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

December 21, 2009

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

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.

Advertisements

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

January 12, 2009

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

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

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

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.