The paradox of power – giving leadership away

24 11 2009

Today I have been thinking about how leaders get use power – both explicitly and also unwittingly – to get results they didn’t want.  Let me explain, one of the groups I have been working with is a pharma company talent pool. In exploring leadership with then they shared the company history and the fact that this is a family owned business where the family head is still the hands on leader of the firm. However, the Hr head says that the purpose of the workshops is to devolve leadership power into the lower levels of the organisation. So the will from the top is for others to do more leadership  and take initiative.  What also emerged in the discussion was that the family head longed to be challenged more by his team but that they rarely did so. This is not in any way  unique to this organisation, a similar issue exists in a couple  of my other clients organisations.

So how has this disconnect happened? The leadership talent are looking and shying away from the family head, who really wants to be challenged and give leadership away, but every time they discuss the idea of challenging, revert to their own  need to have strong leadership from the top. The real paradox is that real leadership comes from creating the empowering conditions that allows people to challenge, to feel comfortable in dissent, to take on responsibility and to step into the space that letting go creates.

Good intentions can get derailed by history and habits.  If this family head, a capable entrepreneurial leader, really wants to grow his leaders, he need to let them struggle with creating direction, in the absence of it from him. Jumping in too soon to solve the issues creates some level of dependency and challenging the saviour is not going to happen. Where strategies and directions have always come from the man on the mountain, there is little incentive to learn to climb – these leaders need to start to take actions themselves and discover that leadership comes with a responsibility to set agenda not just follow them and that at times that is uncomfortable.

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Evolution in business – or are we Oxen?

8 09 2008

Take a look at the evolution of thinking in business. Back in the 1920’s when management and business was becoming the subject of rigorous study the interface of man and machine was the focus. History has taught us that efficient management can reduce costs and has made operations in business lean and repeatable. We have Fredrick Winslow Taylor to thank for this in terms of ideas and Henry Ford, Arthur Sloan and McDonald’s to thank for the case studies in operational excellence. The essence of this approach to “scientific management “ is/was to take all the skill out of the operation and reduce the process to the simplest possible level of action. Result; people are treated like Oxen. At the time it was considered the epitome of business intelligence and lauded as progressive management. We now know better. The interface of man and man should be the real focus – leader and led.

The problem with repeatable processes, and anything that can be reduced to a documented process, is ultimately it’s also repeatable by someone else. Result: limited competitive advantage, short-term savings for short-term advantage – necessary but not sufficient. In business terms a good try but no

cigar for the winner.

We are now emerging into a new era where the demand on the organisation from talented knowledge workers is greater than at any other time in the history of mankind. Bright people, and let’s at least acknowledge that we are smart enough to hire bright people, ask better questions. They want to be engaged with their employer. There was a time when a job was a necessity. If you were good enough to employ people this was reason enough to gain their loyalty. Commitment was automatic. People were self-motivated. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on where you stand, this does not compute now for the majority of knowledge workers or the corporate competents, as some would label them. For this group of talented individuals they want or more accurately demand a better deal. The psychological contract, that unspoken deal we all make with our employer, is getting more complex and more demanding to fulfil. Engaging them, really differentiating the employee value proposition to a level of the individual, is the way to get talent committed to your cause. 1-2-1 leadership is the case for Engagement.

It’s a global phenomenon not just a product of the west or the affluent northern hemisphere. Intelligent people need to know why and how they deliver their input to the greater organization. Whether you are from India, Indiana or Indonesia, talented employees want more than a just a pay packet. They want to be led, inspired to give their best and not just what you pay for. Discretionary effort is a worldwide untapped energy resource – there is no energy shortage, we are just looking in the wrong places.

Compliance is not enough to keep the best and brightest in your organisation. You need a compelling employment value proposition. Talented people have freedom of choice and you need to ensure for the best players in the game, that they chose to be on your team. Oxen you could beat into compliance, or at least reward with a suitable carrot. Taylorism was built on that simple principle. Times change, people change, expectations change, and management is no longer enough. What these demanding times require is exceptional leadership. 3E Leadership captures the essence of what times now demand of us.





Challenges – great for developing leadership

20 03 2008

We are probably all familiar with challenges at work. We have to get projects in on time, to budget and to specification. We have to integrate new team members into existing working methods and find ways to motivate the diverse staff we employ. Many of these are put upon us just by the day to day nature of our business lives. Research, in many good studies on biographical histories of outstanding leaders, show that going out and looking for a challenge is one of the hall marks of early leaders experience. People who seek to stretch themselves in early life, in junior roles, have it seems a higher probability of continuing that behaviour in later life and making a career out of leadership.

So we are talking here about shaping experiences, early challenges that impact on confidence, resilience and capability. Assuming not all challenges succeed, their is also implicit some learning taken from this process. Maybe as developers of leadership talent we should concentrate on trying to encourage our younger talents to stretch themselves and not wait for circumstances to do it later in life when the mind has already developed many habits and perceived barriers to taking risks.

What prompted this thinking and blog entry – well this time it’s my son and his friend, both 21 and interns with a technology company. They have without any intervention from family or employers decided to take on a significant challenge, that is both developmental in terms of character and also altruistic. Visit their site  and see if this is something you can support, or if it reminds you of things you did when you were forming your personal leadership style.





Leading across Cultures

28 01 2008

Part of the work we do is helping teams at the more senior end of the organization work well together. An issue we often come across, and it’s not rare, is where the team is made up of multiple nationalities and cultures. What is interesting to us is how much they attribute poor team performance to this factor, rather than their own team working or leadership ability. We find that of course culture is an issue – people from Finland and Sweden for example do have a different outlook to life and work, just the same as French and English have a different attitude to cuisine – but it’s only another variable not an excuse for neglecting the core of leadership.

Whether you are Chinese, Croatian or Chilean there are fundamentals that you expect from your leaders. Envisioning – to allow you a picture of the future worth working for, Engagement – involvement in meaningful work, and Execution – enabling the process of success.





Credible Handicaps – standing out from the crowd

18 09 2007

In our book we talk about credible handicaps – the few people / companies who stand out from the crowd and get things done, but seem to do so in spite of some handicap – maybe thier boss is a despot, maybe they have a terrible sales territory to work, or maybe they have something else that would hold back others.  These people are worth examining, studying and learning from. If they can sell in that region, what would they do in a good territory? If they can get great results with those students then what would they get with an A stream class?

 It’s sometimes the positve devients – the people who somehow buck the trend, do great things with some form of percieved handicap, where we could probably learn the most. Our guess is that one thing they do not suffer from is lack of confidence. Confidence – particularly the part of self belief that enables performance – is a key to leading change in any situation. Selecting for and building confidence in early hires, first level recruits in to your talent and leadership pipeline is one way to increase the quality of your pool. Look for people doing unusual things in term of results in places others would regard as a backwater or no hope ally. Fish in new streams to get the talent that will make change happen.





Talent Pipelines – developing leaders who can make change happen

13 09 2007

segments.jpg  Given our counsil is to concentrate on the critical few who determine the direction and future of the business, then it seems unusual to also talk about a talent pipeline. But it’s a stream of talent that organizations need, not just a small pool at the top. We believe that talent is connected with leadership in most organizational definitions, and in ours, but that leadership does not miraculously appear just when the time is right. Talent needs to be grown in your organization, so the seeds need to be found and planted, nurtured, transplanted and fertilized at the right times in order to be strong examples  when its time to harvest.  

If you segment the  your talent pool in your organization , your developing leadership stream, then you can apply the right tactic at the right time, and thin out, transplant more in, add nutrients, or prune, as necessary to ensure healthy growth. This is not easy if all your efforts are applied at the senior level or just on the mid level high potentials.  In organizations we have worked with there seems to be at least four levels to consider. Entry level, usually graduate level talent, some form of high potentials, usually early management career post, executive successors, usually already high performance and experienced and ready for a big role, and then the ones most forget about the incumbents in the executive suite. You have not stopped being talent or stopped needing development or coaching just because you’ve reached the top of the hill. Think about your organization, does it have levels of talent, or just one definition? Does it think about developing leaders from entry or leave it to chance and serendipity?  Segmenting is not a magic wand, but it does focus you on the pipeline and not just the tap!! 

 The next tick in the box is to have some consistent processes, or approaches to all of the talent pools or segments, in this case, ( click on the picture to see it larger) you can see the three parallel processes are assessment, performance management and some form of coaching. In this way you can build a pipeline for the leadership of the buisness. No drips, just full flow leadership.





Talent Management- the Critcal Few

6 09 2007

In recent conversations with some clients and peers we have been talking about the critical few model of engagement and talent management. What do we mean? Well some in the arena of developing leaders (now bundled into talent management in most books/ conferences) are questioning the logic of concentrating all of your development energies onto the elite who are considered talented. Many consider this unethical. People involved in leadership development and talent management seem to fall into two schools – the everyone has talent and we just need to grow it corner and the seemingly elitist corner that says concentrate the resources on those selected by the organization as having the right stuff.

It’s a fierce debate at times, revolving around whether there is enough return from the few and on the possible de moralizing effect of the majority not being labelled talent.  I have a strong view on this, based on practical experience and realism.  Most organizations have limited resources, so need to focus on the best ROI. The area of development and talent is no different, except for the issue of people’s perceptions and feelings at being labelled or not labelled. If you are talented     (using what ever definition the organization has agreed) you get preferential treatment. If you are not you don’t get as much opportunity for development. To me this seems as clear a business decision as investment in a new production line in a high profit product, rather than a low sales / profit product. However the debates counter argument is what about the majority who are not seen as talent – what is the organization missing if it doesn’t grow them –  low morale, discretionary effort and engagement will reduce.

Well my point is this, if a resource is scarce – $£€- then spend it on the leadership group, the people who manage the majority. Why  – because if your leadership development includes aspects like developing people, feedback, appraisal, goal setting, delegation, coaching and strategic planning, then their leadership of the majority will be more effective, more energizing, more humane and more engaging. Re energizing the organization requires a set of fire starters and these people need to lead from a position of strength. Some of that strength comes from them being given opportunity to lead, to take chances and use the organizations limited resources. The defence of this is if you have limited resources spread so thin that you do a limited job of developing everyone, equally badly, then the leadership starved of attention may not naturally blossom, will not thrive, will not energize others. 

So where do you stand on this?  Are you in the court of the critical few but with a responsibility for becoming developers and energizers of the majority – or do you support the corner of the equality in mediocrity and spread the development thin across the whole population and hope to nourish enough for leaders to blossom.