Monday, February 23, 2009

Leadership - What is it?

A great deal of work has been done by many authors and researchers in trying to identify and define "leadership". The vast body of research has focused on leadership traits, habits, competencies, behaviors, styles, values, skills and characteristics. Dave Ulrich (Ulrich, D et al, Results Based Leadership, Harvard Business Press, Boston, 1999) categorized much of the research into:

· Who leaders are - values, motives, personal traits
· What leaders know - knowledge, skills and abilities
· What leaders do - behaviors, habits, styles and competencies?

However, when one looks at the vast body of research into leadership, it is mostly concerned with the inputs of leadership and leaders, not the outputs - i.e. What leaders achieve.
A further point that has led to a great deal of confusion around the issue of "leadership" is the definition of leadership itself. Many authors use "leadership" and "management" interchangeably and a great deal of the research into leadership has been with people who are in formal organizational positions (e.g. supervisors, managers, senior executives) - the inference being that leadership is an integral part of the formal management role (Parry, K.W., Leadership Research: Themes, Implications, and a new Leadership Challenge, Leadership Research and Practice, Warriewood 1996).

Let me give my perspective as I understand the differences between the two often interchanged or linked terms

Leadership occurs at all levels of the organisation. The essence of leadership is concerned with creating the conditions that encourage others to follow. Specifically:
· A shared understanding of the environment
· A shared vision of where we are going
· A shared set of organizational values
· A shared feeling of power

While the leadership function is "big picture" the management function has a narrower focus. Leavitt described leadership, as "path finding" while management was path minding". Management is situational and involves:
· Getting things done (task focus)
· Through people (relationship focus)
Best practice in Leadership involves many things, all finely tuned to both the organisation and the environment in which the organisation operates.

Leadership is contextual and is concerned with outputs
The Leadership focuses purely on the four outputs achieved in any particular organizational context by the leader as discussed earlier

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Values Provide Strong Foundations for Training

The values an organisation holds and shares with its people can be instilled and reinforced through its management educations and development efforts.

I once worked for an organisation that seemed to embody the epitome of the ideal. If fact, everything the management gurus suggest should be evident in the "excellent" organisation, was there. Employees who were dedicated, management who cared about the staff (and who knew the business!), and customers who were loyal. The organisation even had a marketing department that involved the staff in the latest advertising and promotional schemes before going public!.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed working there (and like all the others, would have shed blood, too), I thought the halcyon environment was merely a fluke and it was my good fortune to strike it lucky. With hindsight, I can now see the logic of why this organisation worked so well: it was the solid foundations on which this idyllic structure was built.

Those foundations were the corporate values. However, they were not mentioned overtly. Nor were they written up on any brass plaques. But evident they were. How did this organisation succeed in having "everyone singing from the same hymn book"? The answer lies in the nature and extent of the training that all staff experienced. For example, everyone joining the company attended two weeks of induction training before commencing in his or her role. This even applied to senior managers, who might be responsible for managing some of their fellow trainees.

It has taken me some years and the study of hundreds of organizations to realize that cementing organisation values into the training fabric of an organisation can have a dramatic impact on collective performance.

The Americans have coined a phrase that has become quite faddish in India - "walking the talk". It is intended to mean that management (and particularly top management) must model the behavior they expect of others. But how often does it happen and, more importantly, does it work? "

The only thing that really changes behavior is when the proclaimed values are practiced at every level including at the top". The inference can be drawn that not only must managers "do what they say", but there also must be a collective understanding of "what precisely it is that we should all do".

Management education and development can be the vehicle that drives the collective understanding and turns the corporate values into practical, day-to-day behavior. My experience suggests that few Indian organizations take the time and effort to base their management training on such solid foundations as corporate values.

A senior manager of a very successful Korean organisation put it "Corporate values work in mysterious ways - they can spur performance and satisfaction while instilling a sense of pride in belonging to a unique organisation". All organizations have values, whether they are publicly evident or not.

Before deciding to base the organization’s training on the values, it is important to have some understanding of what these values are. Lebow suggests there are two types of values: business values and people values. Business values are directed at the outside world, for example, "high product quality" and "superior customer service".

People values are directed to the inside world, for example, "trusting people" and "giving credit where it is due". When the business values and the people values are in harmony, the organisation is healthy. When the two are not in sync, training and education (while being well meaning) will not be effective in the long term.

It is the leaders of the organisation who must convert the corporate values into day-to-day behavior at all levels. In their studies of Indian leaders, Evans and Afors (Leaders in India, 1996) found that leaders who are committed and stick to their principles are those who have a personal alignment between their own welfare, the common good, and the organization’s values.

To help leaders develop the necessary leadership skills, training should be planned in four phases.

1. Identify each leader's personal values. This requires individuals to consider when (in their career to date) they have been most satisfied, motivated, and valued at work. What values did this role satisfy? This enables the leader to enunciate, perhaps for the first time, the values they inherently hold and often use as their basis for decision making.
2. Using their personal values as a base, leaders develop a scenario of their ideal organisation. Phase two requires managers, first as individuals and then in teams, to describe the ideal organisation. What does it look like? How does it function? What does it value?
3. Assess the leader's organisation against their ideal. In phase three, managers compare their own organisation to their ideal. What is inhibiting my organisation from being more like my ideal? What enables my organisation to be similar to my ideal? Compiling a list of inhibitors and enablers helps managers see how personal values can relate to their organization’s values.
4. Develop strategies for moving both personally and organizationally towards the ideal. The final phase involves developing strategies for translating the shared values into day-to-day actions.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is to repeat the four-phase leadership training
approach with managers and staff throughout the organisation. Each manager leads his/her team to assess the core values and how they can translate them into their field of operation.