There has been an increasing amount of discussion in the last few years around leadership. This should not surprise anyone because as the "boomers" move into retirement the generational demographic (Xer's, Nexter's, Millennials) slated to move into those vacant leadership places face significant gaps related to lower numbers and less experience. This presents at once, both a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge certainly because there are fewer bodies to fill those positions and an opportunity in that we are required now, perhaps more than ever, to examine the entire issue of leadership. This presents us with an opportunity to re-frame our understanding of what good leadership looks like.
Current discussion around this includes a healthy exploration of Active and Passive Leadership. Terms such as Transactional Leadership vs Transformational Leadership are all topics along the same line as Passive vs Active leadership. Let's explore briefly the difference between these two approaches.
Passive leadership is the firefighter and it is characterized by a lot of MBE (Management By Exception). I call it passive because like a "lagging indicator" in analytics, it happens after the fact. The Passive leader can be found trolling for flaws in worker process or production and they spring into action offering up a swift reprimand when flaws are detected. It can be deceiving as often it looks "active" but the reality is that leadership that happens after the fact is most often passive. Employees get reprimanded for poor performance or the leader has to step in to put out fires due to poor performance and they "look" active and busy but is it really effective leadership?
Active leadership on the other hand can often look passive but is in reality quite the opposite. Active leadership seeks to involve staff in the challenges facing the group and gives them a role in solving those challenges. An active leader sets the goals, mentors their staff and sets them loose to tackle the issues and allows them to "own" the bottom line. It can often look passive because there is far less of the reprimanding or fighting of fires because it sets the bar "in front of the curve" not after it. Together with their team, active leaders anticipate issues before they become issues and get out in front of them before they become a problem - fire prevention not fire fighting. Lets look at an example.
An oil and gas company I was working with around performance leadership had a group of young leaders. All had been in those roles for less than two years and in some cases only a few months. Traditionally O&G leadership and particularly front line leadership tend to take a Passive leadership approach with a lot of MBE. "Tearing someone a new one" and putting out lots of fires are the hallmark of these leaders. In this scenario the most experienced of this young group had adopted this traditional O&G approach and was regarded as someone to look up to. The least experienced leader was keen to learn about performance leadership and what active leadership looked like. In spite of lack of experience this leader applied those principles and set goals for the team, invited them into the task of dealing with challenges, set them loose to find solutions and kept them accountable.
You guessed it, within a very short period of time that new leader had a team that was performing at unheard of levels. They were coming up with time and cost saving innovations, were preventing fires instead of fighting them and that was the crew that everyone wanted to be on. The firefighting stories of the first leader were legendary but the performance of the second leader placed him on a fast track with regard to promotions.
This is why I see this current generational transition as an opportunity. I have worked with excellent young leaders who want to do well, want their teams to do well and have the willingness to work at active leadership and make it happen. These are the leaders who are going to transform leadership as we move further into this century. Active or Passive, what kind of leader are you?