seek a new and innovative approach to developing organizational leaders and strategies. It is time to depart with the old and bring in the new. In the words of the great philosopher Bob Dylan, “the times they are a-changin’.”

Leadership, even in its simplest form, remains an important set of skills. But it is time for a new conversation about how we think about the topic of leadership. No longer is it sufficient to simply regurgitate the same old language that we have always used. Instead, we need to consider different words that are somehow fresh, more contemporary. What follows is the start of this new dialogue.

Action. Performance in any organization demands action. Action is critical to effective leadership; conversely, inaction can doom even the best leaders. Inherent in the makeup of leaders is the need to accomplish. Ronald Reagan, when speaking on leadership, remarked “recognize that a willingness to take decisive action is a hallmark of an effective leader. People want to know where you stand so they will know where they stand.”

Action in the new leadership mantra suggests effective performance where leaders have sufficient energy and means to get things done.

Challenge. As leaders, our abilities are often tested by others within the organization. Not a direct, in-your-face challenge, but a more subtle approach whereby we are faced with utilizing dormant skills or addressing new and creative problems. “The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.” Faced with many obstacles in his life, Martin Luther King, Jr. understood a challenge. Yet, as an example for leaders through the generations, he used challenge as a means of stimulating change and engaging others in an embodiment of this change.

Guts. Leaders often provide others reassurance in tough times; a sort of shelter in the storm. This instills confidence in those who look to the leader for guidance. But this requires a level of fortitude and self-confidence that is not easy to muster. Ralph Waldo Emerson has been attributed as saying “whatever you do, you need courage. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right.” Time and again leadership requires an integrity that allows for courage to take hold despite a maelstrom of opposition and pressure.

Imagination. Aristotle Onassis, shipping magnate and once among the world’s richest men, famously had a plaque on the wall of his office that read “find a way, or make one.” Like many successful leaders, Onassis didn’t make excuses or tolerate them. He sought creative ways to achieve success. Leadership is about an unyielding curiosity and the pursuit of new and original ideas. By thinking holistically across organizational silos, leaders harness imagination and creativity to accomplish the vision.

Leadership is about an unyielding curiosity and the pursuit of new and original ideas. “~ Hampton Hopkins Tweet this

Partner. It is important to serve as a partner with customers, peers, stakeholders, employees or anyone who has an interest in the organization. By partnering with others, leaders collaborate to define the future of the organization. Direction and strategy are established in the best interest of all partners and more importantly, each partner shares in the risk. When considering all who have an interest in the organization, communication is enhanced, disputes are limited, and progress is achieved. Winston Churchill got it right when he stated “if we are together nothing is impossible. If we are divided all will fail.”

I have offered five fresh ways to think about leadership development and have more that I will be sharing over the next few weeks. This new look at old leadership is by no means abandoning our understanding of tried and true leadership in favor of something more radical. Instead, it is suggested that leadership be viewed more in terms of the competencies required in this new world order.

I would love to hear how you are thinking about leadership differently.

About Hampton Hopkins

Hampton Hopkins is an educator, consultant, facilitator, speaker and leader. He has extensive leadership experience in numerous organizations. His experience in higher education and the corporate world have provided him with a strong background in leadership and organizational development.

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Comments

  1. Partner – this is so spot on! It is so important to “partner” with customers, peers, stakeholders, employees and the communities in which we operate.
    Organisations with a strong sense of their UQ Power understand their community’s perceptions and are engaged in open, two-way dialogue. They enjoy greater success, less delays, and fewer issues caused by activism.

  2. A dead horse will never get you to where you want to go, unless you are already there! Great analogy, thank you for sharing.

  3. Hello, Hampton. I really like your new approach in identifying key leadership behaviors. Wouldn’t we all willingly follow someone who exhibits these skills? I know that I would. The action behavior (I also see that as initiative) is incredibly important – as well as the partnering and collaboration. All five of these skills are observable – and therefore may be modeled by those learning to lead. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on the subject.

    Thank you for providing this fresh approach.

    All the best,

    Susan

    • Susan –

      Thanks for the comments and for really understanding the point… this is about how we model leadership in this new era. I’ll be sharing more thoughts over the next several months.

      Hampton

  4. Hello

    This article is timely and relevant because it appears to me that we are living in unprecedented times that throw up new challenges for senior leaders.

    These challenges include the depth and longevity of the recession; the speed of change in the global economy; the speed at which stakeholders can be informed about key decisions that effect them and the tendency of a febrile media that can expose those in charge to a judgement that must appear capricious.

    It must be hard for leaders these days to take the courageous decisions that are needed to combat falling profits, reduced market share or (for public sector organisations) drastically reduced grant support from federal or central government.

    So you take a courageous decision to close branches, offices or to reduce the services provided to residents (Detriot citizens must be wondering if their streets will be cleaned or the local police services will still be there by year end). Immediately, stakeholders can mobilise opinions and form pressure groups…often with the media giving excellent and/or sensational coverage.

    So for me, the most relevant component in your article is Guts….the courage to take decisions that will be result in direct, well informed and immediate opposition. But I’m stating the obvious if I say that leaders need to be brave and thick-skinned.

    The natural development of needing courage to be a successful leader right now is to build approaches/tools that minimise the risk of disruptive opposition from stakeholders. Put another way, how can leaders bring employees, customers or suppliers onboard sufficiently to make the changes necessary in today’s economy?

    Answer has to be in consultation and direct involvement in planning strategy. Have to make a tough decision as a leader? Then make social media work for you by soliciting opinion from stakeholders before you make it. Let people know the situation, the options and ask for a view. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…even texting can all be used.

    Don’t want to put up a post that goes on too long but did want to join in a debate that is long overdue….

    Martin Garrity

  5. Diane Sperko says:

    Hi Hampton,

    This is a great and very timely article. Today’s leaders face a myriad of challenges and the successful, effective ones know how to build and maintain a strong team. When the team knows where their leader stands in challenging times, they can draw on that reassurance and energy. It is difficult to follow a leader who can’t clearly communicate his or her goals, and therefore lacks the skills needed for establishing strong teams and partnerships. It matters how it’s done, and everyone needs to feel as if they are a part of that team.

    Thank you for providing fresh, new ways to look at leadership. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts and perspectives.

    All the best,
    Diane

    • Hi Diane –

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that we need to continue to frame leadership in a new, fresh language. I’ll be sharing more thoughts over the next several months..

      Hampton

  6. HI Hampton,
    What you describe as leadership, I call “the pulse” – action, challenge, guts, imagination, and partnering — leaders pulse into action. I could feel the pulse as I read your great post.

    Like the heart pumping blood through our veins, it prevents stagnation. The pulse attracts top talent who want to move forward. The pulse is constant change — moving with everyone to the next point.

    The pulse rocks everyone out of the comfort of habit to get there. Here’s a post that expands on that:

    Leaders, Don’t Let the Beloved Bully of Habit Stop You

    I especially like “partner” included in your list. For it reminds all action oriented people (leaders and team members) that they must feel each others’ pulse to move together to success.

    Thank you for this energizing read.
    Kate

  7. Hi Hampton ~ I like your overall thrust about looking at leadership in fresh ways and opening up a new dialogue … and I support that view entirely. I’d also offer a couple of other thoughts that I think you’ve touched on in your choice of words but I’d make more explicit. Leaders cannot be risk averse. They have to move beyond challenges, often into territory that is unfamiliar, and deal with the consequences. Demonstrating courage is part of this, as is openness, integrity and emotional intelligence. Leaders also need to listen actively. They have to seek feedback, assimilate it … and then act upon it.

    Kind regards

    John

    • Hi John –

      I couldn’t agree more… in fact, I plan other blogs addressing additional ways to look at leadership from a fresh perspective. I appreciate your thoughts.

      Hampton

  8. Nice article Hampton. We need to regularly refresh our understanding in a world that looks totally different than even 10 years ago and is changing at the speed of light. I like all your suggestions and would offer one more – learning. The people, teams and organisations who learn best and quickest how to make sense of the changing environment are those who will win out in the end.

    Warm wishes

    David

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  1. [...] Leadership has become an often-repeated set of skills and characteristics that lack much in the way of originality and freshness. Instead of the same old thing, explore a new look at old leadership.  [...]

  2. [...] Leadership has become an often-repeated set of skills and characteristics that lack much in the way of originality and freshness. Instead of the same old thing, explore a new look at old leadership.  [...]

  3. [...] Leadership has become an often-repeated set of skills and characteristics that lack much in the way of originality and freshness. Instead of the same old thing, explore a new look at old leadership.  [...]

  4. [...] Leadership has become an often-repeated set of skills and characteristics that lack much in the way of originality and freshness. Instead of the same old thing, explore a new look at old leadership.  [...]

  5. [...] Leadership has become an often-repeated set of skills and characteristics that lack much in the way of originality and freshness. Instead of the same old thing, explore a new look at old leadership.  [...]

  6. [...] Leadership has become an often-repeated set of skills and characteristics that lack much in the way of originality and freshness. Instead of the same old thing, explore a new look at old leadership.  [...]

  7. [...] Leadership has become an often-repeated set of skills and characteristics that lack much in the way of originality and freshness. Instead of the same old thing, explore a new look at old leadership.  [...]

  8. [...] Leadership has become an often-repeated set of skills and characteristics that lack much in the way of originality and freshness. Instead of the same old thing, explore a new look at old leadership.  [...]

  9. [...] Leadership has become an often-repeated set of skills and characteristics that lack much in the way of originality and freshness. Instead of the same old thing, explore a new look at old leadership.  [...]

  10. [...] The Dakota Indians had a common wisdom that said when one is riding a dead horse the best strategy is to dismount. Too often, leaders tend to over-think this dilemma by implementing myriad strategies that ignore the horse.  [...]

  11. [...] Leadership has become an often-repeated set of skills and characteristics that lack much in the way of originality and freshness. Instead of the same old thing, explore a new look at old leadership. (Some fresh ways to address leadership development.  [...]

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