Gary Hamel on the Value of Syndicating Leadership

If leadership is needed everywhere in the organization, is it possible that the problem is not that there is a lack of leaders, but instead that there are organizational structures that limit the opportunity of others to lead? Even more importantly, is it possible that change is so difficult in many organizations because, by the time a problem is evident enough to be addressed at the top, it is already to late to get in front of it?

med-th-garyhamel-420x236.ashxI had the opportunity to hear Gary Hamel speak a number of years ago and was impressed by his thought leadership and his practicality. The author of Competing for the Future and Leading the Revolution has always been a futurist who has challenged the status quo.

Along with McKinsey,the Harvard Business Review, and his colleagues at the London Business School, Hamel has created the Management Innovation Exchange to offer a platform for sharing ideas and examples of leading throughout the organization. Through that venue, the HBR/McKinsey Leadership Challenge has been created for the best disruptive idea or practice in syndicating leadership. Click on those links to discover more about the prize and the challenge.

A final word about what is exciting to me regarding this approach. Traditionally we academics go off into a lab or an office, do surveys, and try to find something meaningful to share in regards to management theory. The approach of the Leadership Challenge is to reach out to those places where positive action is taking place, and make it available for the rest of us.

Here is a link to a quick but fascinating interview with Gary Hamel regarding this approach: Interview with Gary Hamel

Building Rapport with Employees

I recently read an article focused on building relationships between business faculty and students. In this article, Dr. Maryellen Weimer discusses research on the value of building rapport that indicates that open communication and a feeling of “alikeness” increases motivation, increases quality of work, establishes greater trust and leads to overall greater student (and faculty) satisfaction.

rapport_symbolAs I read this I couldn’t help but think that the context is very similar to those of us in management or leadership roles and our relationship with our employees. Like faculty, there is often a distance that is established within the system based on the need for the manager to be objective and, at some degree, evaluate the performance of the employee. We decide on job assignments, roles and responsibilities, and even compensation, so the distance between the leader and the follower can be great. For some, it is even formalized by the belief that, “If I’m the boss, I have to be distant,” which makes establishing rapport nearly impossible.

The researchers cited in this article found that of all the elements of rapport-building that were observed, there were five that were repeated throughout the study. While the research focused only on the educational context of business faculty and student, I believe these five elements can easily be replicated in the work place. (Perhaps I should do a study?). Take a look at the following and see what you think:

1. Respect:  Managers and employees who show respect for each other, the work they are doing, and the organization for which they are doing it would be much more likely to establish a mutually beneficial relationship.

2. Approachability: Employees have to feel comfortable coming to you and you have to be willing to speak to them.  Your employees need to feel they can approach you. It is impossible to feel comfortable with a boss if he or she has no time for you or your concerns. And by the way, formal and highly structured methods of connecting (“Call my assistant and we’ll work you in next week”) detract from the notion of approachability.

3. Trust and Integrity: Managers must be honest with their employees and have a visible connection between what they say and what they do. One of the easiest ways to undermine true rapport is to create an environment where employees can’t trust their boss. If you promise it, deliver it. If you can’t deliver it, don’t promise it.

4. Caring: Leaders have to care about their followers, and their followers have to know this. This means responding to and working with your employees as individuals. You don’t have to be their mother, but you need to care about their experience while at work. As I’ve said before, there’s no such thing as work/life balance…it’s all life. This means that the time they spend with you needs to be valued.

5. Positive Attitude: Managers need to be optimistic about the possibilities of their employees and their work. They should have a sense of humor. Take what you do very seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Your employees will respect the fact that you have context and will appreciate the approachability that comes with optimism.

Rapport is established by the actions of the leader. You can’t send an email announcing that you will now have rapport. But you can look at these five keys to rapport building and decide what you can do to start establishing better and more productive relationships with your employees. While these actions are not difficult, they require commitment. In the end, building rapport will not only enhance the satisfaction of your employees, but it will make a more satisfying workplace for you as well.

John Kotter on Management and Leadership

managers leadersAs some of you have been subscribers for awhile, you know my take on the argument of the difference between managers and leaders. For the most part, it’s a difficult, and in my opinion useless, argument because it confuses what one does with who one is.  Our language gets us stuck since there is manager vs leader, managing vs leading, and management vs leadership. Those people who are most informed, or who are students in my classes, will argue that John Kotter makes a distinction between managers and leaders. While that may have been the case with some of his initial writings, his intent I believe has always been about the action of management and leadership.

I hope to have Dr. Kotter on one of my future “All Things Leadership” podcasts, but in the meantime, consider his comments that were published in the Harvard Business Review earlier this year:

by John Kotter|11:00 AM January9, 2013

A few weeks ago, the BBC asked me to come in for a radio interview. They told me they wanted to talk about effective leadership — China had just elevated Xi Jinping to the role of Communist Party leader; General David Petraeus had stepped down from his post at the CIA a few days earlier; the BBC itself was wading through a leadership scandal of its own — but the conversation quickly veered, as these things often do, into a discussion about how individuals can keep large, complex, unwieldy organizations operating reliably and efficiently.

That’s not leadership, I explained. That’s management — and the two are radically different.

In more than four decades of studying businesses and consulting to organizations on how to implement new strategies, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people use the words “leadership” and “management” synonymously, and it drives me crazy every time.

The interview reminded me once again that the confusion around these two terms is massive, and that misunderstanding gets in the way of any reasonable discussion about how to build a company, position it for success and win in the twenty-first century. The mistakes people make on the issue are threefold:

Mistake #1: People use the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. This shows that they don’t see the crucial difference between the two and the vital functions that each role plays.

Mistake #2: People use the term “leadership” to refer to the people at the very top of hierarchies. They then call the people in the layers below them in the organization “management.” And then all the rest are workers, specialists, and individual contributors. This is also a mistake and very misleading.

Mistake #3: People often think of “leadership” in terms of personality characteristics, usually as something they call charisma. Since few people have great charisma, this leads logically to the conclusion that few people can provide leadership, which gets us into increasing trouble.

In fact, management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.

Some people still argue that we must replace management with leadership. This is obviously not so: they serve different, yet essential, functions. We need superb management. And we need more superb leadership. We need to be able to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient. We need them to jump into the future — the right future — at an accelerated pace, no matter the size of the changes required to make that happen.

There are very, very few organizations today that have sufficient leadership. Until we face this issue, understanding exactly what the problem is, we’re never going to solve it. Unless we recognize that we’re not talking about management when we speak of leadership, all we will try to do when we do need more leadership is work harder to manage. At a certain point, we end up with over-managed and under-led organizations, which are increasingly vulnerable in a fast-moving world.

Dr. John P. Kotter is the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at Harvard Business School and the Chief Innovation Officer at Kotter International, a firm that helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations.

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The Passing of a Great Leader: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher


Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, then you aren’t.  


Margaret Thatcher, 10/23/25-04/08/13

thatcherIt has always amazed me that in America we are so often “surprised” when women are chosen for high levels of leadership responsibility and we are truly challenged at the idea that a woman could just as easily be the best choice for national leadership as a man. If we were to elect a female president, there would be a certain amount of self-pride that we are so diverse and accepting as to consider that the gender of the top leader makes little difference.

Yet, one of the strongest democratic, free market leaders of all time was none other than Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The longest serving prime minister of the United Kingdom since the beginning of the 20th century, Mrs. Thatcher died today at the age of 87.

From a leadership perspective, Prime Minister Thatcher defied much of the myth of what it takes to become a great leader…especially as a woman. She was born in 1925 to very common means. Her father taught her about politics as she grew up, but not as a political relate. Mr. Roberts (her dad) was a member of the town council.

It is clear that the way Margaret Thatcher became the dominant leader that she became was by something pretty simple…she decided to do so. She entered politics in the 50s, losing her first foray but learning an enormous amount from the experience and gaining a reputation in the eyes of the public and her peers. The battle was a tough one, so much so that in 1973 she was quoted from a television appearance as saying, “I don’t think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime.”

Next lesson then—not only did she want to be a leader, she persevered even when she believed it was impossible. In May of 1979 she became that person that she thought would never exist when she was elected Prime Minister.

If you have any interest in leadership and you have not read her biography, you really should. Her terms were amazingly challenging for anybody but as a woman, she destroyed every myth. She was decisive in military challenges, open in taking on adversaries, and wise in knowing when to push and when to pull.  She had guts and she had compassion. After three terms as prime minister, Margaret Thatcher left the post in 1990 yet continued as an active member of the House of Lords. She went on to write several books, the only one of which I have read being Path to Power(2005) which is an amazing study of her life.

The legacy of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is one of many lessons. While I would still argue that her example makes most arguments of concern about women in leadership positions sound ridiculous, the lessons of her life are applicable to leaders of all gender and race. They are also important for new leaders and tenured ones. If you know what you stand for and are convinced that your leadership would benefit those around you, you owe it to yourself and others to claim the responsibility to make it happen.  If you do this, and you stay true to your beliefs, you can change your team or your company and perhaps, the world.

Does Your Competency Model Include Leadership?

What Drives PromotionWhat drives the identification, development and promotion of leaders in your organization? Is it actually the person’s ability to lead? For many organizations, the leadership qualities of a candidate for promotion or hiring may be a small part of the consideration, but the real focus is the competence of the leader in whatever technical area is represented. This is especially true in middle level positions as individual’s rise to higher levels of leadership responsibility, in many cases because they are the best technically at what they do.

Author and consultant Mike Myatt, in a recent post on Forbes, argues,

We live in a time that has moved well beyond competency driven models, yet organizations still primarily use competency-based interviews, competency-based development, competency-based performance reviews, and competency-based rewards as their framework for doing business. It remains the best practices mentality that rules the day, when we’re long overdue for a shift to next practices.

I have also been railing about this practice for a long time, but in reality, what are we asking organizations to do? Hasn’t the expert earned the right for the higher position by working harder and having greater competency than those are her? Is there anybody else who can better advise the troops and ensure the work is done well than the person who is the best at it?

Here’s the problem. It’s not that organizations promote the highly competent to leadership positions, it’s that they don’t develop these folks as their career is coming together to be managers and leaders. As an MBA professor I can say that there are some skills and ideas of which a person can be made aware in a classroom setting, but the way to develop a leader is to give them space to USE these ideas to create their own leadership competency. You can’t become a great sales person without selling anything, and you can’t become a great leader without leading.

Developing leadership is a long-term proposition and should begin earlier in a person’s career than most organizations start to push for it. Classes, workshops and real hands-on opportunities can be offered early in the career of a competent employee. This doesn’t have to be expensive as some of the greatest learning comes from being mentored and having the opportunity when it arises to develop leadership skills. A small amount of intent on developing leadership earlier in the careers of your employees can have tremendous pay offs in the end.

Should We Rethink the Promise of Teams? — HBS Working Knowledge

Teamwork is changing in an environment where more people are working remotely or are less consistently in touch with those on whom they depend to get the work done. Nonetheless, teamwork is still an effective tool for creativity and synergy in organizations large and small. In a recent issue of Harvard Business School’s “Working Knowledge,” Professor Jim Heskett looks at some of the these factors in recent research on team work.

We live in the age of transparency, open work spaces, co-location, and collaboration. An entire generation is being prepared to enter workplaces like this, organizations that reward extroverts who show initiative in stepping forward to shape the nature of the conversation of work and the ideas it generates.

The work they do will be carried out in groups ranging from assigned teams to fluid groups engaged in what Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson, in the recent book ‘Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, calls “teaming,” defined as “coordination and mutual adjustment during episodes of interdependent work.”

Teaming is a process by which participants and entire organizations learn and innovate while carrying out day-to-day assignments. Increasingly, Edmondson maintains, coordination and collaboration are occurring in temporary groups requiring teaming skills, rather than in traditional stable, well-designed teams that rely on managers’ abilities to form and lead them.

Leading business schools honor such behavior. At Harvard Business School, one of the first things new MBA candidates experience is introduction to their pre-selected Learning Team, whom they will work on an almost daily basis through much of at least one year. It’s an essential element of a program that places special emphasis on, and rewards, verbal contributions to classes as well as leadership of teamwork both inside and outside the classroom.It is not an environment that rewards introverts.(Most conversations between faculty and failing MBA students are about helping the students overcome their fears of engaging in classroom discussion, to improve the frequency of their classroom contributions.)

Teams comprising both extroverts and introverts, particularly those with diverse backgrounds, have been shown to have a lot of creative potential if managed properly. But Cain’s argument is that, as a society, extroversion is encouraged, developed, and recognized in so many ways that introverts—with their abilities to work alone, sometimes focusing on complex problems, not relying on feedback from others—may have fewer opportunities to shape creative solutions.

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