Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The five elements to foster leadership

What is required to provoke and sustain organizational development in an increasingly complex and challenging environment? Organizations are trying a wide variety of formulas to succeed, such as the diversification of products and markets, outsourcing, business process reengineering, the strategic use of technology, and, the development of a unique and competent workforce. Today’s organizations need leaders to help them succeed in an ever changing and complex environment. This literature review, examines how to transform --if that is possible, ordinary individuals into visionary, ethical, and courageous leaders.

How to transform into a leader?
Is a leader born or can a leader be formed? That question has been debated for centuries, and still, there is no agreement. While some authors consider that leadership is a born trait, there are others who think that leadership skills can be developed. If this is true, what conditions/elements foster the development of leaders?

1) Developing a “leadership mindset”
Most authors consider that a personal transformation is required to become an effective leader. Koestenbaum (1991) mentions that “Leadership requires a change in how you act, preceded by a conversion-like transformation in how you think” (p. 6). Furthermore, he sustains that leadership can not be taught, no school, professor or coach can teach you how to be a good leader; leadership has to be learned by own experience. Koestenbaum proposes the development of a “leadership mindset” which implies thinking big and new, realism to see things as they are, strong ethical values, and courage to make decisions and to accept responsibility of own actions and inactions.

2) Exercising humanistic and ethical values
The quantitative analysis of leadership characteristics conducted by the Corporate Leadership Council (2001) revealed ten top values and behaviors to effective leadership: “honesty and integrity, communication of expectations, recognition and value achievement, adaptation to changing circumstances, inspiring others, putting the right people in the right roles at the right time, passion to succeed, identify and articulate long-term vision for the future, persuade and encourage others to move in desired direction, and accept responsibility for successes and failures” (p. 10b). Furthermore, the study identified two interesting findings; the first revealed that current leadership teams lack the ability to see the big picture, thus, losing sight of the future. The second is a call for attention for human resources; the approximately 8,000 leaders that participated in the study reported that their organizations commonly failed to provide them with the training programs required to develop key leadership skills.

3) Understanding people’s motivations and engaging collaboration and commitment
Strebel (1996) considers that leaders must understand people’s inner motivations and engage them with the use of personal compacts that are the reciprocal obligations and commitments made by employees and organizations. Personal compacts could be classified in three dimensions: formal dimension, which relates to the understanding of functions and responsibilities, the psychological dimension, which addresses elements of mutual expectation and reciprocal commitment, and the social dimension which relates to the alignment of stated values and mission and the company’s practices and management’s attitudes towards them.

4) Managing uncertainty, paradoxes, and resistance
Is the future intriguing and threatening for you? For most of the people it is, but not for leaders, leaders need to effectively manage uncertainty, paradoxes, and natural resistances from people. Handy in the Age of Unreason (1989, 1990) keenly observes that leaders delight with the unknown, and have the ability to identify new opportunities, and create new paradigms.
The relationship between leadership and change is intrinsic. Leaders provoke changes and assist the creation of new conditions. According to Moss Kanter, Stein & Jick (1992), “Deliberate change is a matter of grabbing hold of some aspect of the motion and steering it in a particular direction that will be perceived by key players as a new method of operating or as a reason to reorient one’s relationship and responsibility to the organization itself, while creating conditions that facilitate and assists that reorientation” (p. 10). Mc Laghan (2001, 2002) reinforces the notion that leaders must be active learners to effectively guide their teams into the new ventures, joggling their own personal change challenges.

5) Understanding how change occurs and how to sustain changes
Kanter, Stein & Jick (1992) emphasize the need for leaders to understand and manage change in organizations. The authors describe how difficult is to find practical examples of focused, innovative, and flexible organizations, since change is not so easy to understand, and difficult to replicate successful change initiatives. Kanter at all, emphasize the need for leaders to address the following five barriers to change: (i) the difficulty to make changes stick, (ii) the limitations of managerial action in making change, (iii) the attempts to carry out programmatic continuing change through isolated single efforts, (iv) the lack of resources to implement change, and (v) the uniqueness of change initiatives (there is no recipe for successful change, some change initiatives are successful and others fail).

Since ancient times, leaders have played a strategic role helping individuals, groups and organizations to transform, adapt to new conditions, and break traditional paradigms. With an increasingly faster pace of change in today’s environment, people are more prepared to adapt to new situations, nevertheless, adaptation is no longer the key for achieving success. We are living in the age of knowledge, characterized by faster changes, where the value of an organization is not given by their assets, but by their capacity to create and deliver innovative products and services. Organizations, as an effort to improve and maintain their position in the market implement a wide variety of change initiatives: diversification of markets and products, new technology, business process reengineering, outsourcing, among others, but there’s one key initiative that remains as a constant since ancient times; the need to attract, retain and develop visionary, courageous and ethical leaders. There are fashions that fade with the time, flavors of the month, but there’s something that remains constant: the search for leadership. The characteristics of leadership remain the same as of ancient times, a great vision which implies the ability to see what others do not see, the courage to pursue higher goals, humanistic and ethical values, ability to understand people’s motivations, and how change occurs, and competence to manage uncertainty, paradoxes and natural resistance. Today’s organizations face new challenges, and leadership provides solutions to solve today’s complex problems to take advantage of new developments and create competitive advantages. Only the organizations that effectively implement plans to attract, retain and develop new leaders will provoke and sustain organizational development. Those organizations will be leading the era of knowledge.

Question for readers:
What conditions/elements foster the development of leaders? (Please drop a comment and share with us your insights!)

Corporate Leadership Council. (2001). Voice of the Leader: A Quantitative Analysis of Leadership Bench Strength and Development Strategies. Washington, DC: Corporate Executive Board. Pag. 10b.
Handy, C. (1989, 1990), The Age of Unreason. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Kanter, R, Stein B. & Jick T., (1992). The Challenge of Organizational Change: How Companies Experience it and Leaders Guide It. New York: Free Press.

Koestenbaum, P. (1991), Leadership: The Inner Side of Greatness: A Philosophy for Leaders by Peter Koestenbaum. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
McLagan, P. (2001, 2002), Change is Everybody’s Business. San Francisco, CA: Berret-Koehler Publiser Inc.


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