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  • Kevin Hard

Do you have a Visible Leadership initiative? Great but… Invisible leadership is more powerful!

Many people are now talking about a VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) where leadership, at all levels, must be more agile, more informed and more connected. We know that good leaders are Emotionally Intelligent but leaders in this VUCA world also now need to understand concepts such as Fluid Intelligence – the ability to use yours and others mental capacity to think creatively and intuitively through difficult issues and disparate arguments, to visualise possibilities and solve complex problems.

A simple example from Nigel Girling states that traditional organisations might have recruited everyone to speak French only to discover we now need to speak German – What you might call concrete intelligence, certainly not Fluid Intelligence and certainly not agile!

To address this VUCA world the focus for leaders in any organisation should be on distributed decision-making which leads to knowledge-based decisions. This is all the more powerful, in terms of engagement, if based on information not instruction. Also, the impact of generation Y, who have grown up to have information to hand immediately and can distribute that information quickly, means leaders have to be giving out the right information (Strategic Narrative) as that information will be disseminated quickly.

Connected people act as ‘repeaters’ so leaders must be engaged with those ‘repeaters’, and they with your vision. If those repeaters aren’t engaged with your vision then the information, and therefore your vision, stops right there.

So what’s Visible leadership?

Toyota led the charge in visible leadership in safety and quality on this many years ago with:

- ‘Kanban’ – load balancing through visual management leading to the right resources for the right job at the right time

- ‘Kaizan’ - Shop floor continuous improvement processes which also allowed the leaders to engage with the front line

- ‘Gemba’ - translated in Japanese meaning ‘real place’ where value is created as leaders are out doing their visible leadership

This was a great approach and engaged with the front line which is essential for so many reasons. However the issue here is, if the engagement isn’t authentic and being done for the right reasons, then the impact is not sustainable. We know many organisations who say – “Our leaders go out three times a month into the work place”.

I would ask why. What are they trying to achieve? “To engage with and learn from the front line” is absolutely the right answer and ticks all the integrity boxes. If it’s just because you have a target for ‘visible leadership’ out in the workplace then it’s not authentic so you’re just ticking boxes and your people see that…. through your invisible leadership! And now of course we are talking business ethics.

High performing organisations are based on relationships. People aren’t stupid and just because you have leader, director, supervisor, foreman or manager in your title means absolutely nothing if your invisible leadership shows that you’re not interested in the safety or wellbeing of your people. Look at all the space in-between the ‘leaders’ below. That’s the real leadership that people see, not you and your title, and there’s a lot of invisible space for you to show your skills, or lack of, as a leader.

You are leading by example whether you want to or not by everything you do, or don’t do, by everything you say, or don’t say and the real leadership you exhibit is in fact your invisible leadership.

Hickman and Sorenson refer to invisible leadership in their book ‘The power of invisible leadership’ (Sage publications, 2014) which although has more of a focus on common purpose, complements our concepts here.



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