Monday, January 31, 2011

The Leaderless Egyptian Protests

I've been following the demonstrations that started in Egypt on January 25th.  Inspired by similar protests in Tunisia, everyday people are demanding better living and working conditions and calling for the ouster of their leader of 30 years.  How could it be more clear that a leader's performance and status is dependent on their followers?  This underscores the importance of leadership as the emerging condition between leaders, followers, and the situation:

The protesters, mostly young, have been called "leaderless".  They have demands and a rough agenda, but no one to act as their unified voice.  This brings up an interesting point- what happens when a group assembles with a clear purpose and makes headway, but remains leaderless?  At what point, if any, do they fail or lose momentum?  It appears that the Egyptians are nearing this point.  Clearly, their activism has started to create change.  But what is needed is one leader, one voice out of many, to take the energy behind this movement and create a single point to pierce the armor of the status quo.  It's almost as if the masses have enough energy and momentum, but it is "blunt"; its energy dissipated by having no central focus.  A leader would provide that focus.

Dr. ElBaradei tries to assume leadership

Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN weapons inspector and Nobel prize winne
r, has flown in from Vienna and in the past days tried to take the lead.  So far it hasn't completely worked.  The New York Times has written about how the under-30 protesters are looking to the "old guard" to support them by taking leadership positions.  The older generation has both "fallen in line behind" the younger generation and at the same time is helping lead them.  Leadership by support, leadership from behind. 

Mr. Ezz, one of the original organizers of the protest, is quoted as saying “Leadership has to come out of the people who are already out there, because most of us are under 30.  But now they recognize that we’re in the street, and they are taking us seriously.”

Will a leader emerge from the crowd?
 How much longer the movement can last without a leader is debatable.  Will the leadership emerge as a small group or an individual such as Dr. ElBaradei?  In whatever form, the emerging leadership will only get legitimacy by the people, by the "followers".  The followers will choose their appropriate leader.  It will be someone who can best articulate and pursue their goals: the resignation of the existing head of state Mr. Mubarbak, the establishment of an interim government, and amendments to the Constitution.

There have been many studies of leader emergence which underscore the critical (actually, central) role of a group in selecting its leader.  But all those studies seem dry and academic in comparison to watching the whole thing unfold in real time on TV, the internet, and Twitter.  Real-live lessons like this don't come along everyday.  It should continue to be fascinating to watch.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Adjusting your Leadership Style to your Followers' Readiness

Do you always use the same approach to leading others?  If so, you probably found a style that works most of the time, but not all of the time.  Well, there's an easy way to determine what approach you should take, and when.

Leadership scholars have observed leaders who are successful in one context fail in others.  To explain this, they have developed several theories and approaches for trying to figure out how leadership needs to change to be effective in across different situations.  These theories are generally called contingency approaches and situational theory.  So what do they mean, and how can we benefit from them?

The Quick and Dirty Approach
If you lead others, take a look at the descriptions below and choose the type of characteristics that best describe your followers:

                                                                        FOLLOWERS ARE:

Got your follower type?  Good.  Now look at the table below for a recommendation on what style to use for best results:

If you only have 3 minutes to look at this blog, stop here.  Use the process above to determine which approach you should use to be most effective with your subordinates or followers.  If you are interested in learning more, read on...

The Detailed Explanation
The above model is Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Theory.  They assert that the characteristics- or readiness- of followers is important to take into consideration when determining how to lead.  Those with low readiness (type 4 above) need to be told what to do to build up their confidence and skills.  Followers with moderate readiness (type 3) need to be "sold" by their leader on the task, as they have the drive but maybe not the skills needed to perform.  Type 2 followers, who have high readiness, perform best when a leader uses a participative style, which serves to motivate them and give them confidence to tap into their already-high skill set and abilities.  Finally, highly-ready followers who are motivated and skilled can be delegated to, and may underperform if they are told, sold, or delegated to.

Think back to your experiences leading others.  Have you ever used the wrong approach based on the readiness of your followers?  Telling skilled and motivated people what to do can annoy them, while selling a task to followers who don't have the skills may simply be a waste of time.

Models like this are called contingency or situational models.  They say that a leader's behavior will be effective contingent upon the organizational situation.  Different situations call for different styles of leadership, and the effectiveness of a leader's approach depends upon the needs of the specific situation.  The formal model is below.  If you want to learn more about it, click on the image:

You are probably capable and skilled in being able to use these approaches above, and to tailor your style to the needs at hand.  But you may not yet be motivated to do so, so I tried to adopt a selling approach in this blog to motivate you to try them...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Leadership vs. Management, Driver vs. Mechanic

I've been reading The Leadership Experience by Richard Daft, and while I still have much of the book to go through, I've been pretty impressed so far.  For your typical textbook, it reads very smoothly and kept my interest.  Not too far into the first chapter I found myself madly jotting down notes in the margins, making connections with other books, my consulting, and of course my blog.  The first (I assume of many) items of his that I want to cover is the difference between leadership and management.

These two concepts are sometimes interchanged, or at least assumed to be overlapping, but in function they are distinct.  This is not to say that one person can't embody aspects of both functions, but being a manager does not mean you are a leader, and being a leader is of course independent of being a manager.  

This is a good start to the difference between the two

Some years back, I had a quote by (I think) Michael Porter written on my whiteboard in my office: "Management is doing things right.  Leadership is doing the right things."  While this hints at the differences between the two, and is catchy easy to remember, it only scratches the surface.

Daft presents a simple chart to outline the differences, from which I've pulled the following for your quick absorption:

There are five aspects of organizations in which leadership differs from management.  They are:

          3. RELATIONSHIPS
               4. PERSONAL QUALITIES
                     5. OUTCOMES

Direction is concerned with "steering the organizational ship".  It pertains to where the organization is going and how it is getting there.

Alignment has to do with internal structure in the organization.  What elements are put in place that distinguish people in the organization from those outside?  These may include procedures, boundaries, culture, and values.

Relationships are just that- the connections between people in the organization across all positions, and the connections between the people and what they do (how they feel about what they produce and how they produce it).  (Don't tell me you don't have a relationship with your computer - good or bad- on a daily basis).

Personal Qualities are those of the leader or manager.  What do they embody?  Who are they and how do they act, both personally and professionally?

Outcomes pertain to what that person's main objective is in coming to work everyday (other than a paycheck).  Are they trying to change things?  To maintain stability and status quo?

Differences in Direction
According to Daft, managers plan and budget, keeping an eye on the bottom line.  This is how they steer their ship.  They make sure that as they move forward, everything is tight and controlled, and that all numbers are as they should be to maintain forecasts and objectives.

Leaders, on the other hand, provide direction by creating vision and strategy.  They "keep an eye on the horizon", looking to the long term and asking troubling questions like "Where are we going with all this?" and "Why?".  They are concerned less with the numbers and details, and more with the grand scheme of things, what the company is and where it fits in with competitors, customers, and the rest of the world.

Creating Alignment
Managers organize and staff, direct and control, and create boundaries.  They are responsible for the creation and enforcement of internal structures like the organizational chart, policies, and procedures.  They hire and fire, review and promote.  They create job descriptions and make sure that each one fits with all of the others like one big efficient jigsaw puzzle, and if they find you are operating outside of their structure, you will hear about it.  But remember- this is ultimately a good thing.  Without structure, the organization becomes inefficient and doomed to failure.  Think of the human body without the structure of the skeleton, and think what would happen if the liver decided it didn't like its job description and wanted to be a lung.  Not good.

Leaders align in a completely different way than managers.  In some cases, they work in direct opposition to managers.  For instance, where managers create and maintain boundaries, leaders reduce boundaries and encourage cross-pollination.  Leaders help others grow in their positions, and past their positions, both professionally and personally.  The structure they give is one of a shared culture and values.  They create a narrative, a story that everyone knows about who the company is, and where everyone fits in it.  Think of it like the skin around a body, in the sense that it creates a boundary around the body, separating "us" from "not us".  Additionally, they are like the part of the brain that controls where the body is heading- direction and reason.  The leader creates structure by saying (and communicating to everyone) "This is who we are, this is what we are going after, and this is why".  And this communication, when created effectively, motivates all the members of the organization.

Relationships: People vs. Things, Boss vs. Servant
When it comes to relationships, managers are more object-oriented, and hierarchy-oriented.  As Daft notes, they focus on producing and selling goods and services, and act as a boss around the organization.  They derive- and use- power from their positions (remember the previous post about the bases of social power).  The relationships they foster are boss-underling, and usually based solely on the objective of efficiently producing goods or services.

Leaders, on the other hand, are more focused on people than products.  They relate to others- no matter what the position in the organization- by inspiring and motivating them.  They derive- and use- power based on their personal charisma.  For this reason a leader may not be one at the top of an organization, but one much farther down the totem pole.  Since their power and influence have nothing to do with their position, they can influence others from any position in the organization.  Rather than being a boss, they relate to others as a coach, a servant, and a facilitator.

Personal Qualities: Emotionally Removed vs. Emotionally Involved
The manager embodies qualities that allow them to operate at a safe and efficient distance, removed from close personal relationships.  They maintain emotional distance, rely on their expert mind, and encourage conformity (remember, they are responsible for the hard structure, and expect others to conform to it).  They talk rather than listening, and offer insight into the organization (keeping their insights on the professional level of the company).

A leader's personal qualities are quite different.  They operate on an open, close, and vulnerable level.  They show heart and emotional connectedness, keep an open mind (discouraging conformity), show courage, listen rather than talk, and offer insights into the self.  Their insights reflect personal reflection, and encourage others to look similarly inward for personal development.  Leaders know that personal development leads to organizational development, as each member of the organization becomes stronger and more self-aware.

Outcomes: Stability and Change
The manager is tasked with maintaining stability, not rocking the boat, and keeping everything functioning, predictable, and efficient.  This supports their focus on structure, production, and profitability.  They are the mechanic that keeps everything under the hood functioning smoothly so that the car can be reliable and useful.

Leaders run from the status quo.  They focus on creating change that meets the demands of the market, constantly scanning the horizon for opportunities and threats.  They know who their organization is made up of on a personal level, and how each person comes together under a common culture and value-system.  They work on responding to outside change by creating and implementing effective internal change.  By valuing the individual over the product or service, they infuse the organization with integrity and productive energy.

Conclusion: The Mechanic and the Driver
Daft has given us a clear comparison of the differences between a manager and a leader.  I would add to this that it helps to think of the two positions as a mechanic and a driver of a car.  The "car" is the organization, a collection of individual parts, each with different functions and capabilities.  The mechanic needs to understand how all these parts fit together, imposing structure, rules, and an control.  The mechanic keeps and emotional distance from all the parts, allowing for dispassionate efficient decisions, stability, and reliability.  Without a good mechanic, the car will not run efficiently, and may not run at all.  No one could use it to achieve any goals (like driving to get groceries).

But a car with only a mechanic may not be used for any good purpose.  It needs a driver- a leader- who knows how the car works, what the road looks like, what the obstacles and objectives are, and where the car needs to go.  The driver is passionate (like any good professional driver), capable, charismatic, and stylish.  The driver takes the car to new and exciting destinations.

A car without a mechanic will break down, no matter how good the driver.  And a car without a driver will sit idly and eventually fade into obsolescence without a good driver, no matter how good the mechanic.  Similarly, an organization without good managers will break down, no matter how talented the leader (unless that leader replaces the managers with new, better ones).  And an organization without good leadership will stagnate and fade away over time, no matter how good the management.  Whether the functions of management and leadership are in one person or spread across many, without both there is not much of a future for the organization.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What Makes an Effective Leader: An Overview

I want to post today about effective leadership.  To paraphrase Joseph Nye, leadership is like the weather.  Everyone depends on it and talks about it, but very few people understand it.  
and some weathermen are more effective than others

What my goal is on this post is to explore with you what it means to be an effective leader and why it is so difficult to give a simple prescription for effective leadership.  

First, I will talk about what leadership means and what a leader actually does.  
Next, we will look at what we mean by effective leadership.   
Then we will look at some models that help us think about how leaders operate and what conclusions we can draw from the models.    
Finally we will consider gender, ethics, and culture as factors in effective leadership, and then see what we can conclude from all this.

What a Leader Actually Does
We all know what a leader is.  So what then do they actually do?  Leadership has many definitions, but a few describe particularly well what leaders do at a high level:   

1. Leaders frame events for others to provide meaning as a basis for action using narratives.  
political cartoonists are masters at framing events for others to make a point

2. Leaders unite others with a sense of purpose, unity, and common direction.   
Kemal Ataturk united a fractured Turkey to achieve astounding goals
 Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, took a broken and disheartened Turkey after WWI and achieved 3 political revolutions, 13 social reformations, and 4 educational and cultural reformations, including teaching the population a new alphabet in three months.

3. Leaders use power that has been granted to them by others to clarify, pursue, and achieve common goals.   
this, in theory, is why we have politicians

Notice how vague these definitions are, how open they are to interpretation.  This makes it difficult for us to conclude if a leader is effective.  However, the definitions do imply some basic guidelines we can use to determine if a leader is effective:   

1. Do they effectively acquire and use power in the clarification and pursuit of goals?   
2. Do they achieve those goals themselves?   
3. Do they achieve them by effectively motivating and mobilizing others?   
4. Are they seen as effective in all these dimensions by the vast majority of participants in (followers) and observers to the process?

Leadership Models
Over the years a number of models have been introduced that help us think about how leaders operate and therefore how they may be effective or ineffective.  The important commonality in these theories is the idea that leadership is a fluid concept:  what is effective leadership today in one context may not be effective leadership tomorrow in another context.   

One model proposes that leadership is a function of person, group, and context.   

This means that how effective a leader is depends on that person (the leader), the group they are interacting with, and what outside environmental factors there are.  For example, the an effective leader of a 2nd grade class may not be an effective coach of a professional football team.

Another maps out a leadership process, which is the ongoing interaction of a number of elements: the leader, the followers, the goal to be achieved, the context, and the outcomes, both intended and unintended.  Each of these elements can then be studied at a greater level of detail.   

There is also the Traits-Based Theory of Leadership, where we can look at the leader and ask what traits make a good leader (capacity, achievement, responsibility, participation, status).   

Another theory focuses on the relationship between the leader and followers (called LMX, or leader-member exchange theory).  Here we see that there is a psychological contract that naturally arises between a leader and follower, and that a leader’s use of rewards, punishment, and rational persuasion are directly related to how effective they are.   

Further, how a leader uses power over followers is important as evidenced by concepts of organizational justice (interactional, procedural, distributive).  Critical to the model is also the idea of context- what external and environmental factors are at play while leaders and followers are interacting and pursuing goals?  These factors directly affect the quality and effectiveness of leader/follower relationship and goal attainment.  Finally, the model draws attention to the importance of outcomes.  This includes not only whether the stated goal was attained, but how satisfied the followers are, and how motivated, committed, and trusting they are in the leader.

Sources of Leader Power
Now we have a better idea of how to think about the fluid nature of leadership and are beginning to see how a leader may be effective by using power well.  But where does a leader get his or her power from?   

Power is given to a leader either:
1. By direct appointment (for instance, being hired into a position), or 
2. By the group from which they emerge.  A theory called idiosyncrasy credit theory states that leaders are given credits from their group for meeting expectations and these credits can accumulate over time and be used, like a kind of currency, to influence others and secure a leadership position.   

If power is not given, it can still be acquired by a leader through control of critical and scarce resources.  For instance, if ten of you are lost in the woods and you are the only one with a map and a compass (or a GPS), then you have acquired power.  

spot the leader

Using Power to be Effective
But is leader effectiveness influenced by how a leader uses this power?  Absolutely.  Three factors influence this: ethics, gender, and culture.

Studies have shown that ethical leaders are more effective in that ethical leadership adds to a leader’s legitimacy and attractiveness.  It promotes followers to go above and beyond the call of duty and work harder to get tasks done.  In addition, it is associated with greater satisfaction in leader and higher ratings of leader effectiveness.  So ethics matters.   

What about gender?  Studies have found that while there is no overall difference in the effectiveness of one gender of leader over another, in certain situations certain genders perform better as leaders.  Some studies have gone as far as to define what personality traits are usually associated with which gender and to try to predict leader effectiveness based on these.   

And culture?  Does it factor into leadership effectiveness?  The general consensus is that yes, culture matters for the simple reason that expectations of leaders and judgments of their effectiveness reflect cultural expectations and values.  A scholar named Hofstede created five convenient measures of how cultures differ to help understand this better.  They are individualism/collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity/femininity, and time orientation (more on this in a future post).
more on this later

So what can we conclude from all this?  Is it a little clearer why it is so difficult to simply write a recipe, a list of instructions for effective leadershipWe can conclude that effective leadership is not a static thing.  It is best understood using models, each of which are fluid and conditional on a number of factors.  Although these models, taken together, do not give us a prescription for effective leadership, they do allow us to study leadership on a case-by-case basis and see generally what makes for effective leadership.

Sorry, no easy answer on this one!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Leaders Behind Bars - Can they be effective?

Can you be an effective leader from behind bars?  And when do non-violent methods and persistence turn from naive strategy to brilliant tactics?  A quick look at two famous leaders brings us closer to an answer.

When you ask for an example of a leader, several names always come up.  One of them is Nelson Mandela.  His accomplishments in South Africa are significant and long-lasting.  Convicted in 1964 of trying to overthrow the government, he spent 18 years in prison.  While in prison he stood firm to his beliefs and endured his conditions, earning him the attention and respect of millions.  After his release, he continued with his anti-apartheid mission, using his reputation as a tool to ultimately effect the social change he had dreamed of.  But what if he had never been released from prison?  Would we still consider him an effective leader?  Or would we call him naive for sticking to his principles and therefore staying in jail?  After all, how much good can you do from behind bars?

Aung San Suu Kyi
These questions came up not too long ago in a discussion.  At the time Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically-elected leader of Burma and champion of civil liberties for all Burmese, was still in jail. 

She was released by her captors, the military junta who control the country, in November after spending 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest. 

We were discussing whether Suu Kyi (at that time still under house arrest), was a role model for leadership. It came up that she and Mandela have much in common:  both were wrongly imprisoned for their beliefs, both stuck to those beliefs at great personal cost, and both used their time behind bars to increase their reputation across the globe, and bring attention to their mission.

Are Good Intentions Enough?
Mandela, who had been released decades earlier, had achieved many of his goals.  No one disputed that he was effective, and a role model for effective leadership.  But Suu Kyi?  She was still under house arrest, her people were still suffering, and the junta was still in power.  What good had all her sacrifices come to?  Not much, it looked like.  It could be argued that she was naive in her tactics, and that despite all her good intentions nothing good came of it.  Some in the discussion were arguing that she was not a role model for leadership, because she was so far ineffective (despite taking the same steps as Mandela).  The group was split- did a leader need to achieve goals to be considered a role model for effective leadership?  Half said yes and half said no.

Then Suu Kyi got released from house arrest on November 13th.
The night she was released she told her supporters "We have so much to do"

Since then, she has continued with her mission full-force.  But as Time's recent article on her notes, unlike Mandela, who was released when South Africa's apartheid government was weak and dying, the military junta in Burma is stronger than ever.  She has so far not achieved any of her stated goals.  So my question is: Is she an effective leader?  Who gets to decide?  Does she need to achieve her goal of civil liberties for all Burmese people to be successful?  Or is she already successful, merely by turning herself into a role model and a symbol of strength for the Burmese to believe in? 
Everyday Leaders
This lesson applies not just to heads of state, but to all of us.  Is the parent who tells his child to turn the other cheek to a bully at school effective if the child keeps on getting beaten up?  When is this strategy poor and when is it good?  If the child eventually stops getting picked on, does this justify the strategy the whole time?

How about the small business owner who preemptively fires 10 employees in an economic downturn to save 40 other jobs.  Is he a good manager?  If the business eventually fails anyhow, does that change our opinion on what the manager did?  What if firing the 10 people saved the business?

Are we leaders if we can't rally others behind us?  Probably not, as a leader needs followers or at least subordinates to be considered a leader (try being a leader of one). 
if no one's following, you're not leading
What if we rally others behind us but never achieve what we set out to achieve?  Although ultimately this is a question that we each have to answer for ourselves, in my opinion we can still be a leader without having yet effected change, or achieved our goals.  This is because when we inspire others to follow us, when we create meaning and motivate others in a certain direction towards a certain goal, we have created a momentum towards achieving our goals.  This momentum has value in itself. 

If Suu Kyi was suddenly unable to continue her mission, and another, inspired by her, picked up the cause of non-violent tactics towards Burmese Civil Liberties and was eventually successful, then Suu Kyi could be considered effective, right?  What if that second person did not achieve the goal, but inspired others, then was Suu Kyi still effective?  Yes.

Because of this "ripple effect", our actions and intentions as leaders, whether they have immediate positive results or not, make us effective.  How we motivate others to follow us, and what message we are sending to those who do, are more determinants of effective leadership than whether the exact goals we set out to achieve are accomplished.

Bobby Kennedy
Last night my wife and I finally got around to seeing the movie "Bobby" about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.  In the final scenes, as the chaos unfolds around the shooting in the Ambassador Hotel, we hear a voiceover of Bobby making one of his most moving speeches.  Listen to the following speech and tell me if Bobby, shot down before he was able to fully lead and accomplish his goals for the American people, could ever be considered ineffective just because he was unable to accomplish his goals:

The ripples from our actions and intentions as leaders continue past us, and our work toward a goal can be as effective as achieving the goal itself.