Leadership vs. Leaders – a new framework to differentiate the two

In a 2006 article published in the Financial Times, business school professor Henry Mintzberg attacked the obsessive focus on individual leaders as the pillar of organizational effectiveness: “By focusing on the single person…leadership becomes part of the syndrome of individuality that is … undermining organizations”.

Henry Mintzberg is not alone in bemoaning the excessive attention to individual leadership.  Many authors have voiced their objections.  To be fair however, the fixation on leaders as individual actors results from the lack of an alternative framework from which to view leadership.

That alternative framework is readily available today.  The difficulty is that old habits and ways of thinking die hard. It is far too easy for us to conceive of leadership in terms of the individual actor.  As a result, we do not see the alternative framework – even when it stares us in the face.

The frame of reference that helps us to better understand the effectiveness of  leadership  is the network.  Work in organizations gets done through the collaboration of individuals.  Individuals that work with each other (and/or exchange information) form the basis of a network.  A mapping of the networks inside of an organization reveals how information flows inside of an organization and what patterns of collaboration exist.  From this framework we can begin to talk about leadership in the plural.

Let us look at an example:

Network analysis

The above diagram is a network analysis of two companies that have recently merged.  Each small square represents an individual.  From this diagram it is clear that managers are still only interacting with those individuals from the company from which they came.  There is one individual who straddles the information flow between the groups, but otherwise the groups interact separately (with minor exceptions).

The individual at the center of the information flow  could be seen as an invaluable asset to the organization.  He or she is the leader that connects the two organizations.  From a systemic perspective that same individual could potentially also be seen as a major bottleneck in the effective collaboration of the two teams.

Through network analyses like this one, the role of leadership can be visualized.  Leadership is the interaction of various “leaders”.  Effective leadership in this case would visibly alter the pattern of collaboration.

Creating maps such as the one above is not difficult.  The software and analysis tools to create such diagrams are readily available.  The biggest inhibitor in using the network frame of reference is our lack of familiarity with it.  If we were able to change the mental models of our leaders so that this frame of reference were commonplace, the impact on our organizations would be immense.

Individual leadership development is as necessary as ever.  Perhaps as part of that leadership development, we should teach our leaders to view leadership from a different perspective.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”       Marcus Aurelius

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A small company invests in leadership – Part 2 – team development process

The leadership investment mentioned in my previous post of Feb 12 is moving forward.  This week we will be discussing and agreeing to the process to be undertaken.

The purpose of the intervention with this small company is to support the executive team to take greater accountability for the direction and development of the German organization.

The following is a six step model which I will propose to accompany the team in its development over the next six months.

Team_Development_Process

Like all cultural issues, a circle is the best symbol to use in describing the process to be undertaken.  No sooner are you finished with the development process  than you find yourself at the beginning of the circle, ready to initiate the next phase of  development.  The process for this next phase looks very similar to the process which has just been gone through.  Developing teams and or organizational culture is similar to life-long learning-  it needs to be constantly nurtured.

G5_Actuators_mvn

Entheos’ Six Step Team Development Process contains the following items:

1) Establish Framework

This involves clearly setting the purpose of the team development process as well as defining what should be achieved.  It may also require clearly setting the boundaries around who is and who is not part of the team.

2) Initiate process

This phase has its challenges and pitfalls.  The objective is to get as much acceptance as possibile from the team members while at the same time taking a pulse of what is actually happening in the team.  Many team members may be lukewarm or downright hostile about getting involved in another activity which adds to the burden of their busy schedules.  Obtaining their understanding and acceptance that this process will be of great benefit to them is paramount. As a team consultant Entheos needs to diagnose initial team dynamics issues (i.e. existing conflicts within the team) at this stage  in order to plan for the next phase of the intervention.

3) Foster team awareness

This sounds simple, but is actually quite complex.  People’s understanding of team and their role within that team varies greatly.  Some individuals may not even acknowledge that they are part of the team. In this phase it is key to look at people’s understanding of the team as well as the various links which glue a team together.  Focus is on the functioning or non-functioning of relationships within the team as well as getting team members to deepen their sense of team. I also likes to look at team values s stage and compare those with how they co-exist with company values.

4) Create team identity

This stage requires a deep dive into team roles – who is filling them and what is lacking.  After sorting out team priorities, team members then make commitments to fill in the gaps where certain roles are underrepresented.  New team agreements emerge.

Throughout Stages 3 and 4 the individual team members may need individual coaching.  After Stage 4, the consultant/coach needs to shift into a team coaching role – looking not necessarily at the individuals but at the interactions among individuals.

5) Reinforce new team dynamic

With the new priorities and agreeement in place, it is time and essential to test these new commitments.  The team building development will only remain a theoretical exercise  unless it is quickly put to the test.  My preferred approach is to pick ONE challenge that the team is facing and then approach it through the prism of the new team understanding.  Team members are asked to be particularly aware of interactions on this priority item.  Through this strengthened consciousness, the possibilities of new team interactions become real and are strengthened.

6) Reflect on team development

After a sufficient amount of time has passed (approx. 6 months), team members are invited to reflect as a group on what has changed, what has improved (or not).  As part of this exercise, team members ponder what might be the next step in their development.

Throughout the process I make an extra effort to build capacity within the organization. By approaching  the team coaching in this manner, the team members develop the skills to guide the team through the next level of development.  Emerging from the positive expererience of teram coaching, the team members have acquired the language, the tools and the motivation to carry the process forward.

It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision to which the nature of the subject admits and not to seek exactness when only an approximation of the truth is possible.       Aristotle

3rd Industrial Revolution and Leadership

Let me start 2013 with a macro view of leadership…

I was in Philadelphia last year as part of the delivery team for one of the acknowledged top leadership development programs in the world – the Philips Octogon program.  It is a program involving 32 selected top performers at Philips.   The program takes place over 8 months in three locations.  The first session was at the Wharton School of Business.

steinberg center

Steinberg Conference Center – Wharton School of Business

Of course I felt quite comfortable coming back to this location.  Back in the 1980s I obtained my MBA at Wharton – one of the more prestigious business schools in the world.

I had the privilege to be able to listen to a presentation by Jeremy Rifkin on the first day of the program.  Mr. Rifkin established the Foundation on Economic Trends (FOET) .  Among many of his activities, he is a valued advisor of heads of state in Europe (including Angela Merkel) and has had very direct impact on European economic policy.  He is the author of the concept of the 3rd Industrial Revolution which is a road map for long-term economic sustainability.  This concept was formally endorsed by the European parliament in 2007.

This concept has fundamental implications for leadership in the 21st century.

His talk began pessimistically enough.  We are in the end phases of the Second Industrial Revolution and the only way out of this dead end is to completely change the fundamental infrastructure on which our current civilization is based.

Each industrial age is characterized by two fundamentals: energy and information.  Mastering a new energy process provides the means to create a new form of information dissemination.  The First Industrial Revolution centered around coal-fired steam-driven power generation.  This new energy regime also enabled the advent of mass produced newspapers and magazines based on steam-powered rotary press and linotype technologies.

The Second Industrial Revolution began with the advent of the internal combustion engine powered by fossil fuels.  This revolution was complimented by a communication revolution based on the creation of an electric grid infrastructure which eventually led to telephone, radio and television.

This Second Industrial Revolution is reaching its limits according to Rifkin.  The most important recent economic occurrence in the past five years is not the financial crisis of 2008, but the rise of oil prices to over 140$ a barrel in 2007.  This rise in the price of oil represents a major threat to the welfare of human society on the planet.  So many of current modern materials are based on fossil fuels (from plastics to fertilizer), that this price has seismic implications for the economy.  Rifkin concludes that the current economy is doomed to limited growth for decades to come.  Every time the price of oil goes over 120 $ a barrel, a new global recession is virtually assured.  The problem is not the amount of fossil fuel available.  There are still plenty of reserves.  The problem is that getting at those reserves is becoming more costly over time.  This limit threatens ALL economies including emerging economies such as China and Brazil.   It is a global phenomenon.

What is the way out?  What are the implications for leadership?  Stay tuned for more….

“One thing I have learned over these last 30 to 40 years is that people make history.  There is no fait accompli in any of this.”         Jeremy Rifkin

The Science of Motivation

One of the more provocative pieces of the Maersk workshop in Copenhagen had to do with the issue of employee motivation and performance appraisal.  Many corporate incentive and performance systems are not taking into account what the science is saying about what motivates people.  Daniel Pink in a TED talk outlined the key points:

  • As long as a task requires only mechanical skill, bonuses work as they would be expected – the higher the pay, the better the performance.
  • Once a task calls for even a rudimentary amount of cognitive skill, a larger reward often leads to poorer performance.
  • Extrinsic motivators, which Pink refers to as “if-then” rewards, often destroy creativity.
  • The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishment but rather that unseen intrinsic drive, the drive to do things for their own sake, the drive to do things because they matter.

There are two videos that I highly recommend.  The first is the original TED talk from August 2009.  More visually entertaining is the RSA video which shows the same content but portrays it using graphic recording.

The conclusions reached by Pink are the result of various studies.  For instance, in early 2009, economists at the London School of Economics looked at pay for performance schemes and concluded that “financial incentives … can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”  In the video, Pink cites studies sponsored by the Federal Reserve Board of the United States.

The implications of these studies for how we manage and lead our organizations is fundamental.  These findings are the essential building blocks of any modern approach to leadership.  So what motivates people?  Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

In short, people are most motivated when they have choice, when they are able to demonstrably improve their skills and when what they do has meaning to them.

This may not seem like surprising results, but they do contradict what most business do in trying to incentivize performance.  Watching this video at Maersk produced the expected results.  Workshop participants had a long discussion on the implications for their performance review system and for the company bonus system.  At Maersk, there is a forced ranking of employees on a performance scale.  The ranking directly influences the bonus that an employee receives.  Every year, the “leaders of leaders” at Maersk could sense the demotivation that is created by this process. The Dan Pink video helped them to see their intrinsic unease with the process in a different light. Real motivation – that extra striving to do something not only well, but to the best of one’s abilities – is not created by a bonus system.

“Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.”  Stephen Covey