"How can we achieve sustainable competitive advantage in leadership supply?"..... "What if we had the magic wand to mass produce best-in-class leaders; what impact would this have on our organizations and societies?" Cracking the Leadership Code addresses the theory and practice of leadership by proposing a comprehensive Body Of Knowledge, the Leadership BOK, including.
- A theoretical proposition that takes the concept of leadership from the realm of arts to the framework of science;
- Leadership measurement metrics;
- Framework and processes to enable the systematic performance of leadership work;
- and a code of conduct setting performance standards and providing best-practices.
Collectively, the leadership BOK makes leadership accessible to everyone, by providing.
- An organizational model that resolves the structural limits that resulted from our flawed understanding of the concept;
- and, talent development models to make leadership measureable and teachable.
No longer leadership will remain a mystery, and no longer leadership will be the privilege of a few.
Root cause 1 – Flawed Theoretical Foundation
Contemporary leadership practice rests on shaky theoretical foundations. Modern theories of leadership are as flawed as Aristotle's theory of a geocentric universe (the premise that earth was stationery at the centre of the universe and all planets revolved around it). Some hold that people are born as either leaders or followers, hence affirming the elitist view of leadership responsible for excluding the rank and file, and squandering their leadership potential. This view is not true! Just like the atom carries positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons, every single individual is endowed with the dual genes of leadership and followership.
Some place leaders at the summit or, at best, the forefront of their organizations, hence contributing to the hierarchal and rigid structure of a leadership that excludes those who are "below and behind" in the ranks. Not right! The natural configuration of the world around us is spherical in shape where objects are simultaneously orbiting one another, while being themselves the centre of a whole other universe of activities.
And some associate a know-it-all, heroic, "save the world" connotation to the notion of leadership, promoting an image of the infallible and super natural leader (in corporate America, they also must be good looking and eloquent). Can't be further from the truth! History is rife with numerous narratives of corrupt leadership (and they weren’t even good looking). And most, if not all, of those theories fail to give a succinct and precise working definition of leadership; rather, they tend to provide descriptions of the typical behaviors and traits which we associate with the notion of leadership. Cool, but not good enough!
The absence of a specific working definition of leadership is responsible for all those misconceptions which have derailed the practice (how we approach the work of leadership; how we measure it and celebrate it; who we train and how we train them), and by implication is largely responsible for the current structural and cognitive shackles that compromise our ability to promote the leadership capacity of our modern organizations and societies.
Root cause 2: Lack of a Systemic Body of Knowledge
Beyond the theory, which is essentially an answer to the question of what is leadership; the second big question which is equally, if not even more, pressing is the lack of a comprehensive and universal Body of Knowledge (BOK) to inform and guide the practice. Perhaps this could be due to the fact that we regard and treat leadership more as an art than a science, and we mostly look at it through a philosophical rather than a scientific. Like all disciplines, whether medicine, accounting, engineering or music, we first need a methodology to inform the practice; that is, how to perform the work of leadership. Then, we need to set performance standards to define the best-practice and govern the discipline. And finally, we need metrics to measure and evaluate leadership performance. The presence of a well developed BOK is a prerequisite to equipping everyone with the knowledge they need to practice leadership and hence expanding the leadership capacity of the organization. This is also indispensable for the continuous and systematic development of leadership as a distinct discipline on one hand, and on the other hand, promoting the orderly integration of other disciplines that consist an integral part of its scope of work, such as crisis management, project/program management, forming and managing alliances…etc.
Root Cause 3: A Reduced Research Approach
Because of the predominately abstract and social nature of the concept of leadership, we have traditionally considered it as a social science and treated it from mere psychological and philosophical perspectives. This view has precluded us from exploring the "biological" aspect of leadership which we can take a glimpse at, however tentative, by making useful conjunctions with the natural world around us. At the most granular level, humans and matter (any element that has mass and weight) are made up of electrically charged atoms. By observing the configuration and behavior of matter in the realms of classical and quantum physics (the area of science that studies matter at the subatomic level), we can create useful analogies that could help us better understand and deal with questions that have traditionally fell within the realm of social science.
To reinvent leadership for a new age, we must begin by re-examining the very theoretical foundations underlying our conventional wisdom, dare to explore and offer fresh perspectives, and construct new models that are capable of making the practice more attuned to the structural and cognitive imperatives of our modern days.
The intent and quest of this hack is to offer a theoretical framework that takes the concept of leadership from the realm of arts to the framework of science and to lay the foundation of a leadership BOK; and, in so doing, contribute to the creative resolution of the structural and cognitive challenges set out by this innovation project.
The suggested solution consists of the following core component parts.
- A theory that provides a working definition of leadership - This is the fundamental assumption upon which the entire model and ensuing practice is predicated. It provides a reference point to return to in order to rethink the fundamental premise should the evidence of reality conflicts with the predicted outcome.
- The Leadership-Metrics, a seven-dimension scale to enable the objective and impartial evaluation and, to some extent, measurement of leadership performance. This would be useful to forming an objective, transparent, and evidence-based opinion on leadership performance.
- The Leadership-Lifecycle, a three-phase process that provides a chronological roadmap of leadership activities and their associated skills, to enable the systematic practice and teaching of the concept.
- And, the Leadership Code of Practice, a body of universal benchmarks to establish guidelines and standards of best practice. Useful to elaborate exemplary models of behaviors through continuous dialogue and debate.
Figure (1) illustrates the four primary components that constitute the leadership BOK.
The Theory of Leadership
The German Philosopher, Kant (1724-1804), perceived of two realms of mutually exclusive realities: the phenomenal world where knowledge is possible through experience, and what he called the “noumenal” world which is transcendent and to which there is no access. Perhaps this was a legitimate view two hundred years ago. Today, while the highest a man can jump is 2.45 m, we make up for the remaining 375,000 kilometers between the earth and the moon through intellect-enabled strides (and we now have our eyes set on Mars; 55 million kilometers away!). Our exponential mental capacity amplifies our rather limited physical capabilities, and through the combined power of senses and intellect, we are gradually converging the phenomenal and noumenal worlds into two mutually inclusive realities. Our senses perceive the physical and our intellect conceive the abstract and makes inferences and analogies that later advancement in technology confirms, corrects or fine-tunes. We conceived the structure of the atom through our mind’s eye before we could literally see it with our innovation-enabled eyes (true it was not exactly what we imagined, but still close and good enough). The distinction between natural and social sciences is gradually fading, and we can develop useful insights by freely moving between both worlds
With the same spirit, just like Newton was able to develop accurate enough understanding of the abstract concept of gravity and the physical dynamics underlying it by observing its effect, we can use analogy and inference from physics to develop a basic understanding of the nature of leadership and its biological dynamics based on its output; that is change. Hence, I would posit, as a working definition, that leadership is "the Act of Effecting Change".
The link between leadership and change has been long established in the writings of many thought leaders, with particular emphasis on the how-to of performing leadership. To cite a couple of examples, John P. Kotter, in a 1990 HBR article titled, “What Leaders Really Do”, explicitly stated “what leaders really do is prepare organizations for change and help them cope as they struggle through it”. Also in a 1997 HBR article entitled “The Work of Leadership”, Heifetz and Laurie framed leadership as the challenge of adapting with change. So, is this just “old wine in a new bottle”?
What I will do differently is to venture in and borrow from the world of traditional and quantum physics to offer a window into the inner biological and psychological workings of leadership, and drive insights that can help us address the structural and cognitive limitations associated with the prevailing practice.
Insights into the Characteristics of Leadership
- Leadership is intrinsic to all mankind - going from the postulate that leadership is the act of effecting change, and since every person has the capacity to induce some sort of change, small or large, good or bad, we can infer that the default setting of all humankind is that we are all endowed with the capacity to lead.
- Leadership and followership are mutually inclusive – So, if we are all born leaders, who will follow? Just like the atom, we simultaneously carry (somewhere in our genetic composition) the positively-charged protons of leadership and negatively-charged electrons of followership. Accordingly, we have the natural disposition to perform both leadership (attracting others to our own sphere), and followership (joining the spheres of others).
- The organizational structure of leadership – From the largest objects in the heavens to the smallest subatomic particles, it appears that the physical world around us (at the celestial level) and within us (at the atomic level) is organized in a semi-spherical manner where each individual object is situated at the centre of its own sphere, and at the same time it is part of a larger universe. By the same token, an individual supervising a team of a few people would be simultaneously engaged in leadership his team members and followership towards her/his next level within the larger organizational universe.
- Leadership starts from within: For an atom to begin transmitting energy by releasing electrically charged electrons it must first become ionized, that is to reach an excited state where its energy level becomes higher than its baseline energy state (Ground State). Similarly, in order to begin “energizing” others, one must first become “ionized” in order to overcome their own inertia and break free from their self-centricity.
- Leadership Capacity. Depending on their atomic profile (atomic weight and electronic structure), elements exhibit different responses with varying intensities to different types of stimuli. Similarly, depending on the context and stimuli in our environment, we exhibit different leadership and followership responses (whether to induce or join change) with different degrees of intensity. This perhaps explains why a person considered an introvert in a business setting (inert in chemical terms), might be leading an “atomic” lifestyle in a social setting. And why someone who may be considered a role model of energetic leadership in their organization, might respond very poorly to stimuli outside their workplace. Subjected to different environments and stimuli, we exhibit quite different patterns of leadership and followership reactivity.
- Good and Bad Leadership: Change can produce positive outcome (reform), negative outcome (corruption) or a combination of both. On the leadership spectrum, at the utmost right, there is leadership that brings absolute reform free of any side effects. For example, achieving an economic goal in a way that promotes socioeconomic prosperity in evey area that may be touched by the economic reform program. In contrast, on the utmost left, there is leadership that eventually brings about absolute corruption. For instance, in the pursuit of the all legitimate goal of becoming more competitive, a unilateral concentration on reducing the cost structure of the organization could end up devastating the organization in the longer term. So, there is good leadership and there is bad leadership and there are many variations in between. Professor Barbara Kellerman makes the observation of bad leadership in a 2004 HBR article titled “Warts and All”. Ironically, all leadership claim and truly believe they are in the pursuit of a good cause and their intent is to bring about reform; Hitler and all too many leaders that came before and after him did. While everyone would invariably agree that all forms of corruptive leadership must be resisted and counteracted, all too often the challenge rests in figuring out in foresight rather than in hindsight which is the right side to take! And to make things even more complex is the notion that what could begin as an authentic and true intent of reform could very well stray along the way and turn into a different ugly reality, which poses an additional burden on the leadership community to diligently monitor and stay the original course. We address these challengges in the coming sections.
- Dynamics of leadership: Physics tell us that in order to change the position of an object, a force greater than its inertia must be applied on it. Similarly, in order to change a social state of affairs, a greater energy than the force of the status quo must be exerted upon it. The status quo is a function of the degree by which the established pattern of behaviors is entrenched and pervasive within the members of the community. The higher it is, the larger is the required force i.e. collective effort to change it.
- Sustainability: Again, the rules of physics inform us that in order to maintain the motion of an object, a continuous force greater than the forces of resistance must be sustained. Similarly, in order to complete and maintain the transformation of a new social order, a continuous momentum must be sustained over time. This poses two important challenges: first, the leader needs a source of “renewable energy” in order to keep going at a sustained level of energy throughout their tenure; and secondly, the leader must ensure the sustainability of momentum beyond their own tenure through leadership succession. In other words, we must keep passing the torch from one generation to the next.
- Leadership and resistance: "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction", Sir Issac Newton's third law of physics. Similarly, every change must provoke resistance. Ultimately, the success or failure of the change movement will boil down to the level of sustained energy every side is able to bring to bear.
- Substance in physics is analogous to society in social Science. All substances are made of molecules that consist of two or more atoms joining together. By analogy, we can think of society as a configuration of “social molecules” made of two or more people joining together. Marriage for instance, as a form of social arrangement, is a useful depiction of such “social molecule” especially that like the atoms in a molecule are held together through chemical forces, the “chemistry” of love is the bond that keeps this social structure together. This insight could be useful to our discussion because leadership involves creating, dismantling and reorganizing social configurations, and by examining how substance generate and lose form, we could glean useful insights into the structure and dynamics of social groups.
2. Measuring Leadership – The Leadership Metrics
How can we develop an objective critique, form an evidence-based opinion and provide constructive feedback regarding leadership performance. Jack Welch and Akio Morita (the founder of Sony) are considered two iconic figures of modern management who earned their reputation for the magnificent work they both accomplished at GE and Sony. But if we wanted to substantiate with facts the argument that both were “great” leaders, how can we do that? What model can we use?
The trouble with most existing leadership evaluation models is that.
- Their structural design does not always rest on a clearly and explicitly defined theory to enable us scrutinize the validity of the theory, and the integrity of their design with the underlying theoretical foundation.
- They attempt to measure dimensions that are highly subjective and debatable. To give an example, at Motorola, a leadership model known as the 4Es + 1E was used to both practice and evaluate leadership performance. The Es stand for: Envision; Energize; Execute; Edge (the ability to make the tough calls) and Ethics. How can you objectively evaluate such abstract traits as to envision or to have edge when comparing between two leadership performances? To many, demonstrating edge when it’s other people’s fate at stake not their own (such as laying off staff, or shutting down an operation) is not always a very tough call to make!
I am very sensitive to the fact that measuring abstracts will always involve a degree of subjectivity. My intention here is not to eliminate subjectivity altogether but to reduce it to a degree that renders the process useful for the purpose of general practice.
Beside the universal principal that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, here’re some specific reasons why we need a defined protocol for measuring and evaluating leadership performance.
- Improves the individual’s self-awareness of her/his performance.
- Aids organizations assess the potential of the individual and assign them transformation missions appropriate to their leadership and followership capacity.
- Enables stakeholders monitor and evaluate leadership performance during and after the fact.
In the previous section we established that we can turn our attention from the abstract nature of leadership to its end game: change. The first implication of this shift in paradigm is that we now can objectively measure, evaluate and compare leadership performance on the basis of change as the end product.
The Leadership Metrics provides a seven-dimension framework to enable measuring change and consequently leadership.
- Before and After
This involves observing the quality (positive or negative) and magnitude of change before and after the leader’s tenure along two primary dimensions: The primary scope of change, and its side-effects.
Before Morita, Sony didn’t exist. In fact there was no consumer electronics industry in Japan as we know it today. When Morita stepped down in 1994, Sony had become a global leader and even more an entire Japanese electronics industry had emerged. Tellingly, Morita’s biography was entitled “Made in Japan”.
In 1980 the year before Welch took the helm as CEO, GE recorded revenues of $ 26 billion. The year before he retired, in 2000, GE was making $ 130 billion of revenue!! Undoubtedly a fantastic accomplishment, but does it measure up to creating a multinational from scratch in a war-devastated country.
Another example from the political arena: both Gandhi and Mandela are landmarks of leadership. However, post-Ghandi India was split into three nations, while Mandela accomplished his social reform mission while maintaining the unity and integrity of a much diversified society.
A high score on this scale requires inducing a large and positive change along the primary area of reform with no or minimal negative side effects (making it more difficult now to resort to the easy and quick fix of improving the balance sheet by compromising critical off-the-balance-sheet assets such as the human capital, the carrier of the organization’s knowledge capital and business culture).
- The Geographical Footprint
Just like the footprint of an earthquake is a good indicator of its magnitude and intensity, the spread of the footprint of the leader’s ideology could be considered as a relevant indicator of their leadership capacity. How large was the leadership footprint? Was it local, regional or global? Some leaders have the capacity to motivate and induce change within their local communities, while others have leadership footprints that extend across diverse cultural and national boundaries.
The larger is the footprint of change, the stronger is the leadership behind it.
- Sustainability of Change
How long did the change and ideology behind it endure after the leader was gone?
The longer is the sustainability of change, the stronger is the leadership behind it. History is replete with cases that illustrate this point. The German economist and philosopher Karl Marx had been dead for 34 years when in 1917 Vladimir Linen, inspired by his still living ideology led the October Revolution, bringing into existence, in 1922, a new nation founded on the ideals of Marxism: the Soviet Union. Over the next fifty years, the footprint of the communist world had expanded to include more than 20 countries stretching all the way from Latin America to Asia, through Europe, the Middle-East and Africa. During the following twenty years however, beginning the 1980’s, the tied had turned, and this period witnessed an accelerated disintegration of communism as a social and political system reaching its climax in 1992 with the collapse of the Godfather itself, the Soviet Union.
Almost ninety years separated the death of Karl Marx in 1883 and the collapse of the Soviet Union and socialism in 1992. Once descent kicked in, it took little more than ten years to bring down an entire system that was built over almost sixty years, suggesting that it takes much more time and effort to build one than to destroy it. Breaking social systems is relatively faster and easier than building them, hence the challenge of sustainability.
The higher the sustainability, the stronger is the leadership performance.
- The Relative Length of The Leadership Tenure
How long was the leadership term: five, ten, twenty or fifty years? Assuming all other variables are equal, we could assign stronger leadership to someone who was able to bring about similar results compared to their counterparts within a shorter period of time, or alternatively, achieved considerably greater results within the same amount of time.
This particular dimension might not be readily useful if considered in isolation of other metrics. For example, Morita’s tenure lasted forty eight years (from 1946 until 1994), as opposed to Welch’s forty one years at GE (he joined in 1960 and retired in 2001). So, we can’t learn much from this comparison, given the difference of context in which they operated. Having said that, this criterion could be quite useful if used to compare the leadership performance between, say, two regional managers operating in similar or close macro and micro environments.
- Availability/Scarcity of Resources
What kinds of resources were available to the leader as they took on their mission? For an equal output, the more scarce the material and immaterial resources at the beginning of the leadership assignment, the more this is an indicator of stronger leadership performance.
Consider the resources available to Morita in a war-devastated Japan back in 1946 as he set out to create Sony, compared to those available to Welch in a multibillion, world renowned GE with readily established grounds in the world’s largest market, the USA.
- Pain Vs. Gain
All leadership roles come with a bundle of a price to pay and rewards to gain. Depending on the leadership context, the rewards could include various materialistic and non-materialistic incentives such as financial benefits, social status, authority, recognition…etc; The risks, on the other hand, could range from anything between just the leader’s time and effort at the lower end of the scale, all the way up to one’s own life (Martin Luther King paid his life as price for pursuing his cause).
Also, depending on the leadership context, the duration for the sought-after rewards to materialize could be as short as a month (monthly incentive), or as long as an unknown point in the future (typical of social and political reforms).
An example from the business world: when Morita began traveling to New York in his pursuit to break into the US market, he had to fly economy class and stay in three star hotels with no guarantee of success. Around the same time, Jack Welch was about to quit his job at GE because he was dissatisfied with the raise which he was offered the next year he joined the company. The hypothetical question is: if offered to switch roles with Morita, do you think Welch would have stayed the course?
Another example of socio-political leadership: Ghandi is perhaps the most striking social reformer in that respect in our modern days. He gave away a promising career in law practice, lived a life of extreme austerity, suffered imprisonment four times, and put his life on the line and ultimately paid it, in exchange of the welfare of his people.
- The Context of the Change Mission
Depending on the primary purpose of the “reform” mission; the inertia of the status quo vis-à-vis the call for change (to what extent the concerned community is receptive to the idea of change and willing to embrace it), and the nature of risks and rewards associated with the leadership role, we could classify leadership under four main categories.
From the least to the most complex, they are.
- Business Leadership – aims at achieving the financial prosperity of a commercial organization.
- Social Leadership – aims at changing the established social norms and behaviors within society. Human right movements are an example of this class.
- Political Leadership – aims at changing a political state of affairs. Revolutions and warfare are the two extreme examples of this category.
- And finally, Religious/Spiritual Leadership - aims at changing people's spiritual beliefs and instituting a new religion (involves introducing new social norms as well).
It should be noted, however, that these categories do overlap (business leadership involves a social aspect; political leadership entails a social role). Accordingly, these categories should be thought of as primary identification of the leadership role.
Whereas the work of leadership discussed in the next section is universal across all four categories, the primary concern of this hack is business and social leadership, which is the main concern of for- and not-for-profit organizations.
In closing, Maurice Allais, the French Nobel Laureate in economics held that science is the development of models, and that a good model has to satisfy two primary criteria.
- It should offer a simple (simplifies the complexity) and accurate depiction of reality;
- And, proves useful in hindsight in explaining the past, and in foresight in predicting the future.
I hope that The Leadership Metrics provides a simple model to help individuals and organizations think of and compare leadership performance in a simple, quick and, most importantly, systematic manner that is based on discernible dimensions.
The Work of Leadership - The Leadership Lifecycle
Having a simple, clear and systematic methodology to perform the work of leadership is a prerequisite to equip individuals with the knowledge needed to motivate and guide them through practice.
In this and the following sections I focus on the doing aspect of leadership. In this section I provide a simple roadmap for performing the work of leadership and in the next section, I propose best-practice benchmarks.
Building on the fundamental premise that leadership is “the act of effecting change”, I propose a three-phase process with detailed description of the output, the activities and skill set associated with each phase. The benefit of having such a methodical process over a mere list of leadership tasks, as proposed by most mainstream leadership frameworks, is to enable the leadership practitioner navigate and perform the leadership work in a systematic manner.
At this point, I would like to point out the importance of the Word, spoken or written, as it relates to the work of leadership. Words have the same power of the electrically charged particles of the atom in the quantum world. Analogous to the way new substance is created in the physical world from the chemical bond between charged atoms, words too have the power to “electrify” and bond people creating new “social substances”. We use words to make or break social configurations. “I do”, for instance, has the power of creating a whole new social structure. Words, in turn, are the product of thoughts that form in the psyche of the individual. Social configurations emerge first in the realm of the psyche, before they are shaped by words in the realm of speech and finally come to existence in the realm of substance. It’s important to establish that the work of leadership takes place in those three realms: the psyche, the speech and substance.
Overview of the Leadership Lifecycle
Based on the hypothesis advanced earlier that leadership is the “act of effecting change”; we can conclude that from a change management perspective, the work of leadership would consist of three primary phases.
- Phase 1 – To Formulate a Value-Based Reform Mission
- Phase 2 – To initiate Momentum
- Phase 3 – To redouble and Sustain Momentum
Phase 1: To Formulate a Value-based Mission - The Phase of Care (concern) and Contemplation
This stage features a status quo where a particular order (economic, social and/or political) has been established. Consider the state of affairs in Japan post WW II, the annual report of your company or the KPIs of your department; they are all indicators of the current status quo and they are all the product of complex and dynamic interactions between two sets of distinctive behaviors: the system (Japan/your company/your department) and its environment (The world/ your industry/ other departments). The ongoing dynamic between those two sets of behaviors, the system and its environment, explain the present order, as a snapshot in time, and predicts the future state should the same dynamics be maintained. While the present state could be visible to everyone, the dynamics underlying it are intelligible only to the critical eye and mind.
Just as changing the state of matter involves changing its electronic configuration by subjecting it to heat and/or pressure (energy), to change the status quo of a business or a society some sort of energy must be exerted on the social system to alter its configuration.
At this stage the leader’s work could be characterized as rather personal. All the work goes inside the leader’s self, and the reform momentum is at an embryonic stage. The leader is undergoing the process of “ionization” where she/he is becoming charged with enough passion and will in order to overcome the inertia of their own comfort zone and to start “transmitting” and “energizing”.
With the exception of a small group which we call scientists, most of us take natural phenomenon for granted and demonstrate no active interest in researching their underlying dynamics. Similarly, most people in a business context do not look with a critical eye to the behavior of the business system -unless it shouts at us to fix it - and rarely make a proactive effort to understanding the logic behind its current design, not to mention putting the additional effort to redesign it and make it more adaptive. There are two reasons behind this prevailing attitude: The first has to do with us as individuals. Most of us approach work as a job that must be done; a place to earn an income. Given the choice, most people will do something else with their time. We lack the genuine emotional attachment (the passion and will) to take the time and effort to dive below the surface of performance indicators, to understand the design of our business systems and how they interact with the environment. The second reason has to do with the established business culture that is intrinsically inclined to put order ahead of innovation. We are trained to comply with the established policies and procedures, and we are expected to be good team players by doing our part according to the set rules. This interplay between these two factors causes people to quickly shut off their inquisitive minds, and to settle for processing work tasks in a mechanical, bureaucratic manner rather than exploring what lies beyond the set frontiers.
This first phase involves performing three distinct activities that take place inside the mind and heart of the leader.
- Observe – Deciding What to Care About
- At this point, the leadership intent hasn’t yet originated. The leader in the making is orbiting their organizational sphere as everyone else. But as they do, they would be interacting with their external environment through their sensory perceptions.
- We make imperceptible choices of what incidents, patterns or phenomena to notice or not notice, based on where we see our place in the world regardless of our current formal status. You might be a payroll administrator in a multibillion global organization. If you see your place in the world as such, you would be inclined to observing patterns that relate to the payroll processing universe. However, if you see it from the perspective of, say, a working single mother whose primary concern is to ensure the wellbeing of her children, most likely you will be more attuned to patterns pertaining to the social affairs related to single motherhood.
- As matter exhibit different reaction to different stimuli, highly sensitive and reactive individuals will be quick to noticing a single event (one time behavior), phenomena (a pattern of repetitive behavior) or a status quo (long established and deeply entrenched behavior), while self-centered, inward looking individuals won’t notice external behaviors until they become the status quo.
- Contemplate – Asking Questions
- The contemplation process involves asking questions to try to make sense of the observed phenomenon and to figure out what to do about it.
- It involves analyzing the interaction between the system (which could any organizational entity) and its environment (competitors, clients, vendors and other stakeholders) to determine the cause and effect relationships that gave rise to the current state of affairs, as well as checking one’s repository of knowledge, values and capabilities that could be brought to bear on the given problem.
- The process of research and contemplation involves a sort of intellectual rubbing of the mind against the question which generates insights and raises feelings - like rubbing plastic with wool produces electrostatic charges- which elevates the person’s energy from its initial default “ground state” to an “excited state”.
- Contemplation takes time and involves the exertion of mental energy to research the observed patterns and make sense out of them. Mysteries, big and small, entail a great deal of energy and time to resolve them. While many people could make the same observations, not everyone would be stimulated enough to put the time and effort that goes into contemplation.
- Formulate a Value-Based Mission
- The ideas, insights and feelings which have been assimilating and condensing inside the mind during the observation and contemplation process, would gradually crystallize into a mental picture of a future state of affairs.
- This thought would make its way from the realm of the mind to the realm of speech in the form of words; a statement of the status to be. I call this step the formulation of a “value-based reform mission”.
- The “value-base” component in the statement has the dual purpose of acting as an energizing agent to motivate leadership team members to come together in a new, informal social configuration independent of the existing hierarchy; and, as a bonding agent to attract them, like the positive charge in the nucleus, and keep them together. Accordingly, the importance of formulating a powerful value-base that resonates with the interests and goals of a diverse audience is paramount to attracting, mobilizing and maintaining the coherence of the leadership community.
- The “reform mission” component delineates the existing state of affairs and its associated risks, and provides a window into the desired future to be created. Just like we can’t see physical objects that fall outside the vision spectrum of the naked eye, we can’t fully perceive through our mind’s eye social dynamics that fall outside our intellectual spectrum. Hence, a good Reform Mission would offer everyone, regardless of their intellectual orientation, a simple and clear depiction of the complexity and dynamics that shape the present reality, compelling reasons for intervention, and a view of a brighter future. Together, a well formulated Value-based Reform Mission (VBRM) will energize, attract, bond and set direction.
Phase 2: To Initiate Momentum - The Phase of Courage and Resilience
The end product of phase 2 in the Leadership lifecycle is the mobilization of the change momentum. This is the phase that marks the first transition of the envisioned state of affairs from the realm of the leader’s mind and conscious into the real world (department, organization, society, or nation), and the emergence of the first sign of collective, interrelated actions in the pursuit of a new order (business, social or political).
During this phase, the newly born leadership momentum is most fragile and vulnerable to all sorts of resistance. In fact, many change missions do not make it through this phase. There is more opposition and reluctance in the air than support and buy in. The inertia of the status quo is at all time high.
On the surface, the prevailing order will remain predominantly intact throughout this phase. However, below the surface, the initial momentum mobilized by the leadership team, the change catalyst and the core team of early adopters, would be already disrupting the ongoing dynamics and making dents into the existing configuration.
As stated earlier, in the momentum generation process that fuels the work of leadership, in order to lead you must first become so charged (ionized) with the value of your mission in order to break away from the inertia of your psychological safety zone and begin energizing others, and secondly, you must maintain, or even redouble, your personal energy over time. This is particularly challenging because people tend to lose their initial energy over time just like in the quantum realm electrons promoted to an excited state would release their acquired energy and eventually return to a ground state. Accordingly, the leader must have a source of “renewable energy” to ensure the sustainability of momentum.
Four primary steps in this stage.
- Take Action – Build Your Personal Credibility and Credentials
- Before asking for people’s buy in, the leader-to-be must first earn their endorsement of her/his credentials as someone who’s qualified for the undertaking, and of her/his credibility as someone they can trust and rely on. Whatever the call is, changing the world order or a work process (which will inevitably entail changing the organizational order), they will be asking people to take risks and to step into the ambiguity of shaping an unknown future which requires a solid reputation of expertise and integrity to bank on. For example, for someone to advocate reforming the supply-chain at their department, they must have built a reputation of a person who really knows the intricacies and the nuances of the operation, which means that they must have been around long enough to acquire this kind of knowledge; who has subject-matter expertise in the field; and most importantly, who has the personal traits to lead the change endeavor in a way that promotes the welfare of the group as well as the individuals.
- All too often distressed organizations resort to hiring leaders from the outside based on their track record in turning around underperforming businesses hoping they can do the same for them. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this approach except that they often deceive themselves of the time needed for the new comer to establish their personal credibility which is the cornerstone to making fundamental and sustainable change.
- The leader should aim at moving along both the learning and credibility curves as fast as they can. They must design and execute activities to promote their understanding of the peculiarities of their business context, and to earn the trust and respect of their team.
- Go Public – Overcome Your Psychological Safety Frontier
- This step marks the leader’s first formal interaction with the outside world. We are now moving from the realm of psyche where ideas form, into the world of speech where words make dents into the status quo and give shape to a new social configuration.
- The public is defined by either the scope of the present role assigned to the individual by the organization, or by the extent of their social outreach. So, if you have a regional role, your focus should be on fixing your own regional sphere before you aspire to fixing the entire organization’s universe. On the other hand, if you were an entrepreneur or a social activist with a global vision, public will be defined by the outreach of you mission-specific network.
- Selecting the right time to go public is crucial to succeed in igniting the first momentum. A premature introduction will most likely receive a negative response being overlooked or even disparaged. The right time is when you’ve have the personal credibility and credentials to earn the attention of your audience when you have something to say.
- Situations that involve emotional uncertainty where one cannot figure out for sure how others will respond to his/her views can be particularly stressful, especially if those views were at odds with the conventional wisdom and the status quo, and if the individual lacked the rank or status in an organization with salient power hierarchies. The person will be subject to the opposing forces of psychological safety pulling them toward the nucleus of personal centricity to avoid the risks of rejection and humiliation, and of intellectual exchange compelling them to break away from their comfort zone to connect and contribute to the creation of a new social state of affairs (proposing is a simple and relevant example of these psychological dynamics).
- An incremental approach is always recommended when inviting others to join a cause or a project. Start one-on-one before you make mass communication, beginning with those who are closest to you. They will provide you the opportunity to test, challenge and improve your ideas, in addition to the emotional support you will need as you go public.
- As you conceive your first public message, begin by reiterating your credibility so that the audience remembers and reaffirms your credentials. Next, depict a vivid image as you possibly can of the risks that lie ahead if no timely intervention was made.
- Stand Your Ground – Keep Calm and Carry On
- Typically, three types of reactions will emerge as a response to all calls for change. People will react with varying degrees of intensity either.
- positively by demonstrating their buy in and positive action;
- negatively by demonstrating their opposition;
- or, with indifference (offer neither support nor resistance).
- Recruit The Core Team
- Selecting the core team is the first active and perhaps the most critical momentum building activity. In terms of their reactivity (response to stimuli and energy) and social bonding characteristics, people could classified into four main categories.
- Group A: They have high reactivity and exhibit strong bond to their existing social structure. They are very sensitive to stimuli in their environment, and will respond strongly positively or negatively. Once charged, they produce high momentum of action and maintain it over time. They are not easy to recruit or convert because they appreciate and honor their existing bonds. But once they form a new bond they are unlikely to defect. They are the type who will inspire more individuals to join, and who will carry the torch after the leader is gone.
- Group B: They are characterized by medium to low reactivity and strong bond. Although their contribution to the collective momentum is less then group A, they are very loyal to the leadership group and will contribute sustainable energy.
- Group C: Their capacity for effecting change is rather low and they don’t have the perseverance and consistency to stay the course. They don’t respond positively to collective action. When they do, they are rather passive, and would quit easily.
- Group D: Quick to respond and do generate good momentum because they are rather active. However, they are “unstable”. They could quit at any time in response to other stimuli. They get easily distracted and can’t resist temptations.
- To the best possible extent, the core team must include only As. Bs are the second best option; while they can’t add as much momentum as Ds, they are more reliable. D’s can get easily distracted causing significant drop in momentum, which is not affordable at this stage of high vulnerability. At all times, the team leader must endeavor to put in place the strategy and measures to shield those who are most vulnerable to pressure and distraction in order to ensure they stay engaged.
Phase 3: To Redouble and Sustain Momentum - The phase of Truthfulness and Patience
The essence of phase three in the Leadership Continuum is managing people as individuals and groups under various contexts and scenarios with the dual aims of.
- Acquiring additional positive momentum through recruitment and integration;
- And, sustaining the community’s ability to perform synchronized actions toward set goals and to exhibit aligned behaviors toward their environment.
As the leadership community grows larger, the amount and diversity of relationships to manage grows exponentially in complexity posing ever increasing demands on the team leader’s ability to maintain the coherence of the community. The larger and more diverse the community, the more stressful it becomes.
This stage is the acid test for the team leader, the leadership community and the cause they are pursuing. I call this the stage of truthfulness and patience because everyone will be tested, at the individual as well as the group levels.
From this phase onward, many potential infliction points along the leadership continuum will face the leadership community, separating between the possible extinction and the continuity of the leadership momentum. At each one, it will be determined whether a new state of affairs will be created or the status quo will prevail, until the next one around.
Phase three consists of eight leadership activity areas.
- Code of conduct – Governance
- With the forming of a new social structure comes the need to develop and institutionalize policies/rules to guide and regulate the social behaviors among group members.
- At the outset, depending on the social context and the size and complexity of the emerging group, these could be anything from some ground rules addressing the most common situations that the group is likely to encounter to a full-blown constitution. Then, on a need basis as new situations emerge, the team leader has to take on, or to delegate, the responsibility of formulating new regulations to deal with them.
- In principal, the fundamental quest of all policy making is to maximize the socioeconomic welfare of the group/society by striking the balance between safeguarding and utilizing its resources. In a business setting, this could be something as simple as, for instance, setting rules for managing meetings, e.g., sharing air time, critiquing ideas not people, one speaker at a time, whatever said in the room stays in the room…etc.; all with a view on safeguarding the organization’s time resources, promoting goodwill among its members and maximizing the economic return of the knowledge exchanged and time spent during the meeting.
- Managing individuals
- The essence of true leadership is free-will followership; that is to develop and manage relationships such that individuals would be willing to actively participate and contribute at their free will to the making of the new business/social order. This is in contrast to coerce leadership, where change can be effected through the authority exerted by the leader on the team.
- However, we humans are far from being perfect or consistent. We are bound to fail expectations either unwillingly (despite our best effort) or willingly (by contributing to them somehow). Disappointment and frustration due to failed expectations can easily creep into a good relationship and tear it apart, especially when the team leader holds and behaves according to considerably high standards. The ultimate trait of superior leadership is to be able to accommodate occasional fallibilities, and to continue nurturing relationships with individuals whose styles do not necessarily match and motivations that may not always measure up to those of the team leader. This requires an appreciation of the value of the individual that surpasses the value associated to mere transactions.
- Managing group and inter-group dynamics
- The primary differentiator in group performance is the ability of the community to produce synchronized collective action towards a particular goal. Recruiting more, talented individuals doesn’t necessarily mean improved output. Interpersonal and intergroup conflict could get in the way of the group’s cohesion, reducing its output, causing the disintegration of its social mass and its eventual dissolution.
- Conflict has the effect of transforming the positive charge that attracts group members together into a repulsive energy repelling them away from one another and from the nucleus of their common values and goals.
- Managing conflict among group members and between various groups is perhaps the strongest mark of leadership. Every time a conflict is not swiftly, satisfactory and entirely resolved, momentum will be compromised during the duration of the conflict, and unsatisfied members could well split off.
- Depending on the nature of the conflict and whether a prompt intervention is feasible, the team leader’s first objective should be to prevent the build up and diffusion of negative energy which typically takes place through negatively charged words being exchanged and circulated around. A useful strategy is to keep people busy, perhaps through additional tasks, to reduce the spare time and chance of unproductive chitchatting.
- Managing alliances and mergers
- Both alliances and mergers have the dual objectives of.
- Acquiring substantial additional momentum to boost the group’s capacity in producing action;
- And, reinforcing its social configuration to improve its readiness to deal with existing and future opportunities and challenges in its external environment.
- Both alliances and mergers have the dual objectives of.
- Managing crisis and threats
- For the purpose of this discussion, I identify crisis as a risk generating from actions or behaviors occurring within the group (e.g., key talent resigning, or an incident of unethical conduct), and threat as one resulting from actions or behaviors occurring outside the group (competitive activity, or a budget cut that could implicate a hire freeze)
- The timely and proactive management of crisis and threats as soon as they begin looming in the organizational horizon is crucial to successful intervention. It is important that the team leader identifies potential sources of threat, puts in place “early warning” mechanisms to detect them in a timely fashion. A team leader working in operations, for instance, cannot afford overlooking developing and maintaining corporate relations to help them identify and mitigate, to the best possible extent, corporate measures that might impair their leadership mission and work community.
- Managing programs
- This activity involves managing a portfolio of diverse projects such that they all deliver on the set targets within the specified budget and time. It involves making such strategic decisions as to what projects to initiate, as well as operational decisions such as who to assign as project leader.
- The challenge to the team leader is in figuring out and allocating their time and attention in the right proportion to the ever changing needs of individual projects.
- Managing Chaos, Ambiguity and Complexity (CHAMCO)
- All change involve to a more or less degree ambiguity (uncertainty of the future), chaos (disruption of the present order; contingencies) and complexity (complication in one area due to its interdependence with another distinct area); and all of them work against our intrinsic nature that seeks clarity, order and peace of mind.
- While many people could tolerate temporary conditions of extreme chaos, ambiguity and complexity (CHAMCO), most cannot cope if these were sustained, even at mild levels, over a long period in time. And, a very few can accommodate such extreme and sustained conditions, and still maintain their ability to function effectively. This understanding is important to the person assuming a leadership role in order to not assume an undertaking that involves a degree of CHAMCO that they cannot handle, and also to regulating their impact on the team members.
- Managing self – Personal adversities and demands
- However diverse what we pursue in life, we all operate under two universal parameters: the demands of our social circle which includes our household, extended family, friends and community which put additional legitimate demands on our time, attention and energy; and, life’s adversities, e.g., sickness, loss of loved ones, financial setbacks..etc, that could be distracting, grueling and even, at times, devastating.
- The challenge we all face is to fulfill our leadership and followership roles on the personal and professional fronts, and do so even when facing life adversity. All too often, even free of life challenges, we fail this balance because we exaggerate the stakes in one area at the expense of the other. Understanding that leadership is not relevant to a single life context, we can begin to develop better sensitivity and handling of the multiple leadership and followership roles that we assume in the course of our daily routine.
The previous discussion shows the wide variety of knowledge areas that a person needs to acquire in order to become a good leader. On top of being technically competent, they must become, among others, a sociologist, psychologist, project manager, negotiator, and a law maker.
4. Leadership Best-Practice
The importance of setting standards of professional conduct to guide and promote the continuous development in any practice is self-evident. My intention here is not to provide an all-inclusive code of leadership best-practice. First off, this is not feasible within the context of this undertaking. But most importantly, unlike the previous questions of how to measure and perform leadership work where I could take the liberty of presenting operational frameworks based on my personal reasoning, I believe it would be both inappropriate and immature to prescribe behavioral standards that would inevitably be confined by my personal cultural and intellectual limitations in a world that is much larger than any individual point of view. Rather, I present here a framework and approach to construct the code, which I illustrate with a single example. By doing this, I hope to enable every individual to consciously elaborate and take ownership of their own personal code of leadership, and to engage both academics and practitioners in the study, debate and development of a body of leadership best-practices that could measure up to a canonical status.
All codes must have a structure to outline the scope and the key elements they deal with (index), and a content developed through a given process. The structure I am proposing for the Leadership Code of Best-Practice is the same structure of Leadership life-cycle which I presented in the previous section. In other words, for each individual activity already identified in the leadership process, we define specific performance standards. The logic behind this approach is to make it easy for the leadership practitioner to relate specific performance standards to the individual activities as they go about the practice, providing them guidance and benchmarks for executing the specific tasks at hand.
In terms of content development i.e. the actual formulation of performance benchmarks, I propose a two-step methodology where for any given activity, I first provide criteria and a description of what could consist an ideal behavior; and secondly, I present exemplary role models of best-practice. The benefit of the first discussion is to motivate and expand the practitioner’s understanding of the specific context, challenges and dilemma associated with the task at hand, and the second discussion is to suggest role models who demonstrated exemplar behavior and performance, giving the practitioner the option to emulate them or to propose and adopt even better examples, hence raising the performance bar even higher for everyone. It should be noted however, that the role models suggested in this context rely primarily on superficial personal impressions drawn from studying their general biographies and careers, rather than a disciplined and systematic historical reconstruction of specific behaviors and characters.
The first leadership activity I have chosen for this discussion is Managing Life’s Adversities and Fulfilling its Personal Demands. Three primary reasons behind this choice – First, while almost all other activities are sort of “technical” in nature and to a more or less degree associated with a specific phase, this particular activity permeates throughout the entire leadership life cycle. Secondly, regardless of the nature of the leadership mission and the infinite variations these could imply, we are all presented with a universal array of personal challenges, e.g., sickness, bereavement of loved ones, financial setbacks, etc., and we all have to attend to and fulfill the same host of personal and social responsibilities as partners, parents and members of extended families and communities.
To be a role-model in this activity and to set the benchmark for universal best-practice, the person will demonstrate outstanding ability in striking the insuperable fine balance between pursuing a high-stake leadership career and fulfilling one’s personal and social obligations such that no one area outbalances the other in any degree at any time, whilst operating under the harshest heart wrenching adversities. O.K I admit this is a bit of an extreme, but these are the highest ends of the scale upon which we can make a judgment; extreme consistency in fulfilling both roles under conditions of extreme adversity.
By that standard some traditionally iconic figures such as Jack Welch for example will not make the grade. Welch personal life was to a large extent “unsuccessful” as his professional career. He sure does provide exemplar behavior in other areas of activities, but not this one.
While I make no attempt to suggest that Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s prime minister (1959-1990), should represent the universal figurehead that expresses the best practice in human form, I believe the context of his leadership career does embody the essence of what I want to say, providing a useful example to illustrate the idea. On the one hand, he led a leadership mission that involved high political stakes that defined the future of his nation under some of the most adverse, ambiguous and complex circumstances which would plausibly consume the attention, energy and time of anyone, and he did a great job in that regard transforming Singapore from a third to a first world nation. On the other hand, he faced a number of intense personal situations that would arguably cause emotional setbacks to anyone, including the death of his daughter in-law two weeks after she gave birth to an albino and visually handicapped child, and a son undergoing colon cancer treatment (he survived it). Although his biography does not provide enough details on his personal life, it seems that L K Yew has been a good husband and father fulfilling the emotional, intellectual and material needs of his household. So overall, it appears that L K Yew was able to deliver equally well on both sides of the equation and demonstrated high resilience in the face of life tragedies. Someone could provide a more powerful example and present a stronger argument. Fair enough, this is an open question for debate and further input. What really matters here is to educate our present and future leaders about what a human can be by providing them some of the most inspiring and uplifting examples of human behavior to supply them them with the additional boost of energy they will need in order to stretch their leadership behavior when they face the inevitable adversities of life.
- Impact on Practice
The proposed Leadership BOK with its four components parts (theory, metrics, practice and code of conduct) addresses the flawed theoretical foundation responsible for the structural and cognitive limits that shackle organizations today by presenting.
- A cosmos-like view of the organization where leadership and followership are mutually inclusive terms of human behavior, hence potentially eradicating the persisting elitist and hierarchal views of leadership.
- A Body of Knowledge comprising models that make the concept of leadership measurable (to some extent) and teachable, hence providing access to everyone to acquire the knowledge necessary to unleash their leadership potential and motivate leadership behavior.
- Impact on Research and Development
By suggesting the commonality between man and matter, and attempting to glean into the biology of leadership by making conjunctions with the laws of traditional and quantum physics, this hack motivates an approach to leadership research where traditional disciplines as psychology and philosophy that have always been the primary sources to studying leadership are integrated with the contemporary sciences of quantum physics and neurology.
The primary challenge is to equip every associate in the organization with the leadership BOK in order to ensure leadership and followership behaviors that are aligned with the social rules of the model. It’s no good to have “a high potential” employee trained and the rest of the department left out. This will be like one celestial object behaving according to laws of physics and the rest of the universe running amok!
Ideally, this is done through in-class training where knowledge is transferred from the trainer’s mind to the trainees through an interactive and socially dynamic environment. A train-the-trainer approach is always the strategy of choice in large organizations.
- Transfer the know-what to an entire work group comprising staff coming from cross-function departments and various seniority levels, through a 2-day training.
- Transfer the know-how through one-on-one coaching, and a series of workshops to institutionalize new leadership structure and behaviors.
Too many to mention!!