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I. Motivating, Goal Setting and Monitoring
In my previous blogs I have identified both premodern and modern versions of both Style One and Style Two Leadership. I have also introduced the premodern version of Style Three. In this blog I will describe the ways in which the third leadership style has been translated from its premodern form to the form found commonly in modern social systems.
While the third premodern leadership style focused on creating a vision, the modern Style Three leader will focus on creating a TANGIBLE VISION and this is done through focused motivation, the setting of specific goals and the monitoring of the ways in which and extent to which these goals are achieved within the organization. Thus, a person who is assigned this third form of leadership must not only be able to articulate a vision of the future that is persuasive and motivating, she must also be able to “deliver” on this vision—in other words be a good, achieving manager. The organizational vision may come from the Style Three leader herself or may be assigned to her by other people in the organization (the so-called “stakeholders”). When the third style of modern leadership is coupled with style two (empowerment), then the manager will be involved not only in the setting and monitoring of goals, but also in the creation of the organization’s vision and in the translation of this vision into tangible goals (and even more tangible objectives).
The observant reader will note that the term “motivation” is used with regard to both premodern and modern Style Three leadership. While this term is appropriate to both styles, the source of the motivation is quite different. In the case of the premodern Style One leader, the motivation is intrinsic – that is to say the realization of the vision is itself inherently valuable and exciting for all (or at least most) members of the organization. Alexander the Great inspired his troops to fight on because he helped them see the inherent value of their mission to conquer and Hellenize the outside world. Much as in the case of many other crusades and wars of later years, Alexander was able to convince the men he led to give up their families, their “fortunes” and even their lives on behalf of some greater good and some inspiring vision of a possible future (on earth or in heaven).
By contrast, the motives being engaged by the modern Style Three leader are extrinsic in nature. An employee does not necessarily believe in the inherent value of the product he is being asked to produce or the service he is being asked to provide. Furthermore, the modern employee is not necessarily inspired by the profit to be made by the owners of his company as a result of his good work. The modern employee is much more likely to be inspired and motivated by the rewards he is likely to receive related to achievement of a specific set of goals. These rewards are not necessarily monetary—though they often are. They might come in the form of public recognition, promotion to a new job or, at the very least, increased assurance of job security. While the profit to be made by his organization is not inherently motivating for the modern employee, there is comfort to be derived from knowing that one’s organization is financially solvent and is likely to open its doors again tomorrow morning (and for many morning thereafter). The motivation might also come from the exposure to frequent challenges, the opportunity to work with people who are gifted and supportive or the ability to perform work that is relatively stable over time. These are all motivators that an effective modern Style Three manager will use to encourage and “inspire” his subordinates (and colleagues).
The modern Style Three leader is faced with a major challenge: how does one translate an inspiring vision into tangible goals. This is not just a matter of moving from some general, vague notion about what the world could be to some specific, even quantifiable goals. An even greater challenge for the Style Three leader concerns the magnitude of the goals: how big should they be and how ambitious should they be? Many years ago, David McClelland and his colleagues at Harvard University conducted research on the need to achieve. They discovered that people with a low need to achieve tend to set their goals either very low (making them very easy to achieve and nonchallenged) or very high (making them either impossible to achieve or achievable only with a great deal of good fortune or “luck”). Men and women with a high need to achieve will tend to set their goals at a high but realistic level. Years later, Hershey and Blanchard identified a key concept in team goal-setting that complimented the McClelland findings. Hershey and Blanchard wrote about the capacity of a mature team to set goals that are high and ambitious, but also attainable.
In much more recent times, Czikszentmihalyi has written about (and done research) on the conditions that are most amenable to high levels of concentration and learning. These conditions are those in which there is a major challenge, yet the challenge is not so great that it can’t be achieved. These results amplify the findings of McClelland, as well as Hershey and Blanchard. Goals should be set at a high but realistic level. The one major addition to be found in the work of Czikszentmihalyi returns us to the issue of motivation—and calls into question the distinction I have already drawn between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Czikszentmihalyi observers that these “threshold” experiences (when challenges can be met) are highly motivating in and of themselves (suggesting intrinsic motivation). According to Czikszentmihalyi these “flow” experiences are among the most motivating that one can experience in life. The power of “flow” would suggest that modern motivational theory and modern management practices associated with Style Three leadership need to be re-examined. In many instances, there may be little or no need for an extrinsic motivator (such as money, public recognition or job security). The task itself may provide sufficient motivation—provided that the goals that are set for the task are ambitious (“idealistic”) yet achievable (“realistic”). The challenge facing a modern Style Three leader is therefore one of translating a vision into goals that are situated in the midst of the threshold of “flow” that has been articulated by Czikszentmihalyi.
It is not enough to set goals – as a Style Three leader operating in a modern society, it is also critical that the attempts to achieve these goals be closely monitored. This emphasis on accountability has become particularly critical in recent years, with tighter budgets and a push toward “zero-based” budgeting (starting each year with a clean budgetary slate and the requirement that each manager justify their program) and “return-on-investment” (comparing the costs associated with any new project with the outcomes of this project). The successful modern day manager must find a way to monitor goal achievement and to somehow measure this achievement (“metrics”).
In many ways, this focus on goal monitoring is not new. It can be traced back more than forty years to the era when “management by objectives” was in vogue—and the era of modern management was at its peak. This approach to the monitoring of goals directly addressed one of the major objections that was often voiced about management: how does a manager monitor goal achievement in a way that impacts on the overall performance of the organization? Does it really make any difference if an individual employee or a project team is doing an adequate job? While many 21st Century management experts are opposed to the use of management-by-objectives or more contemporary outcome measures, given that many factors other than an individual employee’s or individual team’s work influences outcomes, there is still a very strong case to be made for a focus on goal setting and goal monitoring outcomes and on the extent to which individual employees and teams are directly accountable for achieving the goals that have been set for them.
One key factor must be kept in mind by the modern Style Three leader and manager. As I mentioned with regard to premodern Style Three leadership, goals must always be established in relationship to the organization’s mission, values and purposes. The four components of organizational intentions (mission, vision, values and purposes) are tightly interwoven and modifications in one will inevitably impact on the other three. Even at the more tactical and specific level of goal-setting and monitoring, it is critical for a leader and manager to ensure that these goals do not in any way abuse the fundamental values of the organization and that they ultimately contribute to both the mission and purposes of the organization. This broader focus on organizational intentions can easily be lost in a modern organizational setting that emphasizes short-term profitability and quantified return-on-investment.