Last week I participated in some national meetings with the team in which I serve. While discussing a particular topic, I mentioned the word “mush” tied to leadership. This caught one of the other team members off guard and quickly stated that I must blog about leadership mush. It became a common refrain for the rest of our three-day meetings. So this is for you Bob!
Mush can be defined as “a thick porridge made with cornmeal boiled in water or milk.” That is not what I am talking about . . . although I am sure there is a leadership analogy somewhere in that definition.
The secondary definition for “mush” is “something soft and spongy or shapeless.”
I am sure that definition has leadership implications.
One of the defining characteristics of leadership is the ability to make things clear. Let’s take the three elements of the dictionary definition to learn how to avoid leadership mush.
Soft. In leadership terms, this relates to direction and decision making. If the direction is “soft” it is difficult for those who follow to be certain they are on the right path. No one wants to have to guess about where they should give their best efforts. Followers want great clarity in both long and short term direction. Be relentless about pointing them towards “true north” on a regular basis and you will avoid the consequences of “soft.” It is also critical that your day-to-day leadership decisions support that directional clarity. Some leaders will wax eloquent about the overall vision, but the in time decision making does not reflect or support the stated vision.
If you want to avoid leadership mush be sure that your daily decisions don’t derail your overall direction and leave those you lead with “soft.”
Spongy. Regarding leadership traits, I believe this relates to key goals and objectives. You know how it goes when you punch a sponge, right? It simply bounces back . . . no imprint made. Those you lead want to know that they can make a difference in and through the organization. They want to make a clear contribution to the purpose of the organization. But if goals and objectives are left unstated, unclear, or lack accountability . . . it will be nearly impossible to know when true progress is made. And the motivation of those you lead . . . those you have entrusted with the execution of the overall plan . . . will wane.
If you want to avoid leadership mush be sure that you have stated, clear, and accountable goals and objectives in place. Don’t settle for “spongy.”
Shapeless. Shape is something you portray. Shape depicts form and function. If you lead a team of people are you leading according to their “shape?” You have to know your team well enough to lead according to their shape. You must be aware of their strengths, emotional intelligence, and ability to collaborate. To assume that any team will do is to be “shapeless.” You must shape the team and lead according to their shape. This will help you achieve maximum impact.
If you want to avoid leadership mush be sure you have the “right people on the bus” and lead according to their “shape.” Shapeless looks like everybody else.
By the way, one of the added descriptors for “mush” according to Merriam-Webster is “mawkish.” That is a new word for me . . . but you have to love the sound of it. It just seems to cry out “mush.” It certainly describes what “mush” can become . . . something “having an insipid often unpleasant taste.” Don’t let that become the leadership experience of those around you.