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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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).