September 2014

. . . helping organizations find solutions to people-related problems

New HRA Exclusive Series on Leaders: Part III: INSIGHT


INSIGHT: "The ability to clearly perceive, understand, and communicate the inner nature of things." Above all else, leaders exhibit insight. In fact, insight may be the most critical element in generating followership--the only true test of leadership at its most fundamental level. Effective leaders cut to the heart of the matter, the real problem, the real inner nature of the thing, the event, the issue. Because of insight, leaders are able to induce trust among followers, who see their decisions and actions as consistent and predictable in an overall organizational context.

Because they can clearly see the elemental components, leaders have the capacity and opportunity to articulate effectively those elements to others. Yet we use the word insight lightly for the most part without much reflection or explanation as to what it is or means. "Insight" in the context of leadership is the leader's motivation sensor--it is the conduit or channel through which the leader perceives and transmits information that identifies behavioral cues and deciphers motivation. Experienced leaders might say that insight is running in the background; more mature leaders will understand their capacity to launch and intensify the "insight program" when there is an enhanced need for information to provide effective leadership.

Akin to basic concepts of emotional intelligence, insight is the ability to accurately view a variety of factors from the leader and followers' perspectives in various situational contexts and be able to discern what decisions and actions will be most effective in solving the problem or addressing the issues. Insight requires knowledge of the operational or strategic conditions the leader and followers face and the ability to incisively analyze alternatives that will benefit the best interests of the organization. Sometimes, these require courage and ingenuity that may initially or eventually seem contrary to the best interest of the leader and immediate followers.


In the good old days, college students desiring to become teachers had to take practicum. Practicum was a course where you were actually expected to teach under the supervision and guidance of an experienced master teacher. Practicum was scheduled late in your course of study after you purportedly had mastered your specific major, say English or math, and after you had the requisite teaching principle and methodology courses like child development and behavior, how to write on the then blackboard, etc. This idea of practicing teaching, medicine, or law has great merit because it recognizes that knowing is one thing and doing is another.

Unfortunately, except for the military, many if not most organizations today fail to recognize the value of the "practicum principle" as an essential element in developing future leaders. I recently saw a quotation that went something like this: Law firm CFO to CEO: "What if we spend this money developing them and they leave?" CEO to CFO: "What if we don't and they stay?" While the answer may seem obvious and simple, too many organizations simply encourage employees to apply their technical skills and hope that somehow leaders will emerge through the heuristic method of trial and error over time. Unfortunately too many organizations have no barometer to define and measure what leadership means in the context of the business enterprise itself. I recently saw another quotation that went like this: "Leaders don't develop followers; they develop leaders." Another salient perspective on what leadership is all about.

All in all, as we see daily online and on the evening news, leadership in the world at large may be at an all-time low. Twenty-first century organizations and especially businesses, large and small, must invest significant resources in identifying and developing future leaders and equipping them with the perspectives, insights, and tools to be able to actually exercise leadership rather than talk about it. Employees who work for inspiring leaders are more satisfied, committed, and productive. Organizations that genuinely encourage and support the development of authentic leaders are more often than not more profitable and more likely to be industry leaders themselves.

So Mr. CFO, what would you recommend in terms of the longer-term view?


Next to fear of speaking in public, fear of conflict is among the most uncomfortable and debilitating aspects of individual effectiveness at home and at work. In the workplace, we encounter fellow employees, supervisors, and others who express views we may disagree with, but we are often reluctant to express our own views for a variety of reasons. We may simply not want to appear disagreeable. We may feel that it's better to let sleeping dogs lie. We may feel our communications and reasoning skills at not up to snuff to take on a worthy opponent. We may feel we will be seen as not a team player or someone who is simply grandstanding. However we rationalize why we should not rock the boat, we often leave the meeting or conversation with feelings of resentment and dissatisfaction with our own performance and the performance of others, and those feelings play out in other ways as the day and week goes on.

Fear of conflict is often a function of inexperience in how to engage others with differing views in productive ways. Overcoming fear of conflict is easy to talk about and hard to do. An essential starting point is to get help in understanding your own behavioral tendencies. Each of us is different, and we sometimes don't see ourselves clearly, and we also may not have a clear view of how others see us. Once you know yourself and come to grips with who you are, it is far easier to know how to manage what you may perceive as potential conflict. Again this is easy to say and hard to do. With experience and coaching, you will find that dealing effectively with potential conflict will not only heighten your own self-confidence, but will greatly improve your own job satisfaction and enhance your value to yourself, your supervisor, and your whole organization.

Talk to us about ways to overcome fear of conflict while promoting career goals and building a sense of contribution and commitment. Not learning constructive approaches to resolve conflict manifests itself in short- and long-term organizational disabilities.

Warm regards

Dave Martin


HRA Services, Inc.

"Applying Systematic Thinking to the Human Dimension"