This is a short “virtual” interview between Louise, an interested corporate guy and the miamo retreat hosts.
Louise: What is meant by new leadership style?
miamo: I am careful with the term “new”. Looking at what some of the great philosophers said thousands of years ago, I am not so sure whether we really have so much new thinking to offer. So I prefer to use the word “different”.
Anyway, let’s have a short look at where we come from and what we have today.
First we had the authoritarian father like leader who knows what’s best for all.
Today we expect top managers to be some kind of superman or hero who always knows which way to go, how to do things, how to fight the big battles, how to make big things happen.
We want them to be charismatic too. If the company runs into trouble we blame the incompetent management. It is more or less impossible to fulfil all these requirements and expectations. No wonder, once in the desired position, some leaders behave like little Napoleons or psychopaths.
Louis: So what needs to be different?
miamo: I sympathize with a model by Peter Senge explained in his book The Dance of Change (A 5th Discipline Resource). Peter talks about building leadership communities and have them being in charge rather than hero-leaders.
He sees three types of leaders: Local line leaders, internal networkers/community builders and executive leaders. There are probably more types if one breaks down organisations a bit further.
However, any person with responsibilities for staff needs to be included. Globalization, new technologies as well as free and fast traveling information forces companies to adapt, to change and to be innovative faster than ever before. Change management becomes a huge and essential task which requires different skills. Hence we need new leaders with a different mindset.
Louis: That’s not all, is it?
miamo: As Peter Senge points out management needs to understand that the difference between compliance and commitment is essential.
Most management driven, elementary changes do not require commitment but mainly compliance. Fundamental, deeper changes, however, cannot be built on compliance. What people think, belief, their view of the company world cannot be changed with compliance. Real change needs commitment.
Values are values only if voluntarily chosen.
So company values will only live if accepted, supported and internalized by all management levels, if not the entire workforce .Surveys often don’t help as staff feedback allows telling the boss what’s wrong without any own responsibility for improvement.
Louis: Big top down change projects such as mergers, re-organisation, re-engineering and new corporate strategies are often not as effective as expected; mergers often even fail. Is this because of wrong leadership or do people simply resist change as it means uncertainty and loss privileges?
miamo: People do not necessarily resist change but they resist being changed. These top down decisions lead to fear and distrust. The people that need to make the process successful have not been part of the decision making. Circumstances like these do not unleash creativity or new thinking which is so badly needed for bigger changes.
Louis: How would you describe a good leader and boss in today’s world and for the challenges of the future?
miamo: I think we need leaders that are capable of holding up creative tension. They need to have clear visions and be able to explain and “sell” them. They don’t have all the answer but encourage others to find them. They know that not every specialist is a good leader and hence avoid applying the Peter Principle.
(The Peter Principle is a management theory which suggests that organizations risk filling management roles with people who are incompetent if they promote those who are performing well at their current role, rather than those who have proven abilities at the intended role. It is named after Laurence J. Peter who co-authored the 1969 humorous book The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong with Raymond Hull. They suggest that people will tend to be promoted until they reach their “position of incompetence”.)
Good leaders and bosses allow for creative space, set clear targets, give useful feedback, build the setting in which the team can act successfully, removes obstacles, leave people time to regenerate, don’t pass on market pressures by 100%.
They inspire, encourage, challenge and lead by example by walking the talk. They listen well, take leadership as a full time and no side job and believe that everyone can contribute. Hence they have a positive idea of man rather a condemning one. They make all believe they are part of the whole.
Louis: This is quite some requirement profile! Have you met such leaders?
miamo:Yes, I have. Certain skills can be learned. Attitude is a matter of personality and mind set. People at the top often got the job because they are believed to mainly increase profits, nearly by all means. It seems more important to achieve an ROI of 20% than to keep people in work.
This leads to the question what the core purpose of any business is and should be. This brings in ethics and moral; a field that we should look at another time.