Block and Tackle Leadership

By: Terri Szymanski

Good leaders are the secret sauce to a healthy, well-functioning organization. What makes a good leader though? Authors Jon Robison and Rosie Ward remind us leadership is a behaviour, not a title. They say how leaders think is how they’ll lead. There are leaders, and there are authorities.

Is it a case of—I am your leader, I work for you? Or is it I am in charge, so I am your leader?

It’s the former, according to Dr. Michael West, Professor of Organizational Psychology at Lancaster Management School. West says, “a supportive workplace is characterized by leaders that block and tackle so you can do your job.” He argues that leaders need to adopt four behaviours—attending, understanding, empathizing and supporting.

I know we are all picturing the boss in football garb ready to jump into action, but unfortunately, too many organizations do not have such leadership.

Speaker and author Simon Sinek relates a story about going to a Microsoft summit where 70% of the executives talked only about how to beat Apple. Then he went to an Apple summit and 100% of the executives talked about how to help teachers teach and students learn. Not one mention of slaying the competition. Sinek says leaders can be successful the exact same way. Wake up every day and work on making yourself better and you will be a better leader. Lots of other people have said this too. When author and Harvard Professor Bill George was interviewed by Deborah Connors for her book, “A Better Place to Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture,” he said it this way, “We all have the capacity to inspire and empower others but we must first be willing to devote ourselves to our personal growth and development as leaders.” And basketball player Michael Jordan says “Earn your leadership every day.”

So how does one make sense of and build a supportive management style? I went searching for ways to characterize good leadership when I, along with others, were developing a “Lead the Way to Safety” course for supervisors in a large organization in Ontario.

We are bombarded with leadership terminology and styles. There’s terms like transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire depending if your focus is broad, narrow or avoiding. Then, personality-type styles have been labelled A (fact-based), B (creativity-based), C (Control, power-based), and D (feelings-based). There’s still more. Ever heard the terms participative, autocratic, referent, and expert leadership? Then we go to the Indeed Career Guide and find coaching, visionary, servant, autocratic, lasses-faire, democratic, pace setter, and bureaucratic.

Let’s not forget some leadership theories. Path-goal theory where the leader’s job is to define and shepherd, help, and support workers to reach the goals, removing obstacles along the way. Or situational theory, where leaders switch up their styles and approaches to meet the situation at hand, sometimes being directive, sometimes delegating, sometimes coaching, and sometimes supportive.

No, I wouldn’t wish for anyone to try to research leadership to try to find find one agreed-upon set of what exactly good leadership is. Not if you have other things to get to in your day job anyway. I’ll settle on the block and tackle. Thanks Dr. West.

Block and Tackle Leadership