Saturday, January 24, 2009

Leadership Training: Is Discretionary Effort the Primary Objective of All Leaders?

Author: Steve Nielsen

With the constant challenges and pressures faced by managers around the world today, it can be difficult to determine where to focus our time and energy. We must lead our teams, provide our customers with outstanding service, increase the strength of our brand, and in many cases accomplish all this and more with fewer resources. Okay, perhaps we should fly the white flag and give up now.

No, surrender isn't necessary; but increased understanding and application of the principles of leadership is. As members of management teams, we must ensure that we must are carrying out our responsibilities as managers (e.g., taking care of processes, machinery, things) and perhaps more importantly, as leaders who are responsible for the people on our teams. One of the ways we can accomplish these objectives is to tap into the discretionary effort that every member of every team possesses.

Discretionary effort is the level of performance above that which is required for the team member to maintain their employment. It is an employee's desire to go beyond the collecting of a salary. It is a willingness to be interested and involved in assisting the organization in the accomplishment of corporate goals. Essentially, it's what every one of us is able to do with regard to our jobs and in support of our organizations/corporations that we don't have to contribute to keep our jobs.

If we all agree that discretionary effort exists in every member of every team and that it would benefit us, how do we, as leaders, tap into the discretionary effort that all members of our teams possess? One way is to understand and practice transformational and transactional leadership styles.

Transformational leadership has been extensively researched and written about by Bernard M. Bass (distinguished professor emeritus of management and director of the Center of Leadership Studies at Binghamton University). Leaders who are effective in this area create an environment where team members can contribute new ideas. These leaders strive to treat each team member as partners. By so doing, they increase their team members' understanding of issues faced by their organizations, they help employees rise above self-interests to be more interested in the good of the whole team and/or organization; and inspire them to work even harder than they may have expected.

The other leadership style that dovetails very effectively with transformational leadership in the pursuit of discretionary effort is transactional leadership dimensions. Leaders who are effective in this area influence members of their teams to behave and perform in desired ways through the productive use of rewards or some other benefit desired by the team member. These behaviors include courage, integrity, humility, etc. When transformational leadership is used together with transactional leadership, we can be even more effective as leaders and managers.

How can we be more effective leaders by tapping into the discretionary effort of our team members? By understanding and being more effective in our daily application of our transformational and transactional leadership behaviors and skills. To do this we must engage in a lifelong journey of leadership training , learning, and growth. Read articles on these subjects, seek out those in our networks who have exhibited strong abilities in tapping into discretionary effort and utilizing transformational and transactional leadership, and participating in personal development opportunities.

CMOE (Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness) has several courses that we have created or can customize for your leadership training needs. Several of the courses focus on the qualities and behaviors of leaders such as courage, integrity, humility, conviction and accountability. We also deal with the skills of collaboration, alignment, communication and enabling. Gaining a deeper understanding of these leadership training elements and how they can be applied in every day situations will increase our abilities to help each member of our teams realize the benefits of sharing their discretionary effort. Other leadership courses share the behaviors and skills that can help us become effective coaches, which personal experience has proven is a key method in helping employees increase their understanding of where they fit and why that fit matters.

Our opportunity to travel far on our leadership journey can be increased through effective understanding of and tapping into the discretionary effort possessed by every employee at every level of every organization. Best wishes on your journey!

About the author: Steve Nielsen is a former director of the FedEx Leadership Institute and has over 28 years of experience in the area of Operations, Organizational Development, and Leadership Training.

For more information about CMOE contact a Regional Manager at (888)262-2499.

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