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The Challenge of Leadership in Rural Business

jamesprofessionalpicture  Dr. James Cummings


iStock_000010450125Small_NL_40314I speak to business leaders every day, and I hear a cluster of specific topics that are of concern for them.  One of these relates to the idea “I have to tell people what to do everyday, or they don’t do anything!”  Another relates to understanding the differences between leadership and management.  Not surprisingly, these two challenges are closely intertwined.

Although the field of leadership is steadily gaining ground in both academic and professional literature, there is little agreement regarding what leadership actually is.  I’ve been interested in the subject since before it became the topic de jour, and I have concluded that leadership is not one concept, but instead a rich, dynamic experience that has several facets to it.  In order to understand leadership, it is important to break it down into these smaller parts.  One of these smaller parts is understanding the difference between leadership and management; another is understanding the complex psychology behind motivation.

It is interesting to see the evolution in business psychology by remembering that management as a subject received a lot of attention in the 70’s and 80s, and many books were written on the subject.  The focus of that movement was on teaching those in positions of authority how to manage people – that is, how to be “in charge” of others.  Motivation was assumed to be something that could be inflicted on staff.

Stated differently, the prevailing thought in management was that people needed to be directed or told what to do in order to contribute to the business.  Compared to the current thinking on leadership, we can see that this was clearly only a starting point in our understanding of what works and what does NOT work.  The paradigm today is that leadership is something done with people, not to people.  It’s a subtle difference, and one that many business leaders struggle to apply.

Leadership is something that is done with others with the interest of the individual, the organization, and the industry itself in mind – in that order.  Leadership is inspirational; it strives to grow people and to create synergy and integration between people and systems in ways that foster an atmosphere of growth.  This intangible atmosphere is the key and most necessary ingredient for growing your business.

Leadership values challenging the status quo in the interest of evolution. When people are treated well and given opportunities to find and develop the things they are passionate about in their work (marketing, staff development, etc.) instead of being forced into roles they are not passionate about, the person and the organization grow, moving from simply producing widgets to being an industry leader.

This approach subsumes the inherent motivation that team members bring with them to the table.  Leaders understand two facets of this complex topic:  (1) people are the most valuable resource in any business, and (2) intrinsically motivated people in the right positions are keys to success.

Thinking about leadership on a continuum, here are a few keys questions you can ask yourself to move from a management model towards more of a leadership model.  Ask yourself:

  • “How much input has my team had on this topic?”
  • “How much flexibility is there in this decision?”
  • “Is there congruence between the people and their positions?”  In other words, are the members of the team doing jobs that they are good at, that they enjoy, and that they are motivated to perform?”

At Tap the Potential, it is my intention to use the social sciences to help solve business challenges.  When business owners are talking and thinking about topics like leadership, staff development, and business evolution, work becomes less stressful and more rewarding for everyone.

Post by Dr. James Cummings:

Dr. James Cummings is a Private Platinum Facilitator at Tap the Potential LLC, America’s Leading Rural Business Growers.

James specializes in applying the best practices from the social sciences to solving complex rural business challenges. James holds a Bachelors in Social Work from the University of Wyoming and earned his Doctorate of Psychology in Organizational Leadership & Development from the University of the Rockies

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