The notion of ‘Leadership’

ChurchillI’ve been re-reading a book on leadership by Elliott Jaques1 and, whilst I’m not smitten with where he took his ‘Requisite Organisation’ ideas2, I respect his original thinking and really like what he had to say about the notion of leadership. I thought I’d try and set this out in a post…but before I get into any of his work:

“When I grow up I want to be a leader!“

Over the years I’ve spoken with graduate recruits/ management trainees in large organisations about their aspirations, and I often hear that ‘when they grow up’ they ‘want to lead people’.

And I think “Really? Lead who? Where? Why?”

Why is it that (many) people think that ‘to lead’ is the goal? Perhaps it is because ‘modern management’ has rammed the ‘being labelled a leader IS success’ idea down our throats.

It seems strange to me that people feel the need ‘to lead’ per se. For me, whether I would want to lead (or not) absolutely depends…on things like:

  1. Is there a set of people (whether large or small) that needs leading?
    • If they don’t, then I shouldn’t be attempting to force myself upon them.
  2. Am I passionate about the thing that ‘we’ want to move towards? (the purpose)
    • If not, then I’m going to find it rather hard to genuinely inspire people to follow. I would be faking it.
  3. Do I (really) care about those that need leading?
    • If I don’t, then this is likely to become obvious through my words and deeds
    • ‘really’ caring means constantly putting myself in their shoes – to understand them – and acting on what I find.
  4. Do I think I have the means to lead in this scenario? (e.g. the necessary cognitive capacity/ knowledge/ skills/ experience)
    • If someone else in the group (or close by) is better placed to lead in this scenario (for all the reasons above), then I should welcome this, and even seek them out3 – and not ‘fight them for it’.

I think we need to move on from the simplistic ‘I’m a leader!’ paradigm.

So, turning to what Jaques had to say…

Defining leadership

Jaques noted that the concept of leadership is rarely defined with any precision”. He wrote that:

“Good leadership is one of the most valued of all human activities. To be known as a good leader is a great accolade… It signifies the talent to bring people together…to work effectively together to meet a common goal, to co-operate with each other, to rely upon each other, to trust each other.”

I’d ask you to pause here, and have a think about that phrase “to be known as a good leader…”

How many ‘good leaders’ have you seen?

I’d suggest that, given the number of people we come across in (what have been labelled as) ‘leadership’ positions, it is rare for us to mentally award the ‘good leader’ moniker.

We don’t give out such badges easily – we are rather discerning.

Why? Because being well led really matters to us. It has a huge impact upon our lives.

The ‘personality’ obsession

Mr MenWe (humans) seem to have spent much time over the last few decades trying to create a list of the key personality characteristics that are said to determine a good leader.

There have been two methods used to create such lists, which Jaques explains as follows:

“Most of the descriptions of leadership have focused on superiority or shortcomings in personal qualities in people and their behaviour. Thus, much has been written:

  • about surveys that describe what executives do who are said to be good at leadership; or 
  • about the lives of well-known individuals who had reputations as ‘good leaders’ as though somehow emulating such people can help.”

Jaques believed that ‘modern management’ places far too much4 emphasis on personality make-up.

If you google ‘the characteristics of a good leader’ you will be bombarded with list upon list of what a leader should supposedly look like – with many claiming legitimacy from ‘academic exercises’ that sought out a set of people who appear to have ‘done well’ and then collecting a myriad of attributes about them, and searching for commonality (perhaps even using some nice statistics) …and, voila, that’s ‘a leader’ right there!

If you are an organisation desiring ‘leaders’, then all you then need do is find people like this. Perhaps, in time, you could pluck ‘a leader’ off a supermarket shelf.

If you ‘want to be a leader’, then all you need do is imitate the list of characteristics. After all, don’t you just ‘fake it to make it’ nowadays?

Mmm, if only leadership were so simple.

In reality, there are a huge range of personalities that will be able to successful lead and, conversely, there will be circumstances where someone with (supposedly) the most amazing ‘leadership’ personality fit won’t succeed5. This will come back to leading the ‘who’, to ‘where’ and ‘why’.

Further, some of those ‘what makes a good leader’ lists contain some very opaque ‘characteristics’…such as that you must be ‘enthusiastic’, ‘confident’, ‘purposeful’, ‘passionate’ and ‘caring’. These are all outcomes (effects) from those earlier ‘it depends’ four questions (causes), not things that you can simply be!

Personally, I’ll be enthusiastic and purposeful about, say, reducing plastic waste in our environment but I won’t be enthusiastic and purposeful about manufacturing weapons! I suppose that Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un might be different.

Jaques wrote that:

“It is the current focus upon psychological characteristics and style that leads to the unfortunate attempts within companies to change the personalities of individuals or to maintaining procedures aimed at ‘getting a correct balance’ of personalities in working groups…

…our analysis and experience would suggest that such practises are at best likely to be counterproductive in the medium and long term…

…attempts to improve leadership by psychologically changing our ‘leaders’ serve mainly as placebos or band-aids which, however well-intentioned they may be, nevertheless obscure the grossly undermining effects of the widespread organisational shortcomings and destructive defects”

It really won’t matter what personality you (attempt to) adopt if you continue to preside over a system that:

  • lives a false purpose; and
  • attempts to:
    • command through budgets, detailed implementation plans, targets and cascaded objectives; and
    • control through rules, judgements and contingent rewards.

Conversely, if you help lead your organisation through meaningfully and sustainably changing the system, towards better meeting its (customer) purpose, then you will have achieved a great thing! And the people around you (employees, customers, suppliers… society) will be truly grateful – and hold you in high regard – even if they can’t list a set of ‘desirable’ traits that you displayed along the way.

Peter Senge, in his systems thinking book ‘The Fifth Discipline’ writes that:

“Most of the outstanding leaders I have had the privilege to know possess neither striking appearance nor forceful personality. What distinguishes them is the clarity and persuasiveness of their ideas, the depth of their commitment, and the extent of their openness to continually learning more.

They do not ‘have the answer’, but they seem to instil confidence in those around them that, together, ‘we can learn whatever we need to learn in order to achieve the results we truly desire’.”

To close the ‘personality’ point – Jaques believed that:

“The ability to exercise leadership is not some great ‘charismystery’ but is, rather, an ordinary quality to be found in Everyman and Everywoman so long as the essential conditions exist

…Charisma is a quality relevant only to cult leadership”.

We should stop the simplistic labeling of “this one here is a leader, and that one over there is not”.

Manager? Leader? Or are we confusing the two?!

Find and replaceSo, back to that ‘Manager or Leader’ debate.

It feels to me that many an HR department hit upon the ‘leader’ word, say 10 years ago, and considering it as highly desirable, decided that it would be a good idea to do a ‘find and replace’ throughout all of their organisation’s lexicon. i.e. find wherever the word ‘Manager’ is used and replace (i.e. in their eyes ‘upgrade’) with the word ‘Leader’.

And so we got ‘Team Leaders’ instead of ‘Team Managers’ and ‘Senior Leadership’ instead of ‘Senior Management’….and on and on.

And this changed everything, and nothing.

Jaques explained that:

Leadership is not a free-standing activity: it is one function, among many, that occurs in some but not all roles.”

“Part of the work of the role [of a manager] is the exercise of leadership, but it is not a ‘leadership role’ any more than it would be called a telephoning role because telephoning is also a part of the work required.”

Peter Senge writes that:

“we encode a broader message when we refer to such people as the leaders. That message is that the only people with power to bring about change are those at the top of the hierarchy, not those further down. This represents a profound and tragic confusion.”

And so to three important leadership concepts: Accountability, Authority and Responsibility:

Accountability

Put simply, the occupant of a role is accountable:

  • for achieving what has been defined as requirements of the role; and
  • to the person or persons who have established that role.

Jaques writes that “management without leadership accountability is lifeless…leadership accountability should automatically be an ordinary part of any managerial role.”

Such leadership isn’t bigger than, or instead of, management – it is just a necessary part within. As such, it doesn’t make sense to say that “he/she is a good manager, but not a good leader”.

Authority

Authority is that which enables someone to carry out the role that they are accountable for.

“In order to discharge accountability, a person in a role must have appropriate authority; that is to say, authority with respect to the use of materials or financial resources or with respect to other people making it reasonably possible to do what needs to be done.”

Jaques goes on to split authority into ‘authority vested’ and ‘authority earned’.

Role-vested authority by itself, properly used, should be enough to produce a minimal satisfactory result, by means of [people] doing what they are role bound to do. What it cannot do is to release the full and enthusiastic co-operation of others

personally earned authority is needed if people are to go along with us, using their full competence in a really willing and enthusiastic way; it carries the difference between a just-good-enough result and an outstanding or even scintillating one.”

In short, managers have to (continually) earn the trust and respect of their people.

(You might like to revisit an earlier post that explained Scholtes’ excellent diagram on trustPeople and Relationships).

Responsibility

Let’s suppose that you are at the scene of a traffic accident. If you are on your own you will likely take on the social responsibility of doing the best you can in the circumstances. If others are there (say there is a crowd), you will likely assess whether you have special knowledge that is not already present:

  • is anyone attending to the injured? If not, what can you do?
  • If first aid is underway, do (you believe that) you know more than they appear to? Can you be of assistance to what they are already doing?
  • If the police are not yet there, what can you do to secure the safety of others, such as warning other traffic?

In such circumstances, nobody carries the authority to call you to account (unless you knowingly do something illegal).

Jaques explains this as the general leadership responsibility and does so to:

“show how deeply leadership notions are embedded in the most general issues of social conscience, social morality, and the general social good.”

“General leadership responsibility must apply even where a person’s role does not carry leadership accountability…[employees] must strive to carry leadership responsibility, even towards their managers, whenever they consider it to be for everyone’s good for them to do so.”

The understanding of the difference between leadership accountability and general leadership responsibility (for the good of society, or a sub-set within) makes clear that it is never a case of “I’m the leader and you’re not.”

Jaques went on to write that:

“The effective and sensible discharge of general leadership responsibility is one sign of a healthy collaborative organisation.”

…and finally, to react to a likely critique:

“You’re so naïve Steve!”

Many of you reading this post may think me naïve.  You may reply that there are, and will always be, people out there who want to feel the power and ego (self-importance) of being labelled as ‘a leader’…and yet (regardless of their words) don’t actually care about the ‘who, where and why’ of leading. You might cite a large swathe of politicians and senior corporate executives as evidence.

Yep, I’d agree that there will be people out there like this who will ‘play the game’ and work their way into (supposed) ‘leadership’ positions…but I don’t believe that such “I’m a leader!” people are likely to make ‘good leaders’ (in the sense of what Jacques defines as leadership). Sure, they can play the ‘leader’ game, but what really counts is whether a system (such as an organisation, or a community) meaningfully and sustainably moves towards its true purpose, for the good of society.

Senge writes that:

“the term ‘leader’ is generally an assessment made by others. People who are truly leading seem rarely to think of themselves in that way. Their focus is invariably on what needs to be done, the larger system in which they are operating, and the people with whom they are creating – not on themselves as ‘leaders’. Indeed, if it is otherwise, this is probably a problem. For there is always the danger, especially for those [installed into] leadership positions, of becoming ‘heroes in their own minds’.”

In summary:

If there is a need, and a person really cares about the purpose and the people, and they have the means then they will likely lead well – regardless of their personality type whilst doing so.

Conversely, it doesn’t matter what ‘an amazing person’ someone might (appear to) be if the conditions for ‘leading’ aren’t there.

‘Winning’ at becoming ‘the leader’ shouldn’t be the goal.

Footnotes

1. Elliott Jaques (1917 – 2003) was a Canadian psychoanalyst and organizational psychologist. 

2. Requisite Organisation: Jaques wrote a book called the Requisite Organisation, which puts many of his ideas together. Personally, I find the ideas interesting but ‘of a time’ and/or of a particular ‘hierarchical’ mindset.

3. Seeking out the person best placed to lead: This would be a sign that you cared more about the purpose and the people than leading.

4. Regarding ‘far too much emphasis on personality’: Notice that Jaques says ‘too much’ but he doesn’t say that personality is irrelevant. But, rather than come up with what qualities ‘we’ should have, he turns it the other way around. A managerial leader should have:

“The absence of abnormal temperamental or emotional characteristics that disrupt the ability to work with others.”

This is nice. It presumes that, so long as we aren’t ‘abnormal’ then any of us can lead given the necessary conditions.

5. Winston Churchill is often used as an example of a great leader – and he was, under certain circumstances…but many historians have written about how this didn’t carry through to every situation (such as running a country in peacetime).

 

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Are you a lady?

Thatcher“Power is like being a lady….If you have to tell people you are, [then] you aren’t” (Margaret Thatcher)

Now, love her or loath her2, Thatcher’s words make an insightful point.

And this point is the same for the rather overdone ‘leader’ word.

So, to a definition:

Leadership: The action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this” (Oxford Dictionary)

Calling yourself a leader

I wish people in hierarchical positions would stop shouting about ‘being a leader’…that they are ‘leading people’…and all the other ‘leadership’ presumptions.

As I wrote some time ago, you are only truly a leader if people choose to follow you, for themselves.

(Anything else is only really compliance, through fear or perhaps indifference)

Personally, whilst I’m totally fine with Executives, Directors, Managers etc. (i.e. people with the titles) taking time to understand about leadership, I’d rather they never ‘told me’ that they were leading me.

Stick with the title that you’ve been given…and then ‘we’ (the people) will decide whether to follow based on your actions (as opposed to words) and abilities (rather than your assertions).

Conversely, ‘we’ (the people) may come together and try to lead an organisation to a place where the titled people aren’t, or haven’t yet been, heading. In which case, it would be worth those with the titles sitting up and taking note (rather than attempting to shut it down) – perhaps there’s something important within!

This post ISN’T written in any way to belittle or put down people who would like to lead ‘us’ to some better place.

It ISN’T to be disrespectful to the people currently with the titles – I ‘get’ that organisations need some form of structure.

In fact, it’s the opposite, it’s to say that many (most?) people crave to be genuinely led somewhere great…and this is only likely to happen if those put into positions of power ‘get over’ the leader word…and act as one of the people.

Here’s a rather humbling quote that turns the ‘I am your leader’ boast on its head:

“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘we have done this ourselves’. ” (Lao-Tsu)

Leading is a potential outcome of what you do (actions) and how you behave (abilities), not a badge you can demand or procure.

Irony

I wrestled with using the quote at the top. It brilliantly suggests that “if you have to say you are leader, then you’re not” but I find myself wishing that it hadn’t been Thatcher who said it. She was given the label ‘The Iron Lady’…which was then used to lampoon her leadership style1.

This got me thinking: Why am I uncomfortable about this irony? Well, using a quote from Margaret Thatcher and Lao-Tsu on the same page rather grates with me.

So, was Thatcher a leader in the sense that I use above? – well, yes, there were lots of people that wanted to follow her.

Was she a leader for the whole country? – absolutely not. Due to the vagaries of the UK’s ‘first past the post’ voting system, she used her power to take the country to a place where the majority of people didn’t want to go3…with millions suffering in the process…and, arguably, generations (still) suffering from the outcome of her economic ideology…but that’s just me being political 🙂 .

What about the power word and its relationship with leadership?

Power: the ability to produce intended effects” (Bertrand Russell)

I reflect that power and leadership do not occupy the exact same space:

  • You may be successful in leading a group of people (because they are following), but you do not have 100% power over them (they can cease to follow if they so choose); and
  • You may have power far wider than the group following you, through what the group is achieving. The likes of Hitler had huge power, propped up by a band of fanatical followers.

…perhaps the secret to meaningful and sustainable leadership is to closely match the sphere of leadership and power. Any major imbalance has the potential for overthrow from within or disruption from outside.

Footnotes:

1.‘Spitting Image’ Iron Lady humour:

Margaret Thatcher is treating her Cabinet (team of Ministers) to a meal at a restaurant:

Waitress: Would you like to order, sir?

Thatcher: Yes. I will have the steak.

Waitress: How would you like it?

Thatcher: Oh, raw, please.

Waitress: And what about the Vegetables?

Thatcher: Oh, they’ll [The Cabinet] have the same as me!

2. Thatcher was the Prime Minister of the UK between 1979 – 1990 (my teenage years).

I’ll ‘nail my colours to the mast’ and say that I wasn’t a fan of Thatcher (I’m being polite)…but I recognise that many people were.

3. Thatcher’s Conservative Party won the 1979, 1983 and 1987 UK General Elections with 44%, 42% and 42% of the 76%, 73% and 75% turnout respectively (source: Wikipedia pages on each of these elections)

Put the other way (and with a little bit of maths): 67%, 69% and 68% of the eligible voting population didn’t vote for her but felt the effects of her power.

Now, you can chide the people that didn’t turn out, but you can’t say that they wanted to follow her.

Yellow polka-dot belts

Yellow polka dot beltThis is a short and simple post that merely shares a most excellent quote that I have on my wall – it says so much to me:

“To break down silos and look at work cross-functionally, an organization has to confront how it approaches incentives, bonuses, performance reviews, and the like.

Without a senior leader in place who understands the nature of flow and likely has experienced the benefits of holistic work systems, middle managers’ hands are tied.

Without a clear vision from the top, the most motivated middle manager who “gets it” can do very little to experiment with cells.

So here we are again – back to leadership. Instead of junior-level people getting black belts, green belts, and yellow polka-dot belts, leaders have to learn about these principles. We have a long way to go.” (Karen Martin)

 

“We have an ‘open door’ policy here!”

Translation:

  • You are quite welcome to come up to me, and try to get my attention….otherwise you will be completely ignored;
  • If you do ‘risk it’ and open your mouth, just make sure that you say something I want to hear;
    • Every problem you have is your fault by default…so already know what you are going to do about it – you should merely be asking for my permission (as in begging);
    • …which I won’t give (at least not clearly or straight away or in any timescale that is of use to you)…but I will still hold you accountable.
  • Conversely, if I want you, I will summon you through my ‘open door’ and into my domain as and when I wish (I won’t pick up the phone or come to you).

Open door policy.gif

Meanwhile, in another Universe: Managers Leaders ‘go to the Gemba’.

A Pet Hate of Mine

screamSo, probably once a year throughout my career (mmm, that’s a grandiose word), I have been invited to an annual Corporate ‘road show’ type event at which the current ‘leader’ stands on stage and holds forth for up to an hour on ‘their vision’ for us – the gaggle of employees corralled together before them.

Over my 20 years of such ‘fun’ I’ve seen all sorts of performers and heard all sorts of visions. Some good, many mediocre, some bad.

But a pet hate of mine is how they usually start off.

Picture the scene. The VIP is standing in the wings, waiting to come on and another (slightly less hierarchically) important person has the job of introducing them onto the stage.

…and what do these ‘introducers’ always seem to say? Something like this…

“we are all very lucky to have [insert name of important person] here with us today…s/he has freed up his/her extremely important time in order to be with us…so put your hands together in appreciation for [  ]”

And I always want to SCREAM!

Now obviously each announcer uses their own personal wording but it’s usually around:

  • us ‘being lucky’: as if we are worshippers at the VIPs altar; and
  • they (the VIP) having ‘freed up’ their time to be here, as if they have far more important things to be doing than to be talking to us.

A refreshing change

I was lucky enough 🙂 for the first CEO of my working life to be intelligent/ humble/ astute enough to realise the huge error in the above.

The first time John was introduced it was just as above. But he shot up on to the stage, put his hands out and asked us to stop.

He then made clear that we were not lucky that he was ‘before us’, that there was nothing ‘more important’ that he should be doing and that he should be thanking us for coming along and listening to what he hoped to say.

He recognised that he had to earn his ‘leader’ moniker by:

  • gaining (and retaining) our respect and trust; and
  • motivating us to want to follow him for ourselves

His mild (yet respectful) rebuke of the person that had introduced him ensured that I saw him speak many more times (because I wanted to) and, subsequent to that first time, no-one introduced him other than to ask us to give him a warm welcome…which we should give to anyone (and which ‘leaders’, in turn, should want to give all of us back).

I was never asked again to feel lucky about seeing him speak. Nice!

“Stop being so puerile Steve!”

Now you might read the above and think that I am a truly awkward and prickly bugger (and you might be right) but the fact is that:

  • the ‘VIP’ wants us to listen to them because they want our help in achieving their aim of a successful organisation; and
  • we have our own personal purpose and it is up to us to work out if and how it fits with what this VIP is putting forward to us – we can’t be made to love the words coming out of their mouths (though many of us can be bribed to comply)

To conclude – How to avoid my pet hate:

Please don’t ever tell me that I am lucky that you (or one of your associates) came before me and I was lucky that I heard you speak! Thanks….and I won’t presume the same of you 🙂

It’s my job to listen, consider and then make my own mind up, rather than be told that I should be grateful.

 

My 2nd pet hate at these events is the Q&A session near the end…but that’s another story!

 

Clarification: I am more than happy for such communication events to occur and, yes, I want to know what’s happening from the person charged with leading us but:

  • don’t use ‘happy talk’: treat me like an adult and tell me ‘warts and all’;
  • don’t attempt propaganda and corporate babble on me: this naively assumes that I don’t feel what’s really going on around me (which you, the VIP, are highly unlikely to truly know);
  • don’t think that, just because you said it, I agree with it and will embrace it; and finally but most importantly
  • don’t use 1-way corporate events and communications as substitutes for regular, respectful and meaningful 2-way ‘gemba walking’.

Farmers and Facilitation

FarmerI’ve been meaning to write a post about promotion (into, and through the hierarchy of management) for a while now…it’s taken me a bit to frame it. Here’s ‘part 1’:

Before considering promotion we should ask ourselves…

What is the work of management?

A great deal has been written on this question. Womack’s essay ‘The work of management’ gives us an all too familiar view as to what management actually means in practice:

“Most managers I observe spend most of their time with incidental work – box ticking, meetings that reach no actionable conclusions, report writing, personnel reviews that don’t develop personnel, etc. And in the time left over they do rework. By the latter I mean the fire fighting to get things back on course as processes malfunction. Most managers seem to believe that this is their ‘real’ work and their highest value to their organisation.”

Is this what we actually want our managers to be doing? Does this create value or is it just about survival?

Who do we hire/ promote into management?

In another of his essays, ‘Fewer Heroes, More Farmers’, Womack explains that when he asked a Command & Control CEO at a very large American Corporation about his management hiring/ promotion logic he got the following in reply: “I search for heroic leaders to galvanize my business units. I give them metrics to meet quickly. When they meet them they are richly rewarded. When they don’t, I find new leaders.”

Womack went on to ask this CEO, given the very high level of turnover of his business unit heads, “why does your company need so many heroes? Why don’t your businesses consistently perform at a high level so that no new leaders are needed? And why do even your apparently successful leaders keep moving on?”

He got the usual answers in reply: “business is tough, leadership is the critical scarce resource, and that a lot of turnover indicates a dynamic management culture.”

…and yet such businesses preside over:

  • A confusion as to its purpose (a mismatch between what is stated and reality);
  • The constant rolling out of the latest ‘revitalising’ programme from the top;
  • Poorly performing processes, that tend to get worse instead of better;
  • Dispirited people operating these broken processes at every level of the organisation; with
  • Mini-heroes everywhere devising workarounds.

Rather than heroes, Womack suggests that we need farmers whose role is to steadily tend every important process, continually asking three simple questions:

  1. Is the business purpose of the process [in the eyes of the customer] correctly defined? [and Seddon would add ‘is its capability measured?’]
  2. Is action steadily being taken to create value, flow and pull in every step of the process while taking out waste?
  3. Are all of the people touching the process actively engaged in making it better?

“This is the gemba mentality of the farmer who, year after year, plows a straight furrow, mends the fence and obsesses about the weather, even as the heroic pioneer or hunter who originally cleared the land moves on.

Why do we have so many heroes and so few farmers, and such poor results in most of our organisations? Because we’re blind to the simple fact that business heroes usually fail to transform businesses. They create short-term improvement, at least on the official metrics. But these gains either aren’t real or they can’t be sustained because no farmers are put in place to tend the fields. Wisely, these heroes move on before this becomes apparent.

Meanwhile, we are equally blind to the critical contribution of the farmers who should be our heroes. These are the folks who provide the steady-paced continuity at the core of every lean enterprise”.

Now, after reading the above back to myself, I can feel a back lash from the current cool management buzz of ‘everything today is about innovation!’…as in “but the world is ever changing Steve! We can’t just rely on Continuous Improvement – we’ve got to constantly reinvent ourselves or else we will get left behind!”

I agree! What is written above isn’t confined to making small step changes and doesn’t constrain discontinuous (breakthrough) improvements. Womack’s 3 questions equally apply for the seeds of innovation to blossom within a healthy working environment.

Conversely, hero management with financial targets and contingent rewards can seriously damage the chances of true and meaningful innovation from happening. (Both Alfie Kohn and Dan Pink explain the research showing the harm that incentives do to innovation).

If your purpose is clear and everyone is working together towards it (not towards individual targets) then you will likely alternate between many small steps and infrequent leaps as new ideas and technologies come along and existing ones are steadily improved.

Who should we want as our managers?

“The greatness in people comes out only when they are led by great leaders” (Akio Toyoda)

Liker, in his excellent book ‘The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership’, explains Toyota’s leadership development model. He explains it in four building blocks:

(Note: whilst I am mixing the words ‘leader’ and ‘manager’, there is a big difference between them. Please reflect on Confusion over two words)

First, to be considered for leadership, a person has to be committed to self-development i.e. to constantly seek to improve themselves and their skills. This is enabled and assessed by those ahead1 of them providing suitable challenges, space and coaching to allow self-development to occur.

Clarification: You may have years of experience and/or rolls of qualifications…but this doesn’t demonstrate that you have, or can, self-develop:

“What is often mistaken for 20 years’ experience is just 1 year’s experience repeated 20 times” (Source unknown)

Not everyone will be up for self-development2. Clearly, Toyota are looking for those who can and want to grow. This is in stark contrast to organisations that want merely to bring in people from outside to ‘implement here what they have done to people elsewhere’ (but now appear to be running away from this!)

Second: Once a person has suitably demonstrated their ability and desire to self develop, then they need to show the development of others. To be clear: this does not mean merely coaching (supposedly) star performers or favourites (the ‘chosen few’)…it means developing everyone. In fact, your ability to develop someone where this appears challenging* is a sure sign of your development capabilities. Liker uses the Toyota quote that “the best measure of a leader’s success is what is accomplished by those they trained3.” It’s not about what you can do; it’s about what they can now do because of you (even though they may not comprehend this link).

(*The greatest case study I know of this is what Toyota achieved at NUMMI with ex-GM employees who were considered the worst of the worst. They re-hired them and turned them into the best. The problem wasn’t a shortage of talent, as we are so often led to believe, but an inability to engage and develop the talents lying dormant within people).

Third: So you are a self-developer and can develop others. It now becomes about your ability to enable daily improvement – facilitating groups of people through constant improvement: being a farmer as described above.

The focus is not on attempting to force improvement (top down) but in enabling, encouraging and coaching improvement from the bottom up.

Clarification: This is NOT about that ’empowerment’ word!

…and, finally, Fourth: It is now about ensuring that the right big-picture challenges are set, pursued and accomplished by the people and, in so doing, that this causes much experimentation, reflection and learning.

None of this leadership development logic is about being promoted because you are the best at performing your current job or that you are a hardened ‘go get ’em’ management hero. All of it is about your ability to facilitate improvement through others.

Managers instead of Consultants

…this leads me to observe that many a ‘command and control’ manager brings in consultants (or ‘Black Belts’) to facilitate his/her team through the likes of a Kaizen/ Rapid Improvement Event.

  • Worse still, such facilitators often prefer that the manager isn’t involved in these improvement events (except as ‘statesman’ at the beginning and ‘rubber stamper’ at the end) because their presence would seriously hinder what the people can achieve.
  • To add insult to injury, such an absent manager has attempted to delegate their improvement responsibilities and thus finds themselves even further from the work (the gemba) and with new/ higher barriers between themselves and their people.

…owch! If this is the case (and, sadly, it often is) then this is a very poor state to be in.

At Toyota, facilitation of improvement is what their managers are for! And, rather than a week-long ‘point improvement’ event performed every (say) 6 months, this facilitation should be ongoing.

You might respond that “Nice idea Steve…but our managers don’t have very good facilitation skills. We need expert practitioners to come in”. And that is precisely why Toyota looks for those people within its ranks that have the potential as facilitators of improvement…and then develops them into leaders.

Rother makes clear that The primary task of Toyota’s managers and leaders does not revolve around improvement per se, but around increasing the improvement capability of people. That capability is what, in Toyota’s view, strengthens the company. Toyota’s managers and leaders develop people who in turn improve processes through the improvement kata [pattern].

Developing the improvement capability of people at Toyota is not relegated to the human resources or the training and development departments. It is part of every day’s work in every area…”

Sense-check: It may be that your current managers are (or could be) great facilitators. However, if they have to use a ‘command and control’ management system on their people then it is unlikely that such fantastic skills will get a chance to blossom and deliver the potential value within. Worse, their efforts will likely clash with all that commanding and controlling going on.

Next time you feel the need to bring in facilitators, reflect on why. Is it because your managers:

  • don’t have the capability? or
  • do have the potential, but are constrained by the management system that they are required to operate within?

If your answer is a), then develop them. If it’s b), you have far bigger fish to fry…but don’t let this stop you from doing anything – remember the Two Parallel Tracks.

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To close:

  • this post (Part 1) considers who we should be promoting, and why;
  • Part 2 will turn this all on its head and question the promotion career ladder logic. In short: we can’t all ‘get to the top’ and neither should we all want to.

Notes:

  1. Ahead: I use the word ‘ahead’ rather than ‘above because I’d like the reader to get out of a ‘superiors in the hierarchy’ mindset and, instead, think about people who happen to have been promoted to more senior positions because they are more advanced on this leadership development journey. This is merely a matter of timing, rather than importance.
  2. Fixed vs. Growth mindset: Professor Carol Dweck’s research suggests that we can judge how good people will be at learning new skills – our capacity to learn is determined by our beliefs as to whether our abilities are innate or can be learned. Dweck suggests a continuum with two extremes: A Fixed mindset and a Growth mindset. Don’t despair of those already in leadership positions that appear to have ‘fixed’ mindsets. This may very well be down to the environment in which they work (and have always worked) within. The important bit is to assess them once their environment is changed to encourage self-development and growth.
  3. Trained: the use of the ‘trained’ word in this quote applies to its meaning as is used in sport. Rother notes that “The concept of training in sports is quite different from what ‘training’ has come to mean in our companies. In sport it means repeatedly practicing an actual activity under the guidance of a coach. That kind of training, if applied as part of an overall strategy to develop new behaviour patterns is effective for changing behaviours.”

People and relationships

!cid_image003_png@01D0AE76Relax, don’t worry about the title: I will be limiting this post to ‘work relationships’…and I don’t mean ‘relationships at work’.

Peter Scholtes wrote that, to understand people, we need to understand relationships. In particular, leading people requires the establishment and nurturing of personal relationships on a daily basis and the encouragement of others to do the same.

He sets out some characteristics of what he calls a good, old-fashioned one-to-one, face-to-face, first name to first name personal relationship”:

  • You listen to each other. You are able to talk to each other;
  • Each respects the other and knows how to show this respect; and
  • Each knows the other well enough to know their vulnerabilities and cares enough to avoid them.

Now, relationships are hugely important between manager and employee. Unfortunately, these relationships in most organisations are patronising and paternalistic.

The psychiatrist Dr Eric Berne (1910 – 1970) set out three ‘ego states’ – postures that we assume in relation to each other. These are:

  • Parent: from nurturing and supportive through to judgmental and controlling;
  • Adult: from realistic, logical, rationale through to affectless; and
  • Child: from playful and creative through to rebellious and spiteful.

Command and Control management systems necessitate ‘management’ to assume a parent ego state, which often ends up causing the employee to adopt a child-like ego state in reaction. The words ‘boss’ and ‘subordinate’ (both of which I dislike) fit this parent – child relationship narrative.

In reality, we are all adults at work. It just happens that we are employed to play different roles – from helping customers through to running a business division.

It is each leader’s choice as to the ego state they adopt…and therefore the likely ego state that their employees will take in response.

As an example: I find it odd when a manager verbalises to ‘their’ employee that what they are about to say to them is a ‘coaching moment’ (i.e. “…so listen up and take note!”) – how much closer could you get to a parent – child presumption by the manager? It’s akin to what my youngest son refers to as “getting a lecture” from me.

To be clear, I am most certainly NOT saying that I can’t be coached (I clearly can)….but:

  • A coachee needs to a) have a personal goal and b) a desire to be coached towards it. You can’t ‘coach’ without these two requisites;
  • A leader can equally (and often) be coached by employees, but only if they have their mind opened to be so; and
  • Pointing out to someone that ‘this is a coaching moment’ is patronising and presumptuous and demonstrates an (often sub-conscious) intent to enforce a superior (‘alpha’)/ inferior relationship signal…and it generally breaks point 1, so it isn’t actually coaching.

Right, coaching rant over, back to it….

Leaders need to recognise that we are all people (organistic systems), with our own separate purposes (just like them). The need is to establish adult-adult relationships, in which no one sets themselves out as being ‘above’ or ‘better’ than anyone else. If an organisation’s leaders succeed in this then they will have created a hugely powerful environment.

So, moving on to trust:

Healthy relationships require trust. Here’s an interesting figure from Scholtes showing the two converging beliefs that need to coexist for one person to trust another:

!cid_image002_png@01D0AE76

I find this figure illuminating. It makes me see that (and understand why) I have had some managers that I have respected and some that I have had (professional) affection for…but trust is much rarer.

Scholtes writes that “When I believe you are competent and that you care about me, I will trust you. Competency alone or caring by itself will not engender trust. Both are necessary.”

A couple of comments on trust:

  • I doubt it can be over emphasised that trust is in the eye of the beholder! ‘You’ can say that you care about me and that you know what you are doing but only ‘I’ decide whether I believe this…and I will be looking closely (and constantly) at your actions, not taking your word for it;
  • Some command and control managers have the view that employees need to earn their trust…this is the wrong way round! If someone wants to lead, they have to earn the trust of those that they would like to follow them.

KITA management (aka the picture at the top):

Now, onto the idea of KITA management: the term ‘KITA’ was coined by the psychologist and Professor of management, Frederick Herzberg (1923 – 2000)*. It stands for Kick-in-the-(pants)…he was too polite to write what the A actually stood for.

Herzberg wrote about positive KITA (carrots) and negative KITA (sticks)…and here’s why it isn’t motivation:

“If I kick my dog (from the front or the back), he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again…” (Herzberg)

The related problem with KITA thinking is that it locks manager and employee in a highly unhealthy parent-child relationship. Further, when rewards are competitive (which they usually are in some way) KITA thinking creates winners and losers and adversarial relationships among those who should be colleagues.

* Note: Herzberg wrote the classic 1968 article “One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees?” This is one of the most requested HBR articles of all time and has sold well over 1 million copies.

…and finally:

I’d like to share with you some wise words written by Alfie Kohn under the self-explanatory title ‘Rewards rupture relationships’

“We need to understand what the process of rewarding does to the interaction between the giver and receiver:

If your parent or teacher or manager is sitting in judgement of what you do, and if that judgement will determine whether good things or bad things happen to you, this cannot help but warp your relationship with that person.

You will not be working collaboratively in order to learn or grow; you will be trying to get him or her to approve of what you are doing so that you can get the goodies.

A powerful inducement has been created [through the regular judgement and resulting outcomes] to conceal problems, to present yourself as infinitely competent, and to spend your energies trying to impress (or flatter) the person with power….

… people are less likely to ask for help when the person to whom they would normally turn wields carrots and sticks. Needless to say, if people do not ask for help when they need it, performance suffers on virtually any kind of task.”

…and, in so writing, Alfie eloquently uncovers the damage caused by rewards and the stunting effect they have on the ability of an organisation, and its people, to improve.

The positive bit: It would be great if all of us worked really hard to attain an adult-adult relationship footing…realised when this had been broken by our words and deeds …and, through humility and dialogue, worked even harder to bring it back again.

An apology: I have a rule that a post should only cover one thing…and this one doesn’t appear to! It’s a bit of a journey from relationships, through leadership, coaching, trust, motivation and ending at rewards, which brings it full circle back to what rewards do to relationships.

In fact the topics in this journey do all belong together, under the competency of ‘Understanding people and why they behave as they do’. My intent was to show how they are all so tied up together so I hope you don’t mind me bending my rules 🙂