Leadership

Category Archives:Leadership

Leveraging Corporate Leadership for Effective Results

A working definition of ‘Leadership’ is the ability of an individual to glean the commitment of others towards the realisation of a goal or objective (Cole 1995). A dissection of this enables the extraction of key concepts in understanding the nature, and subsequent application of leadership ability in a more effective manner.

 

An Understanding of Leadership

But I find this dissection best treated with in reverse order. Looking first at the goal or objective and its realisation, we can note certain characteristics (call it best-practices if you prefer) that guide the identification of goals. Adair (2004) encapsulated these in his SMARTER ‘checklist’, stating that goals need to be Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Time-bounded, Evaluated, Reviewed. If they are not, then we face some inherent risk in their realisation.

Where the objectives are unclear or not time bound, work towards its realisation tends to not be the most efficient or effective. This same would apply to the other criteria, and as a result we have within the SMARTER model an operational framework for defining goals and objectives to effectively enable their realisation.

There is another dimension to consider – that of gleaning the commitment of others. Why would people commit to the realisation of a goal? We know that except in instances of absolute selflessness (if it exists), the individual works towards a goal if it is in his/her interest or benefit to do so – whether that benefit is direct or indirect; extrinsic or intrinsic.

Further to this fundamental premise, the advent of division of labour gave rise to the basic concept of the group or organisation as we know it today – two or more persons working towards a common objective. The degrees of formality and permanence may have shifted (Cole 2003), but the underlying need of each other – be it for social, economic or other purposes – has perpetuated.

Thus guided we recognise that people would commit to a goal individually or as a group if the goal is synchronous with their desires or states of being. Restating this from another angle, people would commit to a goal that they (helped to) determine. Wallis alluded to this in saying, “there is a natural opposition among men to anything they have not thought of themselves.”

The third dimension in our understanding of leadership is that of the individual’s ability to gain that commitment from others. And it is on this point that complexity is amplified. What is that secret ingredient? Is it charisma? One’s integrity? Distinct traits, perhaps? Or is it rather situational, and a result of extenuating circumstances? Are leaders made? Are they born? Does leadership happen?

Each theory or perspective that has been offered has made a contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of leadership, but application has been quite another dynamic. And it is in lieu of the latter that we revert to the fundamentals of interpersonal interaction.

One’s ability to influence others within a corporate context is emphasised within the intersect of confidence (based on some degree of consistency in competence) communication (based on a recognition of interdependence); and commitment to a cause.

 

Confidence

People tend to respond to confidence. Whether this confidence is based on our degree of comfort in a given situation, or exudes in spite of that situation, confidence tends to effect ‘followership’. In an organisational context (based on limited research), where the person serving in a leadership capacity is confident in their position, or alternatively has demonstrated competence in performing the functions of that role, his/her subordinates tend to willingly follow the individual or at the very least respond positively to their direction. This is reinforced by Glickman (1987) who said, “…one who aspires to craft or to lead is at a loss if he/she …lacks the knowledge, skills or practices to work toward or to achieve that end.”

 

Communication

Interpersonal interaction, based on the available media and channels of communication, can (re)define the effectiveness of leaders. Two key factors in this regard have been observed to play a pivotal role in the effectiveness of leaders – the clarity and tone of communication.

Clarity of interaction tend to incorporate both transmitting and receiving information – and signalling feedback. It is not uncommon to hear of complaints of ambiguous meanings or mixed signals from their supervisors and managers – and this suggests ineffective communication.

In this regard, Gothe observed “if any man wishes to write in a clear style, let him first be clear in his thoughts.” Of course, this is not exclusive to ‘writing’ and ‘men’ only. Yet it establishes a principle which can guide us in our interaction with others – and enable us to be more effective as leaders. Boileau added to this when he said, “what is conceived well is expressed clearly and words to say it will arise with ease.”

 

Commitment

The commitment of a leader to the realisation of a goal sets the tone for the rest of the members of the group to follow. Leadership by example, ‘from the front,’ evokes in others the motivation to themselves commit to the realisation of a goal.

It is akin to the Japanese proverb that says, “No man will find the best way to do a thing unless he loves to do that thing.” Whether you choose to call it love or belief, passion or conviction, the commitment of an individual to realise a goal infuses in others drive and hope.

The abstraction of essential themes within this framework advocate that the ability to influence others centres around the ability to gain people’s trust and respect, on one part, and organising effort to stimulate and guide action, on another.

Trust and Respect from subordinates encourages them to buy-in to the goals, intentions or aspirations. Further, the leader’s ability to optimise resources (be it based on intuition or experience) instils in subordinates the confidence and by extension the willingness to follow the leader and actively pursue identified goals. Hay’s study of employee satisfaction found that:

1. Trust and confidence in top leadership was the single most reliable predictor of employee satisfaction in an organization.

2. Effective communication by leadership in three critical areas was the key to winning organizational trust and confidence:

A leader empowered with the trust, respect and confidence of his/her team can define the organisational climate and culture to enable the realisation of results. The leader can relegate impossibility to a mere state of mind. Are you up to the challenge?

The Role of Leadership in the Success of Strategy

Strategy is a response by the organization so as to realise the goals, relative to the competitive and wider socio-economic landscape. It serves to outline the course or plan of action (or policies, if you prefer) over the identified time period, and channels resources to those initiatives identified. Whether this is done via a Management-by-Objective approach or one more focused on Continuous Improvement, it hinges on the performance of people to be realised.

 

In today’s knowledge era, companies are increasingly placing emphasis on people in the realisation of goals. Be it through diversity, talent management, internal corporate social responsibility, innovative compensation packages and other forms of inclusion and ownership, companies are empowering individuals with resources and support to pursue strategies and realise objectives.

 

As a direct consequence, we are seeing more and more the consideration of leadership competencies within the organisation – those competencies that can enable persons to work willingly towards the realisation of goals and objectives. Distinct though not disconnected with the management roles within and organisation, leadership as a strategy is proving effective and resilient for organisations to realise their goals efficiently and effectively.

 

Based on the foundation of trust, respect and confidence, the perspectives of the leader(s) within and throughout the organisation can have a ripple effect on the organisation, both in terms of the acceptance and commitment by all – towards the success of the initiatives identified. What then is the role the leader can play in the strategy ‘process’ within and throughout the organisation?

 

Reinforcing Commitment

Strategic Planning may appear to persons within organisations as a mysterious and demanding exercise exclusive to the top tiers of management, and one that does not change the way things are done, nor address the problems faced. The leader here can reinforce the usefulness and commitment by staff to the planning initiative, and encourage their active participation where applicable.

 

The commitment of the leaders also set the tone for the rest of the organisation to follow. Dedication to the process – the insistence on obtaining the requisite information, discussing the major issues and challenges, agreeing on positions and preferences – all serve to reinforce the support and conviction towards the strategic planning process.

 

Inclusion in Planning

A leader, through open and respectful dialogue, can include his/her subordinates in the determination of goals and objectives – be it the resolution of problems or the realisation of opportunities. This inclusion not only incorporates persons in the process, allowing for greater levels of ownership and commitment, but can also identify critical issues and goldmines of opportunities that can serve the organisation well in its development agenda.

 

By extension, the leader has a critical role to play in the selection (or configuring, if you prefer) of strategy to achieve results. Consideration of resource availability and demands would mean that people are either supported in their efforts; overworked within an ailing structure; or callously disregarded as emphasis is focused elsewhere.

 

Communication and Roll-Out

The leader (who by definition has a competence in communication and interpersonal interaction) can effectively communicate the strategic intent throughout the organisation, to glean the buy-in and commitment by others within the organisation. Inherent in this would be the recognition of interdependence by all stakeholders in the realisation of the objectives.

 

As an example, one company locally placed roughly half of their efforts on themed communication of the plan throughout the organisation – to sterling performance. The news releases, posters, theme songs, dialogue and roll-out plan (complete with quick wins and staff support) all meshed to yield exemplary results in a situation where the expectations were abysmal at best.

 

Because the time lapse between the formulation of strategies and their realisation may be significant (typically up to three (3) or five (5) years), interests and commitment to the goals may vary by persons within the organisation. People may be caught up in the process and forget the outcome, or may become disenfranchised with the delay in realising the results.

 

A leader can serve to not only drive the implementation of initiatives by individuals and teams, but also help to maintain the focus and levels of effort, through any of the mechanisms of encouragement, focus, empowerment and support.

 

Reinforcing Accountability and Ownership

The leader can, in his/her interaction with individuals, reinforce the accountability of persons of various levels, and perpetuate the degree of ownership perceived. Of course, a major prerequisite of this is the assumption that the persons within the organisation have the capacity, supporting systems and procedures, resource availability and asset base to perform the task at hand.

 

In a corporate environment where ‘passing the buck’ may be the default practice, it helps the leader to lead, and the organisation to realise the goals, if every base of support is available. When this is the case, the individuals’ effectiveness plays that pivotal role in the degree of success of the initiatives.

 

Celebrating Success / Sharing Failure

The leader, being part of a team, cannot be removed from the realisation (or not) of results pursued by the team, without jeopardising his/her role on the team. A deflection of responsibility, ownership or commitment can undermine the respect, confidence or commitment maintained by the team-members in their leader. Some contemporary approaches to leadership recognise leading ‘from the front’ or through ‘action-centred’ perspectives.

 

One individual celebrated attainment of every milestone with an offsite feast – designed, developed and devoured by team members. Of course, it may not be practical to encourage a GANTT Chart for every recipe, but it does highlight the innovative and meaningful ways the leader can link performance and effort to the realisation of strategy.

 

All organisations are associations of people, and this is reflected in any definition of the entity. In the approaches to strategy, we are seeing greater emphasis placed on the empowering persons and monitoring performance towards the goals identified. Alternatively, within a continuous improvement approach, more emphasis is toward innovation and specialisation of individuals to effect change.

 

Notwithstanding this dichotomy, a leadership strategy can prove as safe as it can be effective, since it impacts the very foundation of the organisation – its people. The success of the strategy would be a function of the timeliness and effectiveness of people pursuing same, and certainly the leader has a role to play in this equation.

 

As John Quincy Adams identified, “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, you are a leader.”

On Purpose: Leveraging Our Personal Strengths

We are unique in our identity as we are in purpose.

Our identity is based on the generic construct of our unique ancestors, compounded by our own experiences, and interpretations thereof, as we journey through life. These all converge in our minds to provide us the lens through which we view the world and our place in it. And thus we craft our purpose that may enable us to demonstrate our distinction and contribute to our conviction in this great medley we call society.

Our purpose is infinitely more ambiguous (relative to identity), and in one sense all we know is our presence as the effect of the copulation of our parents and their ancestors. But this answers more HOW we happen to be here than the more important WHY.

In the grand design we may never truly understand our purpose of being – it may well have been to directly uplift persons from a disadvantaged or oppressed position; as it may have been to prepare the world to receive another; or to embody or exemplify what should not be done, and thereby remind another of the folly of an act or pattern of behaviour. History alone would vindicate our contribution in this regard.

At another level, we have a purpose of doing – a driving force that shapes our interpretation of our environment and our responses to the changes therein. A primary motivator, this purpose can be identified by inspiration or situation. Regardless of how our purpose is revealed to us, we must be open to accepting it into the very fabric of our being – to let it infuse every cell of our bodies and every synapse of our brain.

Our purpose must become our soul – that gives direction to our efforts. It is easy to classify this purpose as our motivation in its conventional sense, yet this purpose is deeper than, and may even contradict our motivations and aspirations.

This purpose of doing is more akin to our sense of duty – what are those things for which we will be held accountable – either in this and/or the next world.

How can we find purpose? Do we choose it or it chooses us? Our purpose of being may be crystal clear to use or we may exhaust our lives (even those of others) and may never know. Our purpose of doing is informed by that ever-present dichotomy of our unique gifts as human beings and those situations in which we find ourselves. In any circumstance, we can either utilize our gifts for the benefit of ourselves and/or others – this balance we alone can set – or learn from the situation and build armour to contribute more significantly in the future: there is no punishment, since the looming Day of Reckoning or Judgment us yet to come to pass.

What are our gifts then? As a species, our collective gift is that of freedom to choose – not what we face as we perpetually move closer to our demise – but rather how we respond to those situations which we are given to face – the ever-evolving realities that entrust their sacred lessons to our care. All humans are given this gift, wrapped in a burst of colour and textures, scents and sounds that we appropriately call the present. This gift defines us collectively, and one that we bestow the same courtesy on as any other gift, engendering with care even as we savour its character.

Beyond this, subjectivity reigns. A gift is as valuable as its worth to whom it is bestowed. IT may be only skin deep, an ease to behold if not a pleasure. For others it may be wit, mirth or courage. Yet others may be entrusted with intellect or wisdom that they may guide. Others still may be happy dependents who bestow love, care and gleams of admiration that fuels the fires of our passion.

And what if our gifts cannot enable us to reach our goals – that which we aspire to own or achieve? Gifts are given to us to do with as we choose…

But Know! Under-utilisation or use for only frivolous or selfish ends will ensure that these gifts do not linger in their departure – but rather dissipate into a realm that we may never know or can never reach. It becomes that drop that escapes our clutches and falls into the sea – which we may never again taste of its succulence.

May our purpose mold our identity, and provide a beacon toward which we sail, beyond storms and calm seas.

The Art of Leadership… Beyond the Science

“Art is a higher type of knowledge than experience”

~ Aristotle – Metaphysics ~

Here’s an unusual challenge: Create a poem with the subject matter being on Nature and our Environment. The poem must comprise 17 syllables in 3 lines, allocated into 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 in the third. Do you accept this challenge? The resulting product – known as Japanese ‘Haiku’ – is a form of poetry that can cause the inductee some challenge to rhythm and rhyme before the creative juices begin to flow.

If you are not too inclined to this form of art, and prefer a more hands-on challenge, we only need look at the ‘Food’ channels on our televised media to see instances of chef competitions and challenges where the creativity is tested with the additional restrictions of limited ingredients or within a specific culinary theme. It may be in the form of challenges centred around 1 key ingredient, or rather one of specific ingredients that may not work together conceptually – but that is what the chefs are given to work with and the time starts now.

Many of the persons undertaking these challenges title themselves artists who are able to not only work with what is given but transcend limitations in order to create their own tributes. So too for us – having mastered the science of our respective discipline – each challenge which we face allows the artist in us to develop and mature; each project a canvas to which we are allowed the opportunity to paint with our own abilities and from our perspectives. Over time, our every effort becomes a stroke of varying intensity and colour that fills the canvas of our career, inspired by passion and sculpted with soul, shaping the object of our attention and affection towards our version of excellence.

As artists operating within our own professions, we too will be tried and tested in different ways and by different parameters. Be it an oversupply of information, an unavailability of resources or inefficient work-ethic, each parameter sets a boundary that can be seen as an insurmountable inconvenience or as an obstacle that, once overcome, can leave a lasting hue of dazzling brilliance. This ability would be more valuable in more restricted environments, and with increasing regulatory frameworks and compliance specifications, may in fact prove critical to sustainability if not growth.

As leaders of artists and as artists ourselves, the challenge is amplified and arresting. We need to ensure that our artists are able to function – with the resources that are necessary, with the skill to create, and with the will to perform even where there are challenges and obstacles. Our contribution to the operating environment (and our own work of art) is much more elemental – demanding the ability to manage (all) resources and efforts directed toward a vision of the future as well as the delicate ability to inspire the artist to function – to ignite the passion that would engulf entire initiatives and effect a lingering afterglow of achievement.

This is not effortless by any means, since obstacles can deter as much as it can entice, ourselves as leaders as much as those whom we lead. As artists, effective performance requires our own passion and dedication to stay the course, despite any obstacles or limitations that may surface. It draws on our creativity and ability to visualise hidden paths that can lead us out of tribulation. As leaders of artists, we must be cognizant of what our reports envision themselves, enunciate and draw upon for inspiration. Equally of importance, we need to know what the requirements are that our artists would need in order to create. Where there are debilitating limitations an open consideration of the complexity of reality can serve to exact resolve and draw upon the individual creativity of each artist even as it serves to strengthen resolve.

Our professionals of today stand to benefit from the artistic approach to their disciplines – one that would engender creativity and innovative responses to manifest boundaries and limitations. The basis is the dedication to a profession, the drive to transcend the science of the discipline and realise their unique contributions that can be offered to the craft. And where this is attainable, the leader as the artist can his/herself offer a contribution to the leadership arts that would auger to the benefit of all individuals, and the organisation as a whole – as his/her own work of art. Great art, as attested by Huneker, as “an instant arrested in eternity.”

Faheem Mohammed is Managing Director of Professional Alliance Network and can be contacted at fmohammed@pancaribbean.org.

Your Perspecitves Shape Your Progress

Many times we may feel or meet people who feel overwhelmed with all that is happening in their lives.

This is especially when things are tough – a job loss; a failed relationship; loss of a loved one; insufficient funds to get by; being taken advantage at work… the list goes on.

I learnt from a dear friend and manager that life is a cycle of feasts and famine. We must be able to recognise the good that we have, and celebrate the good times; and when things are not as we would like, recognise it can happen to either make us stronger or prepare us for exciting times ahead.

In doing this, it is useful to remember as the GoodTherapy graphic suggests – it is how we interpret situations and infer meaning that can make us or break us. Moreso, it is how we respond to the ups and downs that can propel us upward or keep us down. At the end of it all, however, one thing we can be sure about. Life goes on.

Leadership, Genocide and Mandela

A client and I shared the viewing of a feature of Breaking the Set with Abby Martin on RT News channel, and in particular an interview with Keith Harmon Snow on the issue of Genocide (The White Supremacy of Genocide). Snow, a former UN investigator of genocide, made some glaring statements against governments (and corporate) influence in international genocide incidents. Following on the heels of this interview, almost as if in response to alarming claims that were made, was the announcement of the passing away of Madiba – Nelson Mandela.

The 2 events in rapid succession seem to establish the 2 extremes of leadership, and forces one to think about the reality of leadership and its context today. We infer 2 lessons that can be identified from this reality:

Keith Harmon Snow

1. If leadership is defined as willing influence – or rather the ability to influence people to willing think / act / behave in a desired way, then we see in the Genocide feature the exertion of leadership entirely for self-serving means, regardless of the effects on other people – in this case entire nations of people across the world. On the other part, Nelson Mandela is recognised as a leader who epitomizes selflessness – and stands out as a model for all persons of all ages throughout the world.

The fact that both examples centre around Africa makes the reality even more stark and profound. This illustrates an important lesson, in the fact that leadership is often thought of in the context of ‘goodness’ and high ethical standards and practice, whereas the reality is that the person or group wielding influence my be anything but. It must be recognised that the leader as a person or a group can be either positive or negative – selfless or self-serving, and either way both are leaders, regardless of the extent to which we agree with the outcomes.

2. The second point centres on the form which the messages took – both via the internet and both being broadcast throughout the world. Looking ahead at leadership and its evolution in the technological world, one cannot help but consider that we today are in an environment where ignorance is literally no longer an excuse – we have access to, and in many respects are bombarded by, information in many forms and from many sources. This can result, and seemingly is resulting, in shorter attention spans for any item of information.

That the barrage of information continues unabated would make it difficult for individuals to linger long enough on any 1 area of emphasis, or get others to commit to a cause over a sustained period. The leader of today through tomorrow would need to be constantly vigilant of not succumbing to manufactured consent (as noam chomsky put it), but resist the digital influence of negative forms of leadership.

In essence, where we live in an environment of ready information access, the rejection of negative leadership becomes an obligation. This is reflected in the life of Mandela, and shrouds the issues around Genocide. As Mandela himself said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The information is there. The question is would we use it to change the world? Would we even commit to make this world a better place? For those disinclined, John Milton says it best: “They who have put out the people’s eyes, reproach them of their blindness.”