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A random walk through management theory with the occasional intercultural critique.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What Kind of Leader Are You?

As many readers may know, I have been serving as a Chief Financial Officer these last 18 months. I was therefore very interested to come across an article by Martin Hill in the ‘IMA CFO Connect’ magazine of November 2015 entitled ‘What kind of CFO are you?’ Having read the article I found that a lot of the comments and insights were equally applicable to leaders in general. Further, the author makes the general point that ‘there is a link between the leadership style of business leaders to business growth, profit and change…’

Here are the different kinds of leader you might be, along with further considerations (“et alors”):

What Kind of Leader Are You?
Citing research performed by Epicor Software together with Redshift Research who studied over 1,500 key decision-makers at larger companies in 11 countries, Hill suggests there are six different types of leader:
1.       The ‘traditionalist’

The traditionalist tends to be ‘stereotypically strict’ and prefers ‘to work within existing systems’ and is ‘usually not influenced by reputation, politics or personality when making decisions.’
Whilst objective, they may not be very strong on building relationships. With a tendency to be bureaucratic, they might not be very open to change; but they can be efficient administrators.
2.       The ‘revolutionary’
The opposite of traditionalists, the revolutionary tends to be charismatic and will ‘think outside the box.’ Operating outside formal systems and processes they can change the corporate culture.

Being risk takers, they can be bold which means things will get done, but some mistakes might happen. More intuitive than analytical, they may miss out important details.

3.       The ‘politician’
Politicians are cautious leaders who are ‘inclined to delay a decision rather than risk making a mistake.’ With a methodical team-based approach, the preferred decision making style is ‘consultative.’

Delaying decisions can lead to missed opportunities and reduces a business’s ability to change quickly. Prioritizing data accuracy, they can make convincing arguments to get people ‘on board.’

4.       The ‘carer’
Carers are ‘open to change but only when it is well planned, implemented methodically and not rushed.’ Each decision is treated as a ‘one-off’ and can take time. Like politicians, they like to build consensus.

Happiest in a ‘low-risk’ environment, carers can be left to ‘get on with it’ without the risk of incurring unexpected costs to the business.

5.       The ‘conductor’
Conductors like to ‘set tough challenging goals for themselves and their staff.’ Living in an ‘ethos of team work’, they provide direction, coaching, support, and encouragement to their staff.

Focusing on efficiency improvements they can be decisive where necessary; however ‘they are often reluctant to consider radical change’ and ‘tend to be strong defenders of corporate culture.’

6.       The ‘visionary’
Visionaries are ‘creative, high on flexibility, often take decisions based on experience and intuition, and are oriented more towards action than caution.’

Whilst embracing change, their ‘big picture’ perspective and eloquent articulation of the future can convince others; however visionaries often underestimate politics and personal agendas.

Et alors
Many readers might conclude that they exhibit some of each ‘type’ – and that is arguably the path to effective leadership: being able to adapt according to circumstance and followers. I’m also reminded of Goleman’s leadership styles and commentary therein: ‘it is like a golf pro reaching to his bag’ – in this case the different ‘clubs’ are different leadership styles which should be selected by the leader as and when appropriate. Meanwhile those with a tendency to be ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘visionaries’ might want to extend the analysis of individual styles to collective styles – in other words, what is the corporate culture where you work? If your corporate culture is like that of a ‘politician’ you might have to become one yourself if you want to change that culture!

This is the last blog of this series.

After 4 years, 44,000 hits (and still growing at 30 per day), it is time to close this project…
… Meanwhile whether you are returning or a first time visitor please enjoy the other 129 articles besides this one; and don’t forget to check out my book Developing Your Leadership Skills

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Change Management - Grief Management

In George Kohlrieser’s book “Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance” (2006) the author talks about ‘change management’ from a human aspect. Most managers are familiar with various processes for managing and executing change; and many will have also heard of the ‘SARA (Shock, Anger, Rejection and Acceptance)’ dynamic of change acceptance; but if a leader wants to ‘overcome conflict, influence others, and raise performance’ a more ‘human’ understanding of reaction to change might be appropriate. In the book there is reference to the eight stages of grief: recognize and understand these and you might be able to better manage yourself and others through significant change.
Here are the eight stages of grief followed by further considerations (“et alors”):
Change Management – Grief Management
1.       Denial
Whilst experiencing grief already, people in this stage are ‘protecting’ themselves by suppressing emotion. For a limited time this can be beneficial; however it can be destructive to be in denial too long.
2.       Protest and Anger
People protest at ‘loss’ especially if there was a strong psychological attachment. Anger can become destructive – it needs to be the right anger with the right person at the right time.
3.       Sadness, Missing or Longing
The sadness is from deep inside which leads to missing or longing for what was. The act of crying is essential in completing this process; otherwise detachment and chronic loneliness can result.
4.       Fear and Anxiety
Now ‘separated’, the person feels in danger; however the crisis brings the person back to the ‘essence of who they are.’ At this point and without exception, the grief needs to be expressed and shared.
5.       Mental and Emotional Acceptance
The acceptance is in terms of both thoughts and feelings and this is often the most difficult part. Complete ‘detachment’ is not required as long as genuine acceptance of the change has occurred. 
6.       Forming New Attachments
Looking forward and focusing on the new paradigm, the new ‘attachment’ should be genuine and not just a substitute for the former paradigm (otherwise the person will remain grieving).
7.       Forgiveness
Here this means ‘being able to give again’ – being able to ‘give for’ others. Without forgiveness, the person might become either a ‘victim’ or a ‘persecutor.’
8.       Gratitude
Here, the person realizes that they are not the ‘center of the universe’ and were not the only agent of the change. ‘Reconnected,’ the person is able to become ‘thankful’.  
Et alors
Not many managers will have to deal with a change in an organization as profound as the principle causes of grief: death of or separation from a loved one; however the ‘human’ impact of significant organizational changes should not be underestimated. A major change can feel like a loss and accordingly individuals will go through the grieving process described above. If you can recognize that someone is still in ‘denial’ appropriate actions can be taken – similarly, for each of the other stages. The challenge might arise for the manager in two instances: first the manager might be ‘suffering’ grief him/herself and will have to deal with this first before being able to help others; secondly emotions (and tangible manifestations such as crying) are not always considered appropriate in certain organizational cultures. Here the manager will have to adapt (according to the prevailing culture); however holding meetings at various stages of the project where grievances can be aired will certainly help: human interactions such as empathy, understanding, dialogue and support address most of the points above.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Gender-neutral Leadership

Gender-neutral Leadership
A recent article in the Economist, ‘Sex in the boardroom’ (Schumpeter, 6 June 2015) argued that ‘claims that women manage differently from – or better than – men are questionable.’ Drawing on McKinsey articles which are ‘fond of being quoted’ by persons who do think that women manage differently, the article criticizes the studies for firstly only being ‘snapshots’ of managers’ changing opinions which are likely to be influenced by politically correct ‘hokum’; secondly for ‘lumping women bosses together’ which ‘obscures huge differences between them’; and thirdly for overlooking the fact that men and women continually change and adapt their leadership styles according to circumstances. 

They also cite another study from Norway which found that ‘men and women do not have different styles of leadership.’ In that context, the article is promoting a type of gender-neutral approach to leadership, and they cite three further studies which highlight that ‘there is a lack of solid evidence that putting more women into senior jobs improves a business’s performance.’  Here are the three points followed by further considerations and counter counter-arguments (‘et alors’)

Gender-neutral Leadership

To counter the argument that women manage differently from or better than men, Schumpeter cited the following three studies:

A study of a large sample of American firms by Adams and Ferreira found that ‘the average effect of gender diversity on firm performance is negative.’

A large study of the influence of diversity on group performance in companies by Hans van Dijk found that ‘gender diversity has no overall effect.’

Two studies of companies in Norway (following the implementation of the minimum 40% female board participation legislation) found that ‘increasing the number of women had a negative effect on profits.’

Et alors

The only thing I find positive about this article is the allusion to gender-neutral leadership. Indeed, why not make leadership and gender two different matters? There are some very good female leaders; and there are some very good male leaders, so why not just take ‘gender’ out of the definition of good (or bad) leadership? It can be argued that leadership is an inter-personal event that is about the adaptability of the leader to the context and the situation of the followers; it is not about who the leader ‘is’ whether male or female. However, the article is very strongly asserting that any gender differences are questionable and appears to have an agenda of ‘balancing’ all the ‘politically correct’ studies and articles that are being published on the matter. I would like to reply to that reply:

Firsts, ‘androgynous’ leadership might be achievable by both men and women; but not everyone can and there are some proven correlations between gender and leadership characteristics. Consider ‘judging’ preferences per the MBTI personality type indicator – significantly more females than males prefer to make decisions using their feelings in preference to thinking. Vice versa for males, but of course, some males prefer to ‘feel’, and some females prefer to ‘think’; but my point is that if we are to achieve ‘best’ leadership, whilst we might need a balance, that balance might be best achieved within a team. A collection of diverse individuals can achieve it more readily than one person. Don’t neutralize gender, benefit from it in a collective sense!

Second, it is not just merit but opportunity that defines careers in organizations. The gender-neutral arguments assume that everyone has the same opportunities. Gender-neutrality might be another barrier since the (predominantly) male senior executives review the merits of their junior female managers and think that they are assessing their merit in a gender-neutral manner. But they are not! They are actually assessing the females on (predominantly) masculine corporate culture and values. Only those females who exhibit these characteristics are promoted, thereby reinforcing the masculine culture, whilst ‘at the top’ the senior executives congratulate themselves on their gender-neutrality!

Third, whilst there are strong arguments for gender-neutrality in leadership, the problem is that these arguments might just be used to close any debate on the matter. Everyone is the same, so it’s ok – nothing to talk about… Well, yes and no – yes, anything that helps overcome prejudice and improve meritocracy; however, no: the corporate world is perhaps not ready for this yet. There is a corrective dynamic in play and that needs to continue until we do have gender ‘diversity blindness’ – until that time, any argument that closes (rather than opens) the debate should be treated with caution…

Thursday, May 14, 2015

10 Ways to Climb the Power Ladder

An article in the ET of Mumbai (24 April 2015) succinctly summarized a book by Stanford Business Professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer, “Power: Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t.” The precept is that when considering ‘what does it take to get ahead’ the answer is not technical skills but ‘political prowess.’ Something which might be apt in large private organizations or the public sector, the author ‘breaks down common misconceptions about power and success and outlines strategies for achieving it.’
Here are the 10 ‘best takeaways’ from the book, along with further considerations (‘et alors’):
10 Ways to Climb the Power Ladder
Per the ET (abridged verbatim), the ‘best takeaways’ are 10 points, viz:
1.       Don’t believe the myth that some people are born to lead and others aren’t
Good performance neither acquires you power nor enables you to overcome organizational difficulties. If you leave too much to chance, people fail to manage their careers.
2.       Get over the idea that everyone needs to like you
Sometimes a reputation such as being ‘outspoken’ or ‘insensitive’ might not hurt you; it might actually help you!
3.       Recognize that performance is not everything
Your relationship with your boss matters more. Further, instead of a meritocracy, many organizations are actually gerontocracies – age and tenure matter more.
4.       Help powerful people feel good about themselves
‘CEOs like to put loyalists in senior positions.’ Enough said?
5.       Build an effective power network
‘Many studies show that networking is positively related to obtaining good performance evaluations and objective measures of career success.’
6.       Break the rules, especially early in your career
‘In every war in the last 200 years conducted between unequally matched opponents, the stronger party won about 72% of the time. However when the underdogs understood their weaknesses and used a different strategy to minimize its effects, they won some 64% of the time.’
7.       Get access to key resources
There is a reason why powerful and influential people are surrounded by followers – you need to get access to power to build your own power.
8.       Do an honest self-assessment
Contrary to ordinarily overestimating our own abilities, ‘when people focus on what they need to get to the next stage of their careers, they are less defensive.’
9.       Be fine with showing conflict and anger
‘Research shows that people who express anger are seen as “dominant, strong, competent and smart”.’ Further, followers anticipate that ‘high status’ people would feel angrier in a negative situation than ‘low status’ people – in other words it is, to some extent, expected.
10.   Carefully consider and construct your image
Don’t underestimate the power of your personal brand. Build an identity that will be useful for you: don’t expect to be asked to ‘step up’; instead position yourself as ‘next job’ ready.
Et alors
If these are the ‘best’ takeaways, I would hate to think what might have been the ‘worst’ takeaways! These ‘tips’ appear to be venal, base and principally self-serving at the expense of the organization and fellow colleagues. If you work in an individualistic environment and you want to climb the greasy pole sparing no casualties and standing on other people’s heads, then I can recommend you adopt some of Pfeffer’s tips; if however you consider that team work is more important than yourself and want to be a leader who gets followers to positively follow you for the greater good of the company, then don’t!
A ‘toned down’ version of the above might get closer to ‘good’ leadership rather than grabbing power individually so that you can eventually ‘instruct’ others what to do. I agree with the point that leaders are not born – leadership can be developed, but this is not just about managing your career! Similarly, not everyone will like you all of the time, especially if you have to dispense your duties as a manager; however leadership is about engaging people. Certainly, performance is not everything – working well in your own corner of the world is not going to get you anywhere: visibility, exposure, networking all help; but to what end – your own good or that of the organization? 
“Helping powerful people feel good about themselves” just sounds like completely deferring truth to power – something that if not balanced can lead to downfall (as any Greek drama will illustrate). “Building an effective power network” could be toned down to “building an effectivenetwork”– you need to build and maintain an ‘ecosytem;’ not just hitch your star to particular wagons… Break the rules – perhaps and within reason, but not everything is a war to be won or lost! Getting access to key resources is very useful, but again, to what end – yours or the organization?
So yes, do an honest self-assessment – everyone should and it is not easy, but a real self-assessment might go beyond a self-centered reflection of your own career ‘battle plan’! Showing conflict and anger is only going to lead to a toxic work environment unless you know how to carefully manage the rare times when it might actually be appropriate. Finally, “carefully considering and constructing your own image” might be somewhat reasonable advice, but to be sustainably successful it has to be authentic and that will go beyond just deliberating how to ‘climb the power ladder’! With apologies to the author, my criticism relates to the article in the ETwhich may not fully reflect the nuances of the book; however I leave it to others to read the book and make that judgement…

Thursday, April 16, 2015

3 Quick Points about Leadership

At a conference the other day, one of the speakers kindly promoted my book: ‘Developing your Leadership Skills: from the changing world to changing the world’ (2013, Createspace). Accordingly after the speeches, lots of delegates came to ask me questions about leadership. One of the simplest (and possibly the best question) was ‘what 3 things should I do to be a good leader?’ 
Here’s my response along with further considerations (et alors):
3 Quick Points about Leadership
There are three key things that a leader needs to ‘do’ and develop in order to be a good leader:
1.       Know yourself
If you don’t know yourself, you cannot lead. The only thing a leader needs to merit the title of ‘leader’ is followers; and followers will not follow someone who is not authentic or who is unaware of their impact on others… 
Knowing yourself is not as easy as it sounds; however there are many tools to help. Start with the ‘Johari’ window and seek feedback from trusted colleagues. Then look into your personality preferences with such tools as MBTI. There are also psychometric tests particularly targeted to leadership such as Hogan which can highlight both your potential (to develop) and your ‘derailers’ to manage.
2.       Know the difference between Management and Leadership
With management, authority goes with the desk and people do not follow you, they just execute your instructions because they subscribe to the hierarchy. Management is about planning, organizing and controlling. It is not something that is replaced by leadership, but to be a good leader, you have to know when to manage and when to lead.
Where management is about planning, leadership is about vision: having a long-term perspective that cuts through the all the challenges of today – it may offer a new path and should always give a sense of direction. Instead of organizing, it is about motivating – how do you engage your followers to do the right thing at the right time? Finally, instead of controlling, it is about communicating – how do you keep on getting the leadership message across and keep everyone going in the same direction?
3.       Know your Leadership Style
Daniel Goleman’s article on ‘leadership that gets results’ is probably the best introduction to leadership styles. His argument is that people will have preferences for a certain style, but like the golf professional, the leader will reach to their bag to select the appropriate style for the appropriate situation.
Leadership is often associated with ‘authority’ and ‘commanding’ (or being ‘coercive’) and these can indeed be effective leadership styles where appropriate; however consider the ‘democractic’, ‘affiliative’, ‘pacesetting’ or ‘coaching’ styles. If they are not your immediate preferences, at least learn how to apply them when necessary according to context and situation.
Et alors
It is sometimes arguable that leadership is about ‘being’ rather than ‘doing.’ It is all about who you are, how you react and how you engage followers. Without followers, you are not a leader, simple! To be a leader you have to know yourself first and foremost and then learn more. There is always more to learn: one of the key tests used to identify potential leaders is ‘curiosity quotient’ – if you want to keep on learning, the chances are that you will also be able to develop as a leader. So start with these 3 quick points about leadership…

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Corporate Leadership in India

“The leaders of India’s biggest and fastest growing companies take an internally focused, long-term view and put motivating and developing employees higher on the priority list than short-term shareholder interests.” This according to Peter Cappelli, Harbir Singh, Jitendra V. Singh and Michael Useem in “Leadership Lessons from India,” (HBR, March 2010). With statements from HCL (an IT company) such as “employee first, customers second” it really seems like successful Indian companies are focusing on their Human Resources. 
Here’s how successful corporate leadership is achieved in India along with further comments (“et alors”):
Corporate Leadership in India 
The authors state that the companies in India “typically attributed the success of their companies to employees’ positive attitudes, persistence, and sense of reciprocity, which the executives inspire in four specific ways:”
Creating a sense of mission
“Indian leaders have long been involved in societal issues, preemptively investing in community services and infrastructure… being encircled by throngs of destitute people, seeing that needs are stark and government intervention is inadequate”. Further, “the social missions of Indian companies are integral to their strategy and often the route to profits. Indian companies often interweave strategy and social mission.”
Engaging through transparency and accountability
“Indian leaders also build employee commitment by encouraging openness and reciprocity. They look after the interests of employees and their families, and implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) ask employees to look after the company’s interests in return. HCL’s ‘Employee first, customer second’ policy, supported by initiatives designed to make employees feel more personally responsible for the company’s offerings and give them a voice with upper management, does exactly this.”
Empowering through communication
“So that engagement will translate into action, Indian leaders go to considerable lengths to empower employees, although this challenges the traditional Indian deference to hierarchy. At HCL, for example, an online system allows employees to create quality-control ‘tickets,’ much like those on an assembly line. Further, “empowering employees by helping them find their own solutions, Jagdish Khattar, the former managing director of the automaker Maruti Udyog, echoes a sentiment common among Indian leaders: ‘Throw issues to them, let them examine and come back to you with solutions…’”
Investing in training
“Indian companies invest heavily in employee development—often more so than Western companies. This is partly to ensure that employees have the tools to do their best work, but it’s also designed to strengthen their commitment to the company.” For human resources development, ‘managing and developing talent’ was the focus of the majority of companies: “by and large, [Indian executives] see no trade-off between recruiting and development, and they expect their firms to pay attention to both.” 
Et alors?
The article goes on to consider if any of these ‘approaches’ of leading are transferable outside India and concludes that there are two (of the four) that can be applied anywhere: 1/ investing in training – even in a high turnover environment, where training might seem ‘risky’, it can actually help retention; and 2/ strengthening the social mission – not just the feel-good ‘make the world a better place’ but ‘real’ social missions that actively engage the staff and are in line with the business.
The other two approaches are referenced as particularly contextual. The organizational culture most likely to evolve in Indian corporations according to the national culture is a ‘family’ organization where one key senior ‘boss’ serves like the head of a family. This can be easily managed in a small organization, but for larger organizations, this ‘strength’ becomes challenging to capitalize on: hence the engaging through transparency and communication. India scores very high on Hofstede’s ‘power-distance’ index – in other words, there is a very strong sense of hierarchy. This can result in employees relinquishing responsibility ‘up’ the hierarchy so that only person taking decisions and being accountable is the boss! By empowering through communication, this ‘challenge’ is addressed.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Why Diversity Matters

McKinsey (a consultancy) has produced a report, “Diversity Matters” (McKinsey Quarterly Feb 2015), which “examined proprietary data sets for 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and the United States.” The report compared financial results (such as total revenues, earnings before interest and taxes, and returns on equity for the years 2010 to 2013 and the composition of top management and boards (gender information, ethnicity, race, or both).

Here are the findings which highlight why diversity matters (along with further considerations ‘et alors’):

Why Diversity Matters

Some of the key findings per the McKinsey report (verbatim):

·         Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
·         Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
·         Companies in the bottom quartile both for gender and for ethnicity and race are statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial returns than the average companies in the data set (that is, bottom-quartile companies are lagging rather than merely not leading).

The report further states that “the case for greater diversity becomes more compelling. We live in a deeply connected and global world. It should come as no surprise that more diverse companies and institutions are achieving better performance. […] That’s particularly true for their talent pipelines: attracting, developing, mentoring, sponsoring, and retaining the next generations of global leaders at all levels of organizations. Given the higher returns that diversity is expected to bring, we believe it is better to invest now, since winners will pull further ahead and laggards will fall further behind.”

Et alors

The insight is pertinent and the news is relevant, but the message is not new. Not least since this latest McKinsey report is a follow-up from the one they published in 2010 with similar results. Many large corporations have been attempting to increase diversity and inclusion for the last decade, but with limited results: they are trying to ‘win’ but ending up as ‘laggards…’ There are a number of reasons why diversity ‘initiatives’ may not work (lack of accountability, not ‘walking the talk’, having recruitment but not retention targets, etc.), so what can be done now that’s new; what’s the solution?

There was a very interesting interview with Renee James, the president of Intel Corporation, in the Economic Times of India, “Corporate Dossier” (Feb 13-19, 2015) where she highlighted their recent initiative to ‘walk the talk’ by dedicating $300 million to increasing workforce diversity. Part of a two step plan (1/ do the same as before but better; and 2/ ‘go public’ with the initiatives), she highlighted one of the key issues why diversity initiatives did not appear to work in the last decade: ‘micro inequity sensitivity.’ At the ‘macro’ level, companies and their staff are making broad gestures towards diversity; however at the micro level diversity becomes a ‘good cause’ but ‘someone else’s problem’. At the micro level, no one is accountable for their actions. This may not be malicious and/or ‘anti-diversity’ behavior – many staff will at once and the same time subscribe to the macro initiatives but sub-consciously still exhibit micro inequality when it comes to matters such as talent development.

An example might be if there are two candidates for a post, one of whom is ‘diverse’. In line with macro diversity initiatives, the senior manager will be glad to see a diverse candidate but then ignores that diversity: ‘there is no difference between these two candidates except for their experience and qualifications…’ But then the micro inequality starts to take effect when the senior manager selects only according to these criteria. Let’s say the candidates are equally competent but the ‘diverse’ candidate is female (whose experience was interrupted with a few years maternity leave) and is a graduate from a ‘foreign’ university which the senior manager is not familiar with; whereas the other candidate is male (with no interruptions to work experience) and is a graduate from a ‘local’ university which the senior manager is very familiar with. Who is going to get the job? There is therefore the need to highlight ‘micro inequality sensitivity’ principally amongst senior executives… Hence Intel’s initiatives to ‘go public’ (thereby increasing accountability at both the macro and micro levels) and directing funding to continue to ‘find out what is really going on’ when it comes to diversity…