There are times when spontaneous leadership seems attractive and there are also occasions when it seems dangerous. Conversely, there are also times when planned leadership appears too hum-drum and occasions when it is very necessary.
Personally I admire leaders who are so in touch with their environment, context, variables and information that they can make decisions or communicate in the moment. They don’t have to fall back on pre-prepared scripts or methods. Neither do they have to spin out the same answers they had last time or deliver entirely predictable responses that wouldn’t light anyone up even if they were doused in gasoline! Their judgment is present, sharp, intuitive and insightful. They seem to sense the moment and their agility allows them to turn on a dime as the situation requires. They seem to be able to make a call when others hesitate. They have an answer when others waffle. And they bring creative, poignant responses to whatever confronts them.
I also admire leaders who spend time planning. This is of course essential in most instances when significant decisions lie ahead and detailed analysis and thought are required. It is also an excellent idea when key communications need to be made with content and accuracy being essential.
What I find so unexciting and difficult to respect are leaders who rehearse and plan so much in advance of an event that they cannot respond to changes without being thrown off. Let me give you an example. Just recently I heard a very challenging and emotionally intense message given by a speaker. The facilitator of the event followed this up with what was so obviously a pre-rehearsed pitch. The moment was screaming out for the facilitator to create a link to what the speaker had just said. But because they were unable to put their preparation to one side, they continued to kill the moment with their pre-prepared closing thoughts. If ever there was a moment to capture the power and potency of the present …. Aagghh!!
You cannot lead others when you have just learned the ABC of leadership from a book. Neither can a leader be effective if you only rely on previous lessons and interpretations to respond to events that confront you. Yes, by all means rely on experience to inform decisions and responses. But experience is different to learned responses. I think that’s why so many great leaders have a few grey hairs on their head, even if they are dyed.
Developing leaders is always most effective when exposing them to real-life situations. Or at least when they have to learn through applying their judgment, decision-making and communication within an environment that closely resembles their actual workplace. Leadership projects, presentations, and interviews are all effective ways of developing leaders. Role plays, case studies and scenario-based exercises are helpful, but always second tier in my opinion.
The themes of authentic leadership, character-based leadership or value-based leadership all seem to draw from a model of leadership being molded and honed from a person in touch with reality and themselves. I side with these approaches and encourage all leaders to pause before they respond – there might just be a better response than the one you had planned or used before!