27- The Modern Leader: Style Three. I. Motivating, Goal Setting and Monitoring

December 28, 2009

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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).

Modern Motivation

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).

Goal Setting

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.

Goal Monitoring

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.

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26- The Modern Leader: Style Two. II. The Challenges

December 21, 2009

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II. The Challenges

The premodern Style Two leader builds her credibility on the foundation of courage—and typically looks to an external enemy as the focus for engaging this courage. A modern Style Two leader, who builds her credibility on the foundation of empowerment, is challenged by the nature and power of the internal enemy. In many ways, an internal enemy is much harder to engage than one that is external. The internal enemy may be constantly shifting, as new factions develop around specific policies or priorities. Furthermore, we usually have to work with the internal “enemies” rather than defeating them. As we come to appreciate the insights offered from alternative perspectives in our organization and as we seek to empower those with whom we work, then the internal enemy is likely to be transformed from a specific person, department or organizational perspective, to a pervasive ignorance in the organization or to a pervasive sense in the organization of entitlement or passivity or bureaucratic indifference.

The Ambiguous Enemy

The premodern enemy is usually rather easy to identify. He is out there, threatening us at the gates of our city (or organization). The internal enemy is inherently ambiguous—unless we chose to take the destructive path of identifying a specific and tangible internally-threatening enemy. How do we go about identifying and “concretizing” the ambiguous internal enemy? Do we use the rhetoric of warfare, such as often occurs with a government agency: “the war on drugs” or “homeland security”? While this may work short term, this rhetoric carries unwanted or at least inappropriate baggage with it. We look to war-like strategies to defeat the war-like internal enemy. We question loyalty when alternative perspectives are offered. We apply coercion rather than either clarification or persuasion to bring about the “defeat” of the internal enemy.

Much as the challenge of premodern courageous leadership can be summed up in two words (“powerful enemy”), so the challenge of modern leadership/management of courage can be summed up in two other words: EMPATHETIC EMPOWERMENT. The effective Style Two leader will be open to alternative perspectives, will fully appreciate the need for flexibility in addressing the complex problems of the modern world. Furthermore, the Style Two leader will fully embrace and engage the processes of empowerment as related to patterns of communication, conflict-management, problem-solving and decision-making in her department or organization.

There are several alternative strategies that can be applied in moving toward empathetic empowerment. These strategies are much less warlike in orientation. The metaphors to be used are based on models of appreciation and collaboration. First, we can frame the internal enemy as a corrective polarity—a polarity that has gone too far or is no longer relevant. For instance, it may be important (if not critical) to honor organizational traditions and to serve the interests of continuity and predictability within an organization. Excessive and indiscriminate change can destroy an organization. Yet, an emphasis on tradition, continuity and predictability can be pushed too far, leading an organization to atrophy. The enemy becomes the over-emphasis on tradition (or an over-emphasis on change). This over-emphasis needs to be “corrected” not “defeated.” The empowering leader can show modern-day courage by pointing the way to this correction and by ensuring that the correction doesn’t shove the organization to the opposite extreme and to a whiplash swinging from extreme to extreme. This first approach to framing and managing the internal enemy is systemic in nature. There is a need for rebalancing the organization—an acknowledgement of homo-stasis (the important and adaptive tendency of healthy organizations to return to some balance point between two extremes).

The second way in which to frame the internal enemy is based on an alternative way to think of organizations as systems. This approach focuses on the dynamics of homeorhesis (the important and adaptive tendency of healthy organizations to return to some operational pattern). This approach is much more ambitious and much harder to engage. It is much easier to return an organization to homeostasis than it is to identify, address and correct an embedded organizational pattern. What do these homeorhetic patterns look like? They may involve patterns of decision-making in the organization or patterns of communication, conflict-management or problem-solving (the four building blocks of the empowerment pyramid).

Communication patterns often involve the distribution of “air-time” among members of a group (whether meeting in person or meeting virtually via email or conference call). Who is expected to (and allowed to) dominate the conversation? Who is expected to offer information and who can offer options? How is the communication managed? Does someone serve as “gatekeeper” ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to speak? Are there many attempts to clarify the communication that does occur? Is there much paraphrasing? Is active listening engaged? To what extent does each person who is speaking (or writing) build on the ideas being presented by the previous speaker or writer? Empowering communication typically involves candid conversations about these patterns (a process that is often described as “meta-communication” or communication-about-communication).

Once communication has been addressed successfully by a Style Two leader and her associates, attention should focus on the ways in which conflict is being managed. Typically, it is only when communication is clear and when all parties are given an opportunity to voice their own opinions and share their own assumptions, that differences among these parties become clear. We might assume that our perspectives and desired outcomes differ from those of other people—however we don’t’ really appreciative the differences that exist until such time as we can truly listen to the words being spoken or written by these other constituencies. This means that it is not unusual for conflict to increase or at least become more evident when once empowering communication has been established.

Conflict is best addressed in an empowering manner when a Style Two leader seeks a higher level of agreement between herself and the other party: we seem to agree about the need for XXX and shift our attention to finding a common path that leads to this goal. Alternatively, the Style Two leader may seek to reach an agreement with a conflicting party by reaching agreement with this party about a sequence of actions: we will first seek to achieve your goals and then seek to achieve mine. A third alternative is to shift attention from the issue of direct priority (which goal is most important) to the issue of enablement (to what extent does each goal enable other goals to be achieved).

With the resolution or at least effective management of conflict, a Style Two leader is ready to address the pattern of problem solving in her department or organization. Is there a focus on the current status (realism) or on the desired state (idealism)? Is there a tendency to move quickly to action or to spend considerable time in reflection on alternative actions (as related to the assessment of current status or desired state)? To what extent is there a focus on rational processes of problem solving and to what extent a focus on creative and divergent processes of problem solving? Empowered problem solving requires a balance between realism and idealism, a balance between reflection and action, and a balance between rational and creative processes. An empowering Style Two leader encourages and embraces multiple problem solving strategies.

Finally, with an empowering and diverse set of problem solving strategies in place, the Style Two leader is ready to engage effective decision-making processes in the organization. The existing patterns of decision-making are often the most challenging to reform. The Style Two leader must be willing to identify and openly discuss the benefits and costs associated with current patterns of decision making in her organization and identify ways in which her specific department or organization might most successfully make decisions in specific areas. When should consensus be reached? Consensus decision making is usually only needed for very important decisions that require not only the understanding and consent of all parties, but also the active engagement of these parties in implementation of the decision. When can a small subgroup make the decision and when is it appropriate for the leader to operate in a unilateral manner? When are votes to be taken? What constitutes a “working” majority?

For empowerment to be successful, the Style Two leader must encourage ongoing reflection on the communication, conflict-management, problem-solving and decision-making patterns in her department or organization. The successful modern day Style Two leader is guided by the principle that form should follow function. The particular pattern to be engaged by members of her department or organization should be based on the specific function(s) being served by this department or organization. Does this department or organization need to respond rapidly to shifting environmental conditions? How much risk can be taken? Is there a high or low level of clarity with regard to the current challenges being faced by the department or organization? The answers to these fundamental questions will help to guide the processes of communication, conflict-management, problem-solving and decision-making that are being engaged by the Style Two leader.


25- The Modern Leader: Style Two. I. Managing Empowerment and Internal Organizational Conflicts

December 14, 2009

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I. Managing Empowerment and Internal Organizational Conflicts

In my previous blog I identified a modern version of Style One Leadership. This is a way of leading that is based on the assumption that leaders are (or at least should be) sources of learning for those with whom they interact. They are effective at delegating and supervising. They teach and mentor other members of their organization. In the next two blogs I will describe the second leadership style as it operates in a modern social system.

This second leadership style focuses in a premodern setting on courage. In a modern setting, this second style focuses not so much on personal bravery and courage on the part of the leader as on the capacity of the leader (as manager) to instill courage in those with whom this leader works – this is a process of EMPOWERMENT. The “enemy” no longer resides outside the organization. It now resides inside the organization and can take on many forms. The enemy might be manifest in rivalry between different departments inside the organization or in the misunderstanding that exists among individuals or groups within the organization. The Style Two leader is effective if she can manage the conflict between these departments, groups or individuals. At an even more profound level, the enemy resides within the power differentials that operate within virtually all organizations. Those who are “in power” control things and those who have little power feel as if they are pawns or victims of this power differential. The effective Style Two leader can be effective if she can help increase the sense of power among those who typically feel powerless. She EMPOWERS as a leader and manager.

Trained for Management

While modern leadership that focuses on the sharing of knowledge (Style One) usually comes with ongoing education, we are more likely to find that empowering managers receive training in the use of specific tools that enable empowerment and that help an effective Style Two manager struggle against the “enemies” that exist in the competition and misunderstanding existing within the organization. As in the case of premodern Style Two leadership, the tools for engaging in effective Style Two management are tactical more than strategic. There are essentially four sets of managerial tools that lead toward empowerment: (1) communication, (2) conflict management, (3) problem-solving and (4) decision-making. I have written extensively about these four sets of tools in other publications, but will offer a brief summary here.

The tools of communication that an effective Style Two manager can learn through an intensive training program include: paraphrase (and other active listening skills), group facilitation (with a focus on gate-keeping—the equitable distribution of time among all group members), and (in recent years) emotional intelligence (with a focus on the sharing of information about oneself and empathy for the feelings and concerns of other people). The tools of effective conflict management include negotiation (and other interpersonal facilitation tools), assertiveness (and other related communication tools, and group facilitation (with a focus on managing the difficult, self-oriented team member).

There are a wide variety of tools available in the area of problem-solving. Some are oriented toward systematic and rational problem-solving (such as the K-T tools that were so popular in the corporate world during the late 20th Century), while others are oriented toward creativity and originality (such as the tools of brain-storming, synectics and reframing). In the area of decision-making there are tools that range from the highly structured procedures for conducting meetings (building on the tradition of Roberts Rules of Order) to more humanistic tools associated with the processes of consensus building (such as those exemplified in the Future Search process).

In each of these cases, the skills needed to be effective as a tactician are assumed to be available to all managers. Specific tools and procedures can be taught that involve communications, conflict-management, problem-solving and decision making. While courage can not be taught –just as wisdom is not readily acquired—there are ways in which this second type of modern leader can prepare ahead of time for battle. Just as in the case of the premodern leader of courage it is not enough for the modern manager to be a courageous warrior. One must also be a cunning warrior—equipped with powerful managerial training.

Identifying and Engaging the Enemy

The key to wholehearted acceptance of and sustained support for a Style Two manager operating in a modern setting resides in the identification of an enemy that is both powerful and persistent. Given that the modern enemy resides within the organization, conceptual tools must be available that enable a manager to readily identify the enemy. One such tool is Bruce Tuchman’s stages of group development. This very popular conceptual tool helps a manager identify a specific sequence by which certain challenges associated with groups and teams will emerge. Furthermore, this sequence often suggests an appropriate sequence for acquiring and engaging each of the four sets of empowerment tools. Tuckman’s first stage concerns the challenges associated with forming a group or team and the tools for enhancing communication are particularly appropriate at this stage.

Stage Two concerns the movement of a group or team through a storming stage, with the tools associated with conflict-management being most appropriate. At the third stage, a group or team is focused on building the enduring norms by which it operates. The tools associated with problem-solving fit nicely with this stage, for the group or team is typically at this stage determining how it will be “thinking” about the issues it must address and about the ways in which the full capacities of the team can be engaged. Finally, the stage of performing primarily concerns the process of arriving at and implementing decisions. The tools of decision-making are obviously relevant here. Just as battles tend to move through various stages, so the dynamics of groups and teams (as well as interpersonal relationships). The effective Style Two manager will learn about these stages and engage appropriate tools at each stage.


24- The Modern Leader: Style One. II. The Challenges

January 12, 2009

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II. The Challenges

As in the case of the premodern leader of wisdom, a modern leader who builds her credibility on wisdom may at times be quite resistant to any challenge to his wisdom. This challenge might come from those who report to him or from among his peers who may question his wisdom (especially when profound change is occurring inside the organization or in the environment in which this organization operates). Obviously, we now live in a world where profound change is occurring within and around virtually all organizations. This suggests that most modern leaders and managers of wisdom are living in challenging times.

This challenge is even greater when the existing leadership is based on premodern wisdom and the credibility of an organization’s leadership is based on modern principles of management and on the educational programs that transmit and provide verification of these modern principles. In a previous blog I mentioned that I work with many young men and women from Asia who come to the United States to obtain a Masters Degree in Management. Their parents are typically deeply embedded in premodern cultures and have built their credibility on the basis of premodern wisdom. These premodern leaders often feel particularly challenged by their highly educated sons and daughters who want to introduce modern management principles into their parents’ organization.

The Subordinates’ Ambivalence

The premodern “follower” is often ambivalent about transitions in leadership. They want their premodern leaders to always be wise, but also want them to acknowledge the growing wisdom of other members of the premodern organization. Similarly, at one level, the modern subordinate wants her boss to be wise. She wants him to be a good manager and to be “up-to-date” with regard to modern management principles. However, part of what it means to be a “good manager” is respect for the growing competencies of subordinates.

One of the mostly widely used models of modern leadership/management—that is offered by Hershey and Blanchard—is based on the assumption that the style of leadership and management should shift as the people being led becomes increasingly knowledgeable about the tasks they are assigned, are able to set high but realistic goals, and are able to work effectively with other employees. In other words, the successful manager not only transmits her wisdom, she also acknowledges and supports the growing wisdom of the men and women who report to her.

Much as the challenge of premodern wise leadership can be summed up in two words (“succession planning”), so can the challenge of modern leadership/management of wisdom be summed up in two other words: THOUGHTFUL INFLUENCE. As a carefully trained and educated manager in a modern organization one should not be in the business of controlling the actions of one’s subordinates. With control comes an environment of repression and intimidation. Subordinates learn very little in this environment and certainly are not being prepared for movement themselves into management and modern leadership. On the other hand, a lasses faire attitude is also counter-productive—in which the modern manager pretty much ignores their subordinates and treats the successes and failures of their subordinates with indifference. Neither extreme are appropriate in the modern organization. Somewhere in between is the process of influence: the effective manager teaches, mentors, supervises and delegates. Each of these managerial initiatives is intended to be influential. All-too-often, unfortunately, modern management training programs stress control rather than influence. It is all-too-frequently the case that the opposite actually occurs: managerial indifference and isolation. What would a managerial training program look like that emphasizes behaviors that lead to influence rather than control, and to engagement with subordinates rather than a reliance on formal supervisory rules and regulations that are alienating.

Thoughtfulness must accompany the pattern of managerial influence. Donald Schön writes about reflective practice as critical for effective leadership in contemporary society. He is referring to ways in which someone in a leadership role is always testing out their hypotheses about how to conduct business in their unit of the organization and even more importantly how to work with other people (including subordinates). This means that an effective leader/manager is open to and actively seeks out feedback on their behavior from other members of the organization—and in particular from their subordinates. This feedback, in turn, requires that the modern leader/manager is willing to articulate the assumptions they are making and the processes of reasoning that underlie the decision they make and the interpersonal strategies they are employing. Thoughtful influence requires, in other words, that the modern leader/manager is open to being influenced by other people. Paradoxically, when we are open to influence from other people, they are, in turn, more open to be influenced by us.   

As I have repeatedly noted, we are living in organizations that are simultaneously premodern and modern—and are becoming increasingly aligned with a postmodern reality.  Effective modern leaders/managers recognize this hybrid reality. Their wisdom is based, in part, on this recognition and on the adoption of multiple and flexibly employed styles of leadership and management when navigating these turbulent waters of premodern, modern and postmodern reality. These styles of leadership and management rely in part on wisdom and its modern application via thoughtful influence. There are also styles of leadership that rely on modern equivalents to premodern courage and vision. I turn in the next blog to the modern day equivalent to organizational courage—a commodity that often is in short order when we search for effective 21st Century leadership. 

 


23- The Modern Leader: Style One. I. Education and Experience

January 5, 2009

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I. Education and Experience

In my previous six blogs I focused on three different styles of premodern leadership that have appeared in similar form in many different models of leadership and in conjunction with premodern social systems. In the six upcoming blogs I will provide a description of each of these leadership styles as they appear in modern societies. In each instance, the role of leader merges with that of manager. The successful leader, in other words, is a success manager—and management can be taught and managers can be created. Managers operating in modern organizations are not born into greatness nor do they necessarily need external forces (such as enemies) or auspicious circumstances (an appropriate vision at the right time and place) to be successful. They are “manufactured” in standardized formats—much like the products and services created by the organizations they manage.

I begin in this blog and the next blog with the modern version of the first leadership style. In its premodern form, this leadership style focuses on wisdom. In its modern form this style focuses on the role of the leader/manager in SHARING THE WISDOM with other members of the organization. This sharing of wisdom is engaged through effective delegation and supervision, through teaching and through mentoring. When a modern manager delegates, he or she is essentially “educating” the person being supervised regarding the job he or she is to perform. Supposedly, the manager knows more about the job to be performed than does the subordinate. The manager assigns specific tasks to the subordinate, in part because the subordinate is not as knowledgeable (at least initially) about the tasks to be done in order to achieve specific objectives. As in the case of the premodern leader, the issue of subordinate maturation and experience often arises: at some point the subordinate may very well know more about the tasks to be performed than does the manager. Under these conditions, the subordinate either passively accepts the manager’s orders (even though these orders are not always correct, appropriate or maximally efficient) or offers some alternative suggestions. Hopefully, the latter option is viable—though all-too-often we witness the subordinate grumbling about the foolish or stupid “jerk” who is serving as manager.

Similarly, in the case of manager as trainer and mentor, the modern version of wise leader is engaged. We assume, once again, that the manager is more experienced and skillful than the subordinate and that the primarily goal of the manager is to share this wisdom. In some cases, teaching and mentoring is quite explicit. I have worked with (and greatly admire) one leader/manager who defines his primarily role in the organization as that of teacher and mentor. He believes that he is doing a good job when he has made himself dispensable by teaching and mentoring his new hires. Unlike the threatened modern manager, this highly experienced leader/manager has no problem with succession planning—he is constantly in the business of building capacity in his staff. Wouldn’t it be a joy if we could speak similarly about all modern managers!

Educated for Management

What about education of the managers—those who are assumed to be “wise”? Obviously, not all education of managers comes through their interactions with a gifted, experienced and caring leader. Much of what modern managers learn comes from the management development program they took as young men and women or from the ongoing management education they receive as aspiring leaders in an organization. During the 20th Century, management education was one of the major growth industries in North American colleges and universities. The whole notion of management education and degrees in management didn’t even exist prior to the 20th Century. Management education only emerged when “management” was identified as something that can be taught and as something that some people do as a “livelihood” (rather than being an addition to their other duties in the organization—such as “running the place”).

It has also become clear that a manager doesn’t have to receive her degree from a high-pedigree university in order to be a successful manager. In fact, many management program (undergraduate and graduate) are conducted by schools that are very low on the higher education totem-poll. These are institutions that primarily serve matured men and women rather than young adults. The University of Phoenix and National University come immediately to mind when identifying “convenient” institutions that serve working adults by teaching about management. These institutions are often primarily supported through tuition revenues paid by corporations that assign value to this form of education for their employees. These management education programs not only provide an education to the up-and-coming managers but also serve as an incentive or benefit that attracts and retains promising employees.

I identified a bit of irony in an earlier blog with regard to premodern leadership training and education. Prestigious education has rarely been directly devoted to the acquisition of leadership skills—usually because an assumption is made that leadership can’t be taught. The prevalent premodern assumption is that only character, discipline, and broad-based knowledge can (perhaps) be taught or inculcated. It is quite a different story with regard to modern management education. It is assumed that management can be taught—though it is interesting to note that very little data actually have been accumulated regarding the improvement of management following completion of an MBA program. Perhaps, it is the perception of support for management development that is critical—not the actually acquisition of knowledge and skills that are applicable to the daily challenges of contemporary management.

Leadership, Experience and Education

I mentioned with regard to premodern leadership that a man or woman does not have to be formally educated and prepared to become a leader. The premodern leader may attain this status as a result of substantial experience in the field or organization. This assumption does not seem to hold true in most modern organizations. Managers are expected to obtain (or at least work on) an MBA if they are to advance in the organization. I have recently worked with one organization that actually expects their managers to obtain a second or even a third MBA degree in order to “keep up” with contemporary management practices. The head of HR in another international corporation with which I work estimates that a mid-manager who works in her organization throughout their career will obtain the equivalent to seven MBAs by the time they retire—this seven MBAs being comprised of not only degree programs but also management development programs being conducted inside her organization.

This HR leader admits that there is little data to support the claim that these seven MBAs produce better managers than a lifetime of managerial experience. Furthermore, she is the first to admit that the informal mentoring and the formal delegation and supervision that occurs in the “trenches” often provides an employee with more and better training and education than the seven MBA programs. But she isn’t about to admit this to her own bosses, given that they are directing substantial funding to her in-house management development programs and to full or partial reimbursement of tuition payments for external management education programs.

In my earlier blog concerning Style One premodern leadership I asked: what kind of experience seems to be important? To end this blog I will ask a comparable question regarding modern leadership and management: what kind of ongoing education and training really makes a difference in the performance of leader/managers in modern organizations? Are there other ways in which wisdom can be effectively shared? What about coupling management education with mentoring and with organizational coaching? How does career counseling and how do career ladders enhance (or block) effective management development? These are questions to be addressed in future blogs. In the next blog I provide a brief description of the challenges which a modern leader/manager of wisdom faces—especially in a postmodern world.


22- The Premodern Leader: Style Three. II. The Challenges

December 22, 2008

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II. The Challenges

If a vision is generated that is compelling, what do we do about it? We must do more than applaud the visionary speech-giver. We must do more than walk away, inspired to do good –for at least a day or week. So-called “motivational” speakers provide a welcome respite from the daily grind, but they rarely have along term impact. As was the case with the two other premodern styles of leadership, the neurosciences offer an important clue. Recent research regarding the hormonal system in the human body points to the important role played not just by adrenaline (which plays a key role in the Style Two Leadership focus on fighting and fleeing from the enemy), but also by oxytocin, a hormone that brings us closes together rather than leads us to fight or flee. Oxytocin is a “bonding” agency. It is critical to the production of love and hope in human beings. It is the hormone that surges in women (and even in men) when a child is about to be born. It is the primary physiological ingredient which turns (to use Martin Buber’s phrase) an “I-It” relationship into an “I-Thou” relationship.

I would propose that oxytocin is also critical to the sustained engagement with a compelling vision. While adrenaline may surge after a stirring (and visionary) speech, it is the bonding power of oxytocin that motivates people to build on a vision through collaboration and community. Thus, the neurosciences are teaching us that premodern leaders of vision must not just excite people, they must also “bond” people to the new vision. In another publication I write about the “triangulation” that is required for a vision to be sustained. By this I mean that it is not just enough for two people to work together—a third element must be present if the working relationship is to be sustained. This third element is a shared vision (linked to a shared mission, set of values and compelling social purpose). The “I-Thou” conception offered by Martin Buber provides us with guidance in this matter. According to Buber (a Jewish theologian), the “I-Thou” exists through God’s grace.

Similarly, the Greek word “agape” refers not just to mankind’s relationship to some deity. It also relates to the ways in which we treat and care for other people on behalf of our religious beliefs. In the 21st Century, we need not focus on the relationship between humankind and a deity—we can focus instead on the ways in which relationships are enhanced and sustained (“I-Thou”) when these relationships are based on a shared vision—when oxytocin is produced to bind people together and bind people to an organization and its vision (as well as mission, values and purposes). This is the key to enactment of a vision. It must induce a sense of community and shared commitment—hence can not just be the product of one person’s sense of the future.

Keeping the Vision Alive

If people are bound together, at least in part, through commitment to a shared, compelling vision of the future, then it become obvious that the key role to be played by the visionary leader is: KEEP THE VISION ALIVE. This usually means not only that the leader periodically reminds his or her colleagues of the vision, but also that the leader facilitates a periodic review of and updating of the vision. The leader of vision is in trouble if the vision either is ignored or if the vision is reached. Thus, there must always be a sense of something undone, of something yet to be done, of something worth doing.

Many years ago, a noted European social historian, Fred Polak, wrote about the decline of social systems that have lost their image of the future. I will have much more to say about Polak’s important work in a later blog; it is only important to note at this point, that Polak points to a critical factor in the ongoing existence of any social system (or any living system for that matter). It must have something toward which it is moving or toward which it is growing. Organisms are inherently “auto-telic”—meaning that they are self-purposed. They don’t need anything outside themselves to engage their world actively and in an inquisitive manner. This is the fundamental nature of play (common to all mammalians) and of curiosity. Without a sense of direction and future possibilities we dry up and find no reason to face the continuing challenge of survival. We also find little reason for producing and preparing a new generation.

In the series of Australian movies regarding Mad Max a post-nuclear holocaust world is portrayed that is coming to an end. When no viable future is in sight, then (as we see in these movies) there is no attending to children. They must fend for themselves, for we know they have no personal futures. Ironically, there is a powerful story about post-nuclear holocaust in a novel by Cormac McCarthy called The Road in which the father continues to protect and sacrifice for his son, even though the world is coming to an end. This extraordinary protagonist somehow finds meaning and purpose – and vision—regarding his son in the midst of despair and death. Perhaps this is the type of premodern leadership that we need in our challenging world of 21st Century terrorism, nihilism and despair. McCarthy offers us a portrait of leadership that blends courage (Style Two) with vision (Style Three)—and perhaps in some very deep manner even the qualities of wisdom (Style One).

The premodern leader who is honored and respected for his or her capacity to convey a compelling vision of the future needs a viable vision (just as the Style Two leader needs an enemy and the Style One leader needs to possess wisdom). One of the great challenges for the third type of leader emerges when the vision has been realized, abandoned or ignored. If there is no longer the need for a vision, than we certainly don’t need a visionary leader. We can point once again to Winston Churchill as a notable example of this decline in collective support for a visionary leadership. During World War II, Churchill not only exhibited courage, he also articulated a compelling vision regarding the future of England (and all of Europe), that helped to increase the resolve of English citizens to fight against the Naxi regime and Hitler’s equally as compelling (though horrifying) vision for a new Europe. When the Germans were defeated, England and Churchill not only lost an enemy, they also lost their compelling vision for the future. While England (and all of Western Europe) were certainly better off after World War II was terminated, than they were during the war—there was not a new Europe. The United Nations didn’t solve all international problems. This was not the war-to-end-all-wars (as was proclaimed at the conclusion of World War I). Many writers have documented the existential despair that followed World War II, when people had to return to a life that had not improved, despite the visionary statements of World War II leaders like Churchill, Roosevelt, DeGaulle—even Stalin.

Organizational Visions

What about the role of premodern vision on a smaller plain—in a group or organization? I would propose that the same challenge exists. The vision must remain viable. Organizations are often in crisis when they achieve some success and have realized a dream. What do we do now that we have completed this five year plan? We have obtained this grant and have initiated our new programs, but nothing has really changed and we are still hustling for more funds. It is critical that a new set of goals be established before the old ones are realized; it is equally as important, however, that achievement of the old goals be honored and celebrated. An organization that simply moves from one five year plan to a second five year plan is just as vulnerable to exhaustion and disillusionment as an organization that never realizes its dreams (because they have been set too high). We must appreciate the achievement of current goals and must linger for a moment to honor the old dream and vision before moving forward to a new sense of the future.

At times, the old visionary leader must step aside for the new vision—given that he or she has finished the task and awaits a period of rest and reflection back on what has been achieved. At other times, the old visionary leader becomes the new visionary leader and finds renewed energy and commitment while collaborating with others in the formulation of the new vision. As in the case of the old, wise leader and the warrior who has spent many years battling an ancient foe, the visionary leader and his or her followers must decide when “enough-is-enough” and when the mantle of leadership must be passed on to the next generation. This is perhaps the most important decision that a premodern leader can make – whether wise, courageous or visionary. When do I move on and how do I help the next generation succeed? In many instances, this “moving on” centers on the shift to a modern or even postmodern style of leadership. It is to these styles that I turn in future blogs.

As I did in the previous blogs, I conclude by proposing that it is not uncommon for us to still live in premodern organizations. At the very least, we are living in the back of our minds and hearts in a world that may no longer exist—if it ever did. This is a world filled with men and women of vision (as well as courage and wisdom). We don’t’ differ in this regard from men and women who lived at much earlier times. The Greeks of antiquity, for instance, believed that their myths were the “realities” of a previous time in their history—when Gods acted upon and in the world and when exceptional men and women (called “heroes”) lived in the world. Then one day, according to many Greek writers (such as Homer and Sophocles) this Golden Age came to an end. The Greeks were left, as ordinary men and women, to live ordinary lives and reflect back through myths and ceremonies on this previous world of Gods and Heroes.  It is important—perhaps essential—that we recognize the fact of this same premodern perspective exists in 21st Century life. We must acknowledge that we, like the Greeks before us, yearn for a certain type of premodern leadership. We find ourselves disappointed in our leaders. They are, after all, only human. They are neither Gods nor Heroes. At other times we are profoundly thankful for and appreciative of these leaders—and in particular of the moments when these leaders are truly heroic as they face (with wisdom, courage and vision) the challenging world of 21st Century complexity, unpredictability and turbulence.

 


21- The Premodern Leader: Style Three. I. Articulating the Vision at the Right Time and Place

December 15, 2008

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I. Articulating the Vision at the Right Time and Place

In my previous two blogs I identified premodern versions of Style One and Style Two Leadership. These are ways of leading that are based on the assumption that leaders are sources of great wisdom (Style One) or sources of great courage (Style Two). In this blog I will a describe a third leadership style that operates in a premodern social system.

This third premodern leadership style focuses on VISION. A person is assigned this third form of leadership because he or she can articulate a vision of the future that is persuasive and motivating. This person is assigned a leadership role not only because he or she is articulate and persuasive, but also because the people he or she is leading “hunger” for a dream or image of an alternative reality that will either help them build a game plan for getting out of the current reality or will enable them to be distracted from their current reality (a variation on the Style Two strategy of flight).

In both of the previous blogs, I mentioned that Alexander the Great is a vivid personification of premodern leadership. In this blog I would propose that he also exemplifies the third style—he had everything going for him. He was truly a “visionary” and coupled this vision with the wisdom he had acquired as a student of Aristotle and as the son of Phillip of Macedonia with the courage and competence he displayed as a great warrior. His vision was to conquer and “civilize” the Mideast and Asia. Like many of his fellow-citizens in the Grecian world, Alexander was apparently quite arrogant about the “advanced” state of Greece (when compared to the rest of the world) and quite patronizing with regard to his “responsibility” to make the rest of the world more like Greece. As is the case with many contemporary leaders in the Western World, Alexander offered a vision that was quite biased and xenophobic: “we are the best and will bring all other people, even if by force, to our state of advancement.” Visions are not always beneficial to the world—Hitler being a prime example of a premodern visionary leader who was articulate and compelling in offering his people a vision of genocide and world dominance.

Leadership at the Right Time and Place

While premodern leadership that builds on wisdom usually comes with a prestigious education, and courageous leaders receive training that prepares them to fight against the enemy, the visionary leader is someone who may not have much of an education or much training—but who is in the right place at the right time to offer a vision of the future. In fact, the visionary leader often comes to leadership with minimal preparation. His or her compelling vision often comes with a story of personal triumph over adversity and discrimination. Visionary leaders like Abraham Lincoln often were born in poverty and are self-taught. Other visionary leaders such as Susan B. Anthony (and the other Seneca Falls advocates for women’s rights) and Martin Luther King (and the other civil rights leaders of the 1960s) grew up in a world that discriminated against them (or at least against other people “of their kind”). Visionary leaders such as Frederick Douglass offer even more compelling story of being born into slavery and escaping to freedom.

The visionary stories often contain moments of personal doubt and spiritual despair. We see this in the inspiring stories of Joan-of-Arc and Mother Teresa. Visionary stories often contains elements not only of doubt and despair, but also of wisdom (combining Style One and Style Three leadership) and of courage (combining Style Two and Style Three leadership).  Visionary leaders convey stories of sacrifice, tribulation and triumph—having parted the Red Sea or dwelled in the desert so that they might enter into a land of milk and honey. Tragically, in many instances they have led their people to a land of milk and honey but have not been able to enter this land themselves (Moses, Lincoln, Gandhi, John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King). This is a key point in understanding the premodern dynamics of Style Three leadership: the vision can never be realized (just as the enemy can never be defeated if Style Two leadership is to be sustained and the followers can never become too wise if Style One leadership is to prevail). One way to insure that the vision remains intact is to kill the visionary leader (figuratively or literally). We can sustain the vision of a new Camelot because John Kennedy never had a chance to enact his dream and can be moved by King’s “I have a dream” speech in part because he was not alive to realize this dream.   

It is very hard to teach anyone how to be charismatic or to provide anyone with a story that is compelling to other people. The visionary leader is typically someone who has gained their “education” and “training” through their own distinctive life experiences. They may have received a prestigious education—but this usually happens “in spite of” their background. They often are the poster-boy (or poster-girl) for affirmative action. They may also have been trained as warriors (Colin Powell comes to mind), but the vision they now offer is typically one of peace: they “know” war and wish to have no further part of it.

Articulating the Vision

The key to wholehearted acceptance of and sustained support for a visionary leader resides in the identification of a compelling story from the past that bridges to the future. While this story often involves something about the visionary leader’s own life and struggles, it must also resonate with and align with the stories and personal aspirations of those hearing or reading this story. There is a phrase which usually reads: “think globally, but act locally.” This same sentiment, slightly revised, can apply to visionary stories: “make them personal and local, but be sure that they speak to a much larger constituency.”)

Given that visionary leadership is dependent on the right place and the right time, it is also important that the vision is articulated at the right time and in the right place. While Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address still appeals to us today, it is profound in large part because it was given at a commemoration ceremony for those soldiers who died during the bloody battle at Gettysburg. Lincoln is literally “consecrating” the ground where these young men were buried. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech was similarly given on a particularly auspicious occasion (a major civil rights march on Washington D.C.) and at a very “holy” or “patriotic” location (facing the Lincoln Memorial). The visionary leader must pick the special time and place when offering a visionary statement. This statement is not meant for the everyday—for the secular or the “profane” (to use Eliade’s term). It is meant for the special day and place–the “sacred” (Eliade’s term).

Where and when does the visionary leader find this special place and time? This is a critical decision. Unfortunately, the visionary statement is often offered during a time when immediate, profane matters need to be addressed. The vision is being offered as a distraction from the immediate problems facing the leader and his or her followers. Thus the criticality of place and time. I would suggest that there are five primary criteria with regard to the nature of an effective statement of vision. These five criteria tell us something about when and where we should offer a vision. I will first briefly identify these criteria and then suggest how these criteria help us identify an appropriate time and place for vision.

First, any statement of vision must be created and sustained by an entire social system—not just its leader(s). We will see this even more clearly when identifying the modern and postmodern versions of the visionary leader. Collaboration is just as important when formulating a vision, as it is when assembling an army as a courageous (style two) leader.

Second, the vision statement must be offered within a context of appreciation for past accomplishments and present day contributions. All too often the visionary leader (especially if new to this role) will ignore or offer a critical perspective on past achievements rather than honoring these achievements and seeking to learn from them. We must always remember that some day in the near future, we will be the relics of the past and may be overlooked by the next generation. It is not just the wise leader who often feels devalued by the next generation—it is also the visionary leader who holds a vision that is now out-of-date and whose accomplishments on behalf of this vision are no longer fully appreciated.

Third, the statement of vision must be coupled with a statement of mission. Whenever a leaders creates a vision of the future, it must be coupled with a clear commitment to something that is not about the future, or even exclusively about the present—it must be coupled with an enduring sense of mission. What do we do as a family, clan, organization, or social system that remains fundamental and unchanged—that is key to our survival? We must always look toward the future and toward change through the lens of foundations and continuity. What is our “business” and how does our vision for the future relate to this business.

The fourth criterion concerns the relationship between vision and values. How does our vision of the future relate to the fundamental values of this family, clan, organization or social system? What will and what won’t we do in order to realize our dream for the future? Martin Luther King not only offered us a dream, he also insisted that this dream be realized through a set of values based on nonviolence. Similarly, Lincoln’s statement of gratitude for the sacrifice made at Gettysburg is based on his firm commitment to preservation of the union. The “ends” (vision) never justify the use of inappropriate or unethical “means” (values).

Fifth, the vision statement should relate to some formally identified sense of purpose: what difference does our family, clan, organization or social system in the life of people living in this community, country or world. What social purpose are we serving and how does this purpose relate to our vision of the future? Our vision can be self-serving or even profoundly destructive with regard to social purpose (as in the case of Hitler’s vision). It is important that vision be aligned with a fundamental social purpose.

Thus, while a vision statement will change over time (and, as we shall see later, must change over time), the mission, values and social purposes tend not to change or to change very slowly. While the vision is the wind in the sails that propels a vessel, the mission, values and social purposes provide the anchor and keel that keep the ship afloat and properly aligned. Furthermore, even though a compelling vision statement may come out of the mouth of a premodern visionary leader, it ultimately requires collaboration and appreciation if the vision is to be truly owned by those who must enact this vision.

Several conclusions regarding appropriate time and place can be extracted from these five criteria. First, the vision statement should be offered alongside clearly articulated statements regarding mission, values and purposes. These four dimensions of what I label the “intentions” of an organization are tightly interwoven and modifications in one will inevitably impact on the other three. So, one must have his or her “ducks-in-order” with regard to an overall statement of intentions (a “charter” if you will), when articulating a compelling vision. The vision itself should build on many conversations, the sharing of stories (not just the visionary leader’s stories) and the identification of moments of “greatness” in the past history and present realities of the organization. Visions come alive and help guide an organization when they are generated and articulated under these conditions (place and time).