Monday, October 31, 2011

Elements of Leadership ... and Management

Recently I had a friend over who just happens to be the Group General Manager of a medium sized national company. During the ensuing discussions, we ventured down the path of critical management appraisal from a practical point of view. He was having some challenges, which obviously cannot be disclosed, and though definitive solutions evaded both of us, we both took heart from ideas generated by our general discussion of both management and its important cousin, leadership.

In today’s workplace, management per se, means so much more than simply giving directives in accordance with the rules of the organisation, it may have worked yesteryear but not so today. Contemporary management though perpetually evolving, entails the creative, as well as a systematic flow of knowledge that can be applied to produce results by using human as well as other resources in an effective way. Management is no longer limited to managing human resource; today, it encompasses financial management, strategic management, operations management, time management, crisis management, and in some cases, marketing management. Little wonder leadership comes into play.

Accordingly, for today’s progressive organisation, management has become increasingly important for developing and executing business policies and strategies to maximize profits or, in the case of service centred organisations, service excellence through a complex process that engages the direction of subordinates in order to adhere to a set of prescribed rules, systems and/ regulations.

At first, my friend failed to grasp the relevance or our broadly based discussion as did I however, by evenings ends he, more than I felt energised to explore different avenues for addressing the business challenges that lay before him.

During the exchange, reference was made to a 1999 article I posted on my original personal website on the subject of leadership. To my surprise; its content was also the subject of a recent meeting at my friends workplace.

The following day, I revisited the article myself and found it as interesting today as when I initially penned it in 1999. Thus, given it is no longer online, I want to share it on this site and hope that its astuteness will resonate with readers today just as it continues to do so with me all these years later.

Enjoy the learning and do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Otto Marasco

Elements of Leadership - "Calling all Current and Aspiring Leaders...Managers...Listen Up"!

In just over 21 years, I have worked in numerous roles across several industries. To be perfectly candid I have come across some very poor managers and the odd exceptional one. What roles you ask? There was Sales Consultant, Manager, 2IC, Territory Manager, Business Development Consultant, Advertising Representative, Shop Proprietor, Staff Training Advisor, State coordinator - Cellular Phones and not forgetting plain old (and hackneyed) Sales Representative role.

The industries included Retail, Government, Print Media, HR and currently Public Transport.

Incidentally, I feel compelled to point out that Management and Leadership are not the same, management says, "What can I/we do to best accomplish things, whilst Leadership says, "What needs to be accomplished"? If you want to explore this further yourself, check out chapter two, sub-heading ‘Leadership and management - The two creations in Stephen Covey's, "7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Moving on, several years ago someone (I honestly cannot recall whom) handed me an article on the Leadership subject. Now being an avid sort of reader, I think oh yea yet another path down "Drake Review" lane. However, this was different, a treasure in fact. It was written by Dr. Oren Harari whom (I had since found out) was a public speaker, business consultant and professor at the University of San Francisco.

In the piece, the author presents lessons derived directly from Colin Powell's book "My American Journey". For those who do not know, Colin Powell is both a former U.S. General and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs (Late 1980's -Early 1990's) and most recently (December 2000) appointed as the next Secretary of State replacing Madeleine Albright. In the context of its subject - Effective Leadership, Ms. Harari refers to Mr. Powell's work as "marvellous" and "a gem of wisdom". Readers are able to share the former General's advice presented in the form of quotations from the book after which she provides commentary. There are 18 lessons of which I will introduce you to my favourites. I present each exactly as written by the articles author; for me this is not a writing exercise, I simply wish to deliver a message and the good professor delivers it superlatively.

Management and leadership lesson 1

"Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off."

Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It's inevitable - if your honourable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: You will avoid the tough decisions, you will avoid confronting the people that need to be confronted, and you will avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset. Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and treating everyone equally nice regardless of their contributions , you will simply ensure that the only people you wind up are the most creative and productive in the organization.

Management and leadership lesson 2

"The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."

If this were a litmus test the majority of CEO's would fail. One, they build so many barriers to upward communication that the very idea of someone lower in the hierarchy looking up to the leader for help is ludicrous. Secondly, the corporate culture they foster often defines asking for help as weakness or failure, so people cover up their gaps, and the organization suffers accordingly. Real leaders make themselves available. They show concern for the efforts and challenges faced by underlings - even as they demand high standards, Accordingly, they are more likely to create an environment where problem analysis replaces blame.

Management and leadership lesson 3

"Don't be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard".

Learn from the pros, observe them, seek them out as mentors and partners. But remember that even the pros may have levelled out in terms of skills and learning. Sometimes even the pros can become complacent and lazy. Leadership does not emerge from blind obedience to anyone. Xerox's Barry Rand was right on target when he warned his people that if you have a yes man working for you, one of you is redundant, Good leadership encourages everyone's evolution.

Management and leadership lesson 4

"You don't know what you can get away with until you try."

Good leaders don't wait for official blessings before trying things out. They're prudent not reckless. But they also realize a fact of life in most organizations: If you ask enough people for permission, you will inevitably find someone who thinks his job is to say "no." The moral is, do not ask. Less effective managers endorsed the sentiment , "If I have not explicitly been told yes, I cannot do it, whereas good one's believed "If I have not explicitly been told no, I can. There's a world of difference between these two points of view.

Management and leadership lesson 5

"Keep looking beneath surface appearances. Don't shrink from doing so because you might not like what you find."

"If it isn't broke don't fix it" is the slogan of the complacent , the arrogant or the scared. It's an excuse for inaction, a call to non -arms. It's a mind-set that assumes that today's realities will continue tomorrow in a tidy, linear and predictable fashion. Pure fantasy. In this sort of culture, you won't find people who proactively take steps to solve problems as they emerge.

Management and leadership lesson 6

"Organization doesn't really accomplish anything. Plans don't accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don't much matter. Endeavours succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great things."

In a brain based economy, your best assets are your people. We've heard this expression so often that it's become trite. But how many leaders really "walk the talk" with this stuff? Too often, people are assumed to be empty chess pieces to be moved around by grand viziers, which may explain why so many top managers immerse their calendar time in deal making, restructuring and the latest management fad. How many (Leaders) immerse themselves in the goal of creating an environment where the best, the brightest, the most creative are attracted, retained and - most importantly - unleashed?

Management and leadership lesson 7

"Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing".

Organization charts are frozen, anachronistic photos in a workplace that ought to be as dynamic as the external environment around you. If people really followed organization charts, companies would collapse. In a well run company, titles are also pretty meaningless. At best, they advertise some authority - an official status confirming the ability to give orders and induce obedience. But titles mean little in terms of real power, which is the capacity to influence and inspire. Have you ever noticed that people will personally commit to certain individuals who on paper possess little authority - but instead possess pizzazz, drive, expertise and genuine caring for team-mates and products? On the flip side non-leaders have little influence on others, apart from heir ability to extract minimal compliance to minimal standards.

Management and leadership lesson 8

"Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it".

"To often, change is stifled by people who cling to familiar turfs and job descriptions. One reason that even large organizations wither is that managers won't challenge old, comfortable ways of doing things. But real leaders understand that, nowadays, every one of our jobs is becoming obsolete. The proper response is to obsolete our activities before someone else does. Effective leaders create a climate where people's worth is determined by their willingness to learn new skills and grab new responsibilities, thus perpetually reinventing their jobs.

Management and leadership lesson 9

"Fit no stereotypes. Don't chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team's mission."

Fitting from fad to fad creates team confusion, reduces the leaders credibility and drains the organizations coffers. Blindly following a particular fad generates rigidity in thought and action. Sometimes speed to market is more important then total quality. Sometimes an unapologetic directive is more appropriate than participatory discussion. To quote Powell, some situations require the leader to hover closely; others require long, loose leashes. Leaders honour their core values, but they are flexible in how they execute them. They understand that management techniques are not magic mantras but simply tools to be reached for at the right times.

Management and leadership lesson 10

"Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier."

The ripple effect of a leaders enthusiasm and optimism is awesome. So is the impact of cynicism and pessimism. Leaders who whine and blame engender those same behaviours among their colleagues. I am not talking about stoically accepting organizational stupidity and performance incompetence with a "what, me worry?" smile. I am talking about a gung ho attitude that says " we can change things here, we can achieve awesome goals, we can be the best. Spare me the grim litany of the realist; give me the unrealistic aspirations of the optimist any day.

Management and leadership lesson 11

"Powell's Rules for Picking People"

Look for intelligence and judgment and , most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done."

How often do our recruitment and hiring processes tap into these attributes? More often than not, we ignore them in favour of length of resume, degrees and prior titles. A string of job descriptions a recruit held yesterday seem to be more important than who one is today, what she can contribute tomorrow or how well his values mesh with those of the organization. You can train a bright, willing novice in the fundamentals of your business fairly readily, but its a lot harder to train someone to have integrity, judgment, energy, balance and the drive to get things done. Good leaders stack the deck in their favour right in the recruitment phase.

Management and leadership lesson 12

Part 1: "Use the P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information required."
Part 2: "Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut."

Powell's advice is don't take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40% chance of being right, but don't wait until you have enough facts to be 100% sure, because by then it is almost too late. His instinct is right:
Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk.

Management and leadership lesson 13

Have fun in command. Don’t always run at breakneck speed. Take leave when you've earned it: Spend time with your families. "Corollary: "Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play."

The late Anita Roddick of The Body Shop would agree:

Seek people who have some balance in their lives, who are fun to hang out with, who like to laugh at themselves and who have some non-job priorities that they approach with the same passion that they do their work. Spare me the grim workaholic or the pompous "professional"; I will help them find jobs with my competitor.

Copyright © 1999 Otto Marasco all rights reserved