Sunday, February 23, 2014

Should Organisations be Run like a Community?

Henry Mintzberg wrote in a 2009 HBR article that “community means caring about our work, our colleagues, and our place in the world, geographic and otherwise, and in turn being inspired by this caring. Tellingly, some of the companies that are admired most - Toyota, Semco (Brazil), Mondragon (a Basque federation of cooperatives), Pixar, and so on - typically have this strong sense of community.”
Where, today, we often find that “young”, successful companies usually have this sense of community. They are growing, energized, committed to their people, almost a family. But sustaining it with the onset of maturity can be another matter. Things slow down, politics builds up, the world is no longer their oyster. Community is sometimes easier to preserve in the social sector, with NGOs, not-for-profits, and cooperatives. The mission may be more engaging, and the people more engaged.
Mintzberg went on to highlight that “communityship” is not a word in the English language. But it should be - to stand between individual leadership on one side and collective citizenship on the other. In fact, he believed that we should never use the word “leadership” without also discussing communityship.
Imho too many leaders today talk about ‘themselves’ and focus on the ‘I’ rather than the collective team or organisation. They have a great opportunity to build a great ‘community’ and a great place to work, but are too focused on their own successes – often negating the very foundation on which effective leadership is built.
Mintzberg goes on to mention that “communityship requires a more modest form of leadership that might be called engaged and distributed management. A community leader is personally engaged in order to engage others, so that anyone and everyone can exercise initiative. If you doubt this can happen, take a look at how Wikipedia, Linux, and other open-source operations work. So maybe it’s time to wean ourselves from the heroic leader and recognize that usually we need just enough leadership - leadership that intervenes when appropriate while encouraging people in the organization to get on with things.”
Building a community requires the leader to accept the principles of leadership at the micro level and focus on the organisations most vital resource – its human resource. Where leaders put their people before themselves and engage in professional conversations and behaviours that motivate them to optimise their performance, ensuring a win-win for the employee and the organisation.
Mintberg mentions that “the way to start rebuilding community is to stop the practices that undermine it, such as treating human beings as human resources; firing them in great numbers when the company has not met performance targets (but remains profitable); tolerating obscene compensation packages for CEOs (especially ones that offer them “retention” and other bonuses for doing what they receive a salary to do); exhibiting a general disrespect for anything in the company’s past, including its culture; and in general overemphasizing leadership. In other words, the organization has to shed much of its individualist behavior and many of its short-term measures in favor of practices that promote trust, engagement, and spontaneous collaboration aimed at sustainability.”
The concept, though sound, is not that easy to implement on the ground. It needs a leader who is confident in their ability and their own ‘self’. It takes a leader who has a proven track record and someone who isn’t seeking ‘glory’ or ‘recognition’ for their own past failings or perceptions of failure. Unfortunately too many leaders today are still seeking to prove things to themselves and don’t have the self-confidence to focus most of their attention on their people.
In conclusion Mintzberg highlights how “a robust community requires a form of leadership quite different from the models that have it driving transformation from the top. Community leaders see themselves as being in the center, reaching out rather than down. They facilitate change, recognizing that much of it must be driven by others. At General Electric, Jeff Immelt, who wants the company to become as much renowned for innovation and organic growth as it has been for operational excellence, encourages the teams running GE’s businesses to figure out for themselves what is needed for transformation.”
The good news is that as with many business principles – if you believe in it enough, then ‘you’ can make it happen and the outcomes of community based leadership are benefits that span the whole organisation and beyond, to include stakeholders too.
Mintzberg, H. (2009). Rebuilding Companies as Communities. Harvard Business Review[On-line:]

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Can an Effective Leader have Favourites?

John Reh wrote that “a manager who is fair does not play favorites. You don't give anyone all the good jobs, or all the bad jobs, just because of how you feel about them. You treat them as the unique individuals they are.” Where each decision you make can be justified by an individual’s position, experience and development needs.
It’s likely that in your leadership career people will have challenged you about some of the decisions you have made that looked like favouritism to them – at least if you’ve worked in a culture where people can challenge the reason for decisions that involve their peers; and where without the right communication a simple ‘choice’ of one person over another can be perceived as favouritism, when it actually isn’t – it’s just that the communication around the decision is either ineffective or missing completely.
One can approach the subject of favouritism from two perspectives. From a positive perspective, if you have recruited the right talent to your team and where you are involved with multifaceted projects and responsibilities that require you to optimise a range of results both in the short-term and into the future, then will need a range of talented individuals with differing specialist skills.
In this scenario the effective leader picks ‘favourites’ for a task based on the skill set and experience that they bring to that specific task or project – hence they are favourites for the role because they have the best skills to do this. In this type of structure ‘skills and experience’ drive the human resource choice about who does what at any point in time – where ‘position and personal relationships’ is subservient to skills. This is quite a modern and proactive way of leading – it can give the perception to those on the outside or those that are ‘title focused’ that the boss has favourites. But these favourites are based on skill and nothing else.
From a negative perspective you have the opposite where a ‘boss’ may have a previous personal relationship with an employee or just like them better – and where, even those these people have less skills or experience than others in the department or organisation, they are chosen to perform certain tasks for the boss; or chosen to go on trips with the boss before more deserving employees. This can be extremely demotivating for those involved and lead to a breakdown in the motivation and performance of others.
The leader is often too slow to see the short and long term damage this negative form of favouritism has on the organisation; and it actually isn’t healthy for the favourite either, firstly they can actually start to believe they are brighter and more experienced than they actually are; it can lead them to have further expectations in respect of ‘favours’ from the boss, to the extent that they can become quite arrogant, with a feeling of superiority towards those they have to work with. They are often blind to the impact this has on those around them – where some will get ‘close’ to them, but only hoping they will also become ‘favourable’; where others will either distance themselves or simply be distrusting of them going forward.
The impact this has on the organisation is huge and creates a dysfunctional, negative culture – which can go unseen until it is too late for the leader to resolve.
As Dr Anitha Ramachander states “most of the time, bosses are unaware that their behaviour affects the work environment. Their body language, tone of voice, facial expression could be read by employees. It is quite natural for bosses to have trusted lieutenants in the organisation but there should be a demarcation between trusting an individual and showing favouritism. The leaders of great organisations have special qualities and traits that make them outstanding. It clearly shows that those leaders do not favour any employee but recognise the hard work and performance based on productivity and performance of the employee.”   
As a leader once you lose the faith of those you lead then you create an unhealthy environment which is hard to turnaround without a change in leadership. So it’s worth thinking about how you approach you staff and ensure you do not support favouritism for any other reason than what’s best for the organisation.  

Ramachander, A. (2014). Dealing with favouritism at the workplace. The Deccan Herald, 15.02. [On-line]   
Reh, J.F. (2014). Fairness is Good Management.  [On-line:]

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Are You an Authentic Leader?

Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew McLean, and Diana Mayer in 2007 wrote in the Harvard Business Review that “during the past 50 years, leadership scholars have conducted more than 1,000 studies in an attempt to determine the definitive styles, characteristics, or personality traits of great leaders. None of these studies has produced a clear profile of the ideal leader. Thank goodness. If scholars had produced a cookie-cutter leadership style, individuals would be forever trying to imitate it. They would make themselves into personae, not people, and others would see through them immediately.”
No one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from others’ experiences, but there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not a replica of someone else. Amgen CEO and president Kevin Sharer, who gained priceless experience working as Jack Welch’s assistant in the 1980s, saw the downside of GE’s cult of personality in those days. “Everyone wanted to be like Jack,” he explains. “Leadership has many voices. You need to be who you are, not try to emulate somebody else.”
Bill George et al wrote that “people have developed a deep distrust of leaders. It is increasingly evident that we need a new kind of business leader in the twenty-first century. In 2003, Bill George’s book, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, challenged a new generation to lead authentically. Authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and lead with their hearts as well as their heads. They establish long-term, meaningful relationships and have the self-discipline to get results. They know who they are.”
Now obviously Bill George is promoting his book here, but if you look beyond that the most important statement is worth re-reading “authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and lead with their hearts as well as their heads.”
From experience you’ll know when you’ve been in the company of a leader who leads with their hearts – they are people who not only know the business and the competitive landscape  they operate in – but they also know their people and are able to uniquely ‘communicate’ with each one to optimise outputs from their discussions. But more than that they know what motivates each of their staff members, and have a genuine interest in their lives.
There are plenty of leaders who ‘pretend’ to be authentic and interested in their staff. These  leaders genuinely believe they are fooling those around them in believing that they are really leading with their hearts and heads – but their staff know them for what they really are. These are opportunist leaders who will ‘play the heart card’ when it’s convenient for them, but often there is little substance and absolutely no action behind the words – the words are hollow.
In their research Bill George et al found that you do not have to be born with specific characteristics or traits of a leader. You do not have to wait for a tap on the shoulder. You do not have to be at the top of your organization. Instead, you can discover your potential right now. As Young & Rubicam chairman and CEO Ann Fudge, said, “All of us have the spark of leadership in us, whether it is in business, in government, or as a non-profit volunteer. The challenge is to understand ourselves well enough to discover where we can use our leadership gifts to serve others.”
The journey to authentic leadership begins with understanding the story of your life. Your life story provides the context for your experiences, and through it, you can find the inspiration to make an impact in the world. As the novelist John Barth once wrote, “The story of your life is not your life. It is your story.” In other words, it is your personal narrative that matters, not the mere facts of your life.
The journey of authentic leadership then develops further when you have the confidence and humility to use your ‘story’ to develop the ‘stories’, and hence lives, of others – when, besides confidence,  you have the emotional intelligence to share your stories, so that both you and the other person both develop further from sharing the story.
If you’re not being authentic each and every day you are missing the true gift of what great leadership is all about.
George, B., Sims, P., McLean, A.N. and Mayer, D. (2007). Discovering Your Authentic Leadership. Harvard Business Review, February.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

What Are the Barriers to Becoming an Effective Leader?

In 2011 Anne Morriss, Robin Ely, and Frances Frei highlighted five barriers to becoming a truly effective leader.
The first barrier they highlight is overemphasising personal goals. True leadership is about making other people better as a result of your presence and making sure your impact endures in your absence. That doesn’t mean leaders are selfless. They have personal goals to build status, a professional identity, and a retirement plan, among other things. But the narrow pursuit of those goals can lead to self-protection and self-promotion, neither of which fosters other people’s success.
Making other people a priority is perhaps most challenging for emerging leaders—especially women and minorities, who may feel heightened pressure to protect their interests in a world that seems (and often is) rigged against them. When societal attitudes contain built-in questions about your competence, it takes a lot of energy to keep trying to prove those attitudes wrong.
As Anne Morriss and her colleagues mention - start with a commitment to make another person, or an entire team, better and then go back for the skills and resources to pull it off.
The second barrier is protecting your public image. Where Anne Morriss et al highlight how another common impediment to leadership is being overly distracted by your image, that ideal self, you’ve created in your mind. Sticking to the script that goes along with that image takes a lot of energy, leaving little left over for the real work of leadership.
There are more-nuanced costs as well. Once you’ve crafted your persona and determined not to veer from it, your effectiveness often suffers. The need to be seen as intelligent can inhibit learning and risk taking, for instance. The need to be seen as likable can keep you from asking tough questions or challenging existing norms. The need to be seen as decisive can cause you to shut down critical feedback loops.
The third barrier is turning ‘internally perceived’ competitors into enemies, where one particularly toxic behaviour is the act of turning those you don’t get along with into two-dimensional enemies. Distorting other people is a common response to conflict, but it carries significant leadership costs. It severs your links to reality, making you reliably incapable of exerting influence. As you turn others into caricatures, you risk becoming a caricature yourself.
The fourth barrier is going it alone, where most people opt out of leadership for perfectly good reasons. The road, by definition, is unsafe. It leads to change, not comfort.
The research by Anne Morriss and her team found that almost all effective leaders they researched had a strong team that helped provide perspective, grounding, and faith. Your team members can be family, colleagues, friends, mentors, spouses, partners. The litmus test: Does the leader in you regularly show up in their presence? Find the people who believe in your desire and ability to lead. Fall in love with them. Or at least meet them for drinks on a regular basis.
The fifth barrier is waiting for permission. Like risk aversion, patience can be a valuable evolutionary gift. It’s a main ingredient in discipline and hope. It helps us uncover the root cause of problems. But patience can be a curse for emerging leaders. It can undermine our potential by persuading us to keep our heads down and soldier on, waiting for someone to recognize our efforts and give us the proverbial tap on the shoulder, a better title and formal authority.
The problem with this approach is that healthy organisations reward people who decide on their own to lead. Power and influence are intimate companions, but their relationship isn’t the one we tend to imagine. More often than not, influence leads to power, not the other way around.
Again Anne Morriss’s research that most of the exceptional leaders they’d studied didn’t wait for formal authority to begin making changes. They may have ended up in a corner office, but their leadership started elsewhere. In one way or another, they all simply began to use whatever informal power they had.
These barriers are not rocket science – the art is to recognise them and to act on them. It’s easy to assume you’re not being restricted in your leadership capabilities until you find a list like this and you set aside the time to have a real honest look at what might be holding you back from being even better.
Morriss, A., Ely, R.J., and Frei, F.X. (2011). Managing Yourself: Stop Holding Yourself Back. Harvard Business Review, January.