Leadership vs. Compliance

As I listened to the radio last week I heard a sort of verbal advertorial on leadership.  The speaker was talking about how in the business world all leaders want “employee compliance.”  This made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.  Compliance is not a word that I associate with leadership.

The essence of all leadership is influence.  From a leadership perspective influencing is the process of affecting others attitudes and behavior.  The pillars of influence in leadership are purpose, direction and motivation.  These pillars rest on a foundation of trust.  Without trust, influence is nearly impossible.  This makes leadership a permission-based event.

There are many ways for a leader to earn trust.  He or she may be a subject matter expert, or possess certain specialized skills or knowledge.  The surest form of trust that a leader can develop is relational trust.  In other words, the trust that is built over time through a mutually beneficial relationship is the most solid of leadership foundations.  All real leadership occurs within the context of this relationship.  Again, this is permission-based.

In the absence of that permission, individuals need to resort to threats and coercion in order to achieve their objectives.  The results of this approach are typically minimal compliance.  This is not leadership.

There are situations where a leader can, and perhaps should demand conformity.  I maintain that conformity is a reasonable objective in matters of legality, morality, ethics and safety.  In these instances, conformity to a standard is essential.

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