When we drain power from a car battery it runs down. If we do this long enough, the battery will eventually become totally dead. In physics we call this “entropy”, which means that anything left to itself will eventually disintegrate until it reaches its most elemental form. Entropy happens when there is neglect. Neglect your body, and you will deteriorate. Neglect your car battery, and it will eventually die. Anything that is not attended to and renewed will deteriorate over time. That is why we have an alternator in our car. The alternator recharges the battery. It combats entropy. All things need caring for—and your employees are no exception. Nothing neglected will remain productive over time.
Employees are like car batteries. If you are always taking from them, but never “charging them up” emotionally, eventually they will run down. Stephen Covey and others use the metaphor of the Emotional Bank Account (EBA). Negative actions and neglect can become withdrawals against a person’s EBA. On the other hand, courtesies, celebrations, and affirmations are deposits to the EBA. If there are a lot of withdrawals, and few or no deposits, a person’s EBA will become so overdrawn that the relationship will become bankrupt.
Effective leaders understand this concept and recognize the importance of giving encouragement and positive feedback on a regular basis. Such feedback should not be manipulative in nature, but should flow from a genuine appreciation and belief in their people. Effective leaders are obsessed with finding something good about an employee. They are very alert to opportunities to celebrate the achievement of others. These acts of encouragement are a real key to releasing the potential in people and promoting the use of their gifts and talents.
Few employees receive more affirmation from superiors than Southwest Airline employees. Southwest Airlines is recognized year after year by Fortune magazine as one of the best companies to work for in America. They are also famous for recognizing employees and celebrating their achievements. One token of this is a giant T-shirt hanging in the headquarters building of Southwest Airlines at Love Field. Imprinted on the shirt is this message:
“How many Southwest employees does it take to change a light bulb?” At the bottom of the shirt is the answer: “Four. One to actually change the light bulb and three to design the T-shirt to celebrate it!”
Southwest Airlines says that it uses thousands of small gestures to send big messages. The halls of their corporate headquarters are literally covered from floor to ceiling with photos, plaques, certificates, awards, honors, and various memorabilia that capture the spirit of their culture. Some have even accused Southwest executives of constructing more office space just so they could gain additional wall space in the halls to hang photos of employees and their families.
In the fall of 1999, I was selected as the Honor’s Seminar faculty member at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. I had proposed teaching a course entitled Personal and Organizational Leadership, with an emphasis on studying the top companies on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list. That year Southwest Airlines was the number four company on the list.
Toward the end of the semester the class took a field trip to visit the number one and number four companies on the Fortune 100 Best list (Synovus Financial and Southwest Airlines). Southwest had donated four round-trip tickets for our trip. We also used two round trip tickets from my Southwest Airlines frequent flyer program. We still had to buy tickets for one leg of the trip. I called the Southwest Airlines reservation number and got a very nice and helpful young lady on the line. I explained that making the reservations would be complicated since we had frequent flyer miles, free tickets from Southwest, and we also needed to buy tickets for one leg of the trip. However, I didn’t know which flight to buy, since we wanted to purchase tickets for the least expensive flight—applying the free tickets to the more expensive flights.
She searched diligently to find the least expensive flight of the trip. There was just one problem. That flight did not have enough seats left at the rock bottom fare. We needed two additional seats at that fare. She suggested that since I was working with the executive office at Southwest to arrange our tour that I should call and ask if they could authorize her to sell all the tickets at the lowest fare!
I was so impressed with this reservationist and her attitude of service. She had worked almost a half-hour to book all the flights and now she would hold the two seats until I asked the executive office to release the seats at the lower fare! She was truly working to save us money and I really appreciated that. I got her name and phone number. I discovered that she was working at a phone center in Oklahoma. I thanked her and hung up.
I then called the executive assistant to the executive office at Southwest and told her the situation. She said there would be no problem lowering the fare for the two seats and that she would take care of it immediately. I gave her the reservations’ name and phone number. Then I mentioned that the reservationist had done an outstanding job helping me. I suggested that someone should mention this to her supervisor.
About ten minutes later my phone rang. It was the reservationist in Oklahoma. She sounded very excited and said, “You can’t believe what just happened to me! I just received a call from Colleen Barrett. She personally thanked me for giving you such extraordinary service!”
For those who don’t recognize her name, Colleen is the Executive Vice President of Southwest Airlines, and the Chair of the corporate Culture Committee. Within five minutes of my suggesting someone should recognize the fine work of this reservationist, the Executive Vice President of Southwest Airlines—a company of over 29,000 employees—had made a personal call to express her appreciation to the reservationist! I can tell you for certain that this reservationist received an incredible deposit to her Emotional Bank Account that day! This affirmation was like a powerful charge to her battery.
Such small gestures certainly do send big messages at Southwest. They can also send big messages within your organization. Do you look for opportunities to celebrate employee accomplishments, both great and small, or do you focus on finding fault and criticizing? Are most of the transactions you conduct with your employees considered “deposits” or “withdrawals” to their Emotional Bank Accounts?
Too many organizational cultures are still driven by criticism, fear, and punishment. (The floggings will continue until morale improves!) Celebrations and affirmations inspire, motivate, and reenergize people. Isn’t that what effective leadership is all about? Are you a “battery drainer” or a “battery charger”?
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About the author:
Dr. J. Howard Baker is Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Last year Dr. Baker taught an Honors Seminar at ULM, which included a field trip to the top servant leadership companies in America. Dr. Baker has been a Franklin Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People certified facilitator for seven years, and has served the University of Texas at Tyler as their facilitator for four years. During the summer he offers a graduate and undergraduate course at U. T. Tyler in personal and organizational leadership. He holds a B.S. in Management from Samford University, a Master of Accounting (MAcc) from the University of Southern California, and a Ph.D. in Information Systems from the University of Texas at Arlington.
When we drain power from a car battery it runs down. If we do this long enough, the battery will eventually become totally dead. In physics we call this “entropy”, which means that anything left to itself will eventually disintegrate until it reaches its most elemental form. Entropy happens when there is neglect. Neglect your body, and you will deteriorate. Neglect yourDr. J. Howard Baker Articles
I remember my first project as a newly promoted project manager. While I had received academic training in business administration and economics, I had begun my career among the technical ranks. My promotion to project manager was largely due to my ability to code programs in CICS assembler, Cobol, and at the time the newly emerging programming languages called “4GLs”. What I soon found out was that technical roles do little to prepare a person to advance into a management level position. I was not yet aware of the leadership required interacting with a team. In many ways a technical person is even hindered from making such a transition.
There are stages that a person with a technical background will visit while transitioning into management. The first stop is typically project management, the natural progression for a person who has spent considerable time as a successful project team member. A successful experience in project management may eventually lead to the next stage of a senior staff management position such as a department head, divisional manager or even vice president. It is during the first stage, project management that a technical person begins to encounter the issues that arise when making the transition into management. How well one adapts and begins to demonstrate leadership will likely determine the pace at which they progress through management.
In my experience I have witnessed many people make the same transition that I made, moving from programmer, to analyst, to project manager (PM, as we call it), to department head. Some succeeded, but many if not most either failed or became average PMs. The ingrained habit of personally defining specifications, designing and implementing solutions, and solving technical problems becomes a hurdle to overcome during the transition to management. In short, it is difficult for a “hands on” person to suddenly find themselves “hands off” in a similar way that a new coach finds it difficult to stay off the field. Here are some tips to help a “propeller head” traverse the path to project management.
Jump ahead – define the objective
When I found myself a project manager for the first time I was shocked to find that I had no idea how to get started. I knew how to execute but had never planned, motivated, and driven a project as the PM. I knew how to enter information into a project plan but could not seem to get the project off the ground. What was being required of me were the essential qualities expected of a leader. Frustrated and struggling, I sought advice from a seasoned PM in my company. He advised me simply to, “jump ahead of them and they will follow you”. Good advice and still effective. How do you jump ahead? By defining the project in terms of the overall objectives and benefits to the team members as well as clearly spelling out the roles, responsibilities and expectations. My mentor immediately helped me prepare a meeting to define the project objectives and assignments. My seasoned PM was telling me I needed to create a vision!
An important consideration when establishing an objective is its level of difficulty and how it could contribute to the team member’s need for achievement. If the objective is perceived to be too easy, the team member is not motivated. If the objective is perceived to be unattainable, the team member is again not motivated. It is only when the objective is perceived to be both challenging and attainable that motivation of the team is achieved.
Before the team can begin the project, they must know exactly what they are expected to do. Clearly articulated objectives, team participation in goal setting and action planning, and objectives that are challenging but attainable are the keys to driving a project team forward and maximizing performance. Key steps required to jump ahead as an effective leader include:
1. Define the project objectives and clearly communicate how successfully completing the project will benefit the company and the team members.
2. Working with each team member, determine his or her project role, responsibilities, and objectives.
3. For each team member, develop an action plan to achieve project objectives and ask the team member for his or her commitment.
4. Offer your confidence and support to the team member and set up a follow up time for progress review.
Stay at a high level
One of the first tasks that I assigned to myself as a new PM was to code several programs that needed to be developed by the project team. I was intending to help the other team members by being “one of them”. Not to mention that I enjoyed programming. Big mistake. When the coach grabs a helmet and lines up on the field there is no one coaching, adjusting the game plan to adapt to on-going changes, planning new plays, making the decision whether to go for it on fourth down, etc. But the urge for a technical person to delve back into the details is great. It is essential that the PM stay at a high level and direct the project or the project will go undirected. Change management, issue management, navigating obstacles, and leveraging the team by coaching the members is essential to success as a leader. In addition, there is momentum produced by team members as they progress on a project, achieving each milestone to completion. This energy is sapped as the leader interferes with or micromanages areas in which other team members are responsible.
One way to stay at a high level is to prepare a “project notebook” at the outset of the project. The project notebook will keep the PM at a 30,000-foot view. The project notebook contains all project documents, status reports, Gantt charts, project plans, issue logs, change control forms, etc. Constantly and accurately maintaining this information will force the manager to stay at a high level while also adding to his or her efficiency. Many companies possess web based software running on their intranet that will serve the same function as a repository for all project related documents and greatly enhance the usefulness of the information.
Leverage the team
Effective managers always lead with a coaching style. They find the key to leveraging other people in order to get a project completed successfully. And that key is to identify and maintain the proper balance between supporting employees at appropriate times when they need support and not intruding on the force they generate by self-reliance and self-direction. Leaders with a technical background tend to want to direct others much like they directed themselves to achieve technical assignments. A technical person wants to “do it themselves”. Though unnatural at first, it will make management a great deal easier and will drive success more quickly if the technical person learns to leverage the team as contrasted in the following table.
Directing the team
Leveraging the team
Holds Back Information
Allows Less Autonomy
Allows More Autonomy
That first project that I had the opportunity to manage was a real learning experience about leadership. Having had primarily a technical background, I had not been prepared to let go and rely on others achieve success. Since then I have made it a practice to jump ahead immediately by defining the clear objectives, maintain a high level big-picture view, and leverage the talents and abilities of the team that I manage. In a nutshell, I have learned the value of providing a vision! And I haven’t coded a program in years.
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About the author:
Dave has over 17 years of experience in information technology, technology services and management. He has provided management and technical consulting to numerous Fortune 500 companies and is currently Senior Vice President of services for Computer Associates, International. He has a bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems and Economics from Bowling Green State University and an MBA in systems management from Baldwin Wallace College.
I remember my first project as a newly promoted project manager. While I had received academic training in business administration and economics, I had begun my career among the technical ranks. My promotion to project manager was largely due to my ability to code programs in CICS assembler, Cobol, and at the time the newly emerging programming languages called “4GLs”. What I sooDave Hooper Articles
Leadership is a wonderful opportunity. You have your hands on the controls of your organization. If you don’t like what is going on, then look in the mirror. You are setting the standard on what is expected, what is acceptable, and what is possible. If you ask for it, you can get valuable feedback from your employees, customers, and owners that just might change your perspective.
People are your organization’s most valuable resource. Many leaders say it, but too few leaders act like it. People are street smart. You can’t fool them very long. People don’t forget what you do or how you act, but they will quickly forget what you say unless it is contrary to your actions. The old saying is true – ‘Talk talks, walk talks, but walk talks louder than talk talks’!
You become isolated from the realities of working in your organization. People filter what they tell you. But, in a very short period of time you can get valuable input from all of your employees to recalibrate your perspective. This input will help you get a picture of how people view working in your organization compared to what you think or how you might want things to be. It is difficult for you to get straight-forward, objective feedback through the normal chain of command. Getting feedback that is politically correct or feedback that your people think you want to hear only serves to build your ego, not your business. Time is money. Any process, any practice, or any behavior that wastes your people’s time or contributes to non-productive energy wastes your money.
If you want to get a quick feel for what your people think, what frustrates your people, and what is being filtered in the communication to you, then commit to do a few simple exercises. The time it takes is minor compared to the insight you will gain.
Answer each the following questions with one of three choices -- good enough, needs improvement, or hurting us:
1) In the customer’s eyes we are leading all competition in understanding and addressing their future needs.
2) Our customers choose our products and services because we provide more value and higher quality than our competition does.
3) We are keeping our resources focused on the important things because we have very few distractions that divert key manager’s time.
4) I know that our processes are effectively aligned to support our vision, mission, key values, key business objectives, and results measures.
5) Our processes effectively integrate to get maximum, focused value from our resources.
6) We aggressively seek to compare and to learn what other organizations may do better than we do.
7) We put considerable effort into developing and retaining a skilled, motivated, productive, and happy workforce to achieve extraordinary results.
8) We routinely achieve results that meet or exceed our strategic and tactical business objectives.
Now ask yourself ‘how do I know’ for each question. What process do you have in place that measures and supports your answer to the above? How do you collect the information, validate the information, analyze the information, process the information, and manage by the information? Too many leaders have to admit that they do not have the key measures or processes to really support their perceptions to these questions. This is your first look in the mirror.
Next, go out to your people – all of your people. Give them a presentation and interact with them on a topic that is of interest to them. Ask each person attending to give you two suggestions right then on something they would do or change to make things better if they could take that action right now. You do not need to know who provided the recommendations unless your people elect to put their name on the paper. Collect the suggestions before they leave the meeting area. Read every suggestion and summarize them. You will gain tremendous insight on areas within which you need to think, reflect, and dig further. These suggestions will hit right in the heart of your organization’s culture, processes, people, and alignment. This is your second quick look in the mirror.
Make some changes immediately based on the input. Show your people you listen and changes can happen quickly.
Go out and ask all of your managers, supervisors, professionals, and as many employees as possible to list for you in writing the following. You may have to let the people submit this anonymously if there is questionable trust in your organization.
1) the top five roadblocks and barriers to getting things done
2) the first 3 changes they should make in their department
3) the first 3 changes they would make someplace else in the organization
4) the 2 things they would do immediately if they were king for a day in your organization and their action could not be undone
5) the top 3 concerns they have as an employee of your organization
6) a list of any perceived sacred cows or things that cannot be changed or touched
7) a list of any perceived double standards in the organization where people are not treated the same
Read and summarize all of the above. Categorize the input into culture, process, people, or alignment areas. This is your third quick look in the mirror.
Makes some changes immediately based on the input. Again show your people that you listen and changes can happen quickly.
Now you are armed with information to conduct a fast-paced, simulation exercise with a good cross section of your organization’s leaders, natural leaders, hourly employees, bargaining employees, and professionals. You will not personally participate in the exercise but will engage a facilitator that has run an organization at least as large as yours to challenge and drive your people out of their comfort zone during the exercise. Your focus during this exercise will be to watch the group dynamics, thought processes, contributions, and basic skills to address a difficult problem. In less than 2 days you will gain tremendous additional insight into keys of what makes your organization tick or sputter...
The purpose of the simulation exercise is to quickly be able to determine how well your people understand your environment, products, customers, processes, bureaucracy, capabilities, barriers to progress, and what it takes to get something done. Many times people will see and understand only a small percentage of what must be done to take on something challenging. Time is a crutch. Normally meetings are scheduled days or weeks apart but no new, substantive information is obtained. Precious time is lost. In the simulation exercise your people must make decisions and sequentially act on those decisions. They quickly learn that you may not have all the information you maybe need or want but that is reality. People will soon learn the value of teamwork, diversity, and collaboration when they are accountable for making something happen in less than a perfect situation.
Pick a problem that could be real to the group and one that they have not tried to address. For example, the price on an item must be reduced at the actual cost level by 30% within 4 years. Your people can reduce cost by cutting cost, increasing revenues upon which overheads are charged, or other permeations and combinations. An agenda should be developed to challenge their skills and their business knowledge. Divide your people up into small working groups. Each group will provide answers to each exercise. Then all participants will discuss the input received and explained from each group and agree upon one response that best represents their collective knowledge and thinking. Your people will quickly see that not everyone sees things the same and that collaboration is a powerful tool to move forward.
You should answer questions like the following first and then compare your answers to the answers your simulation participants agreed upon. Set specific times for the working groups to answer within the group, discuss with all participants, and then collaborate to agree on their best response to tasks like the following:
1) Describe your competitive environment and its impact upon your organization.
2) List the three most important competitive variables for your organization to increase revenue. Rank the variables in highest to lowest order of importance. Determine key milestones. State in months how quickly these significant milestones can be achieved for each variable.
3) List the three most important specific actions that need to happen for each of the top four ranked competitive variables to increase revenue. Rank the actions in highest to lowest order of importance.
4) Using the collectively agreed upon top four ranked specific actions, give two examples that demonstrate your organization has accomplished such actions in the past 12 months.
5) Grade your organization using school grades (A,B, C, D, F) on each of the following:
a. Having the knowledge of what it takes and the competency to execute to compete and beat the best
b. Focus and knowledge-based strategy to increase revenues
c. Energized commitment to total quality excellence
d. Timely, aggressive, and consistent challenge to status quo that delivers results
e. Enthusiasm for rapid change
f. Total team orientation and absence of different functional or personal agendas
g. Communication with understanding on needs, strategy, and plan
h. Management leads by example and eliminates behavior inconsistent with performing at customer-acknowledged excellence levels
i. Sense of urgency and ability to get results for competitive variable #1
j. Sense of urgency and ability to get results for competitive variable #2
k. Sense of urgency and ability to get results for competitive variable #3
6) Describe in five bullet points or less, each bullet point six words or less, the specific challenge to your organization presented in this simulation.
7) Provide the top three summary solutions (six words or less) of what needs to be done in order to meet the specific challenges.
8) List the top three barriers to these solutions
9) List the top five specific cost reduction opportunities and estimate the total dollar savings for each of the five opportunities. Rank the opportunities in importance from most important to least important.
10) To realize each opportunity, list the top three changes that must take place. Rank the changes in order of importance from most important to least important.
11) Make a pie chart to summarize the percentage of total cost reduction that would come from the special cost reduction opportunities. The initiatives must add up to meet the 30% reduction target and pie chart slices must add up to 100%.
12) Using the two biggest slices from the pie chart, prepare a top level project plan and time line, in three-month increments, beginning today, and indicate how much of your savings will be realized in each three-month period. The total savings must add up to the total saving projected on the pie chart for these two slices.
13) Group discussion on what was learned, what you did right, what you could improve, and action assignments.
This is your fourth look in the mirror. In an exercise like this, you would like more facts and more time. You will never have all the facts and you could always use more time. What is more important though is learning what and how your people think with what they know today. That is why all answers are short and concise. You get the point without the usual accompanying explanation, clarification, and caveats.
Don’t be surprised if the discussions get lively. Don’t be surprised to see suppressed feelings rise to the surface. Don’t be surprised to see a lack of knowledge, skill, and basic understanding of issues and solutions. Don’t be surprised to see right in the room some of your fundamental roadblocks and barriers to progress.
Seldom does a group of people get to work together on such a challenging and mentally stimulating exercise. Seldom do people at all levels of your organization get to appreciate what you do and the decisions you have to make as a leader. Seldom do you get the opportunity to get so much non-routine information and see your people under fire when decisions must be made and positions negotiated within short time periods.
It is time to reflect. Compare your answers to the simulation exercise with the answers of your people. What have you learned? Take time to think. Pull out your strategic and tactical objectives. Where do you have gaps in your processes? Where do you have alignment challenges? What do you need to adjust to address fundamental capability, training, hiring, behaviors, procedures, processes, systems, or approach? What performance measures do you need to put in place? What is your next step?
Take the challenge. The steps forward with your new information and perspective are fun and invigorating. Now you can see why it must be you. You have your hands on all the controls. Open up communication. Stop, look, listen, and learn together. Your people will be more ready to work together to get the important things done. You will be better able to lead and remove the roadblocks and barriers in their way. Your metrics will show your progress and encourage everyone. These and future looks in the mirror will pay tremendous benefits. Try it!
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About the author:
Rick Loghry is President of Actions Speak, LLC, a firm providing custom, affordable education and training focused on aligning culture, processes, and people to improve operating results. Rick has 30+ years experience working as a change agent to improve operations. Prior to starting Actions Speak, LLC, he was President of a Forbes top 500 privately held company. He holds a B.S. in Science and MBA from Rollins College.
Leadership is a wonderful opportunity. You have your hands on the controls of your organization. If you don’t like what is going on, then look in the mirror. You are setting the standard on what is expected, what is acceptable, and what is possible. If you ask for it, you can get valuable feedback from your employees, customers, and owners that just might change your perspective.Rick Loghry Articles
Have you heard the story about a truck that got stuck under a bridge? It is said that a box truck was attempting to pass under a large bridge. As the truck driver approached the structure he felt there was enough room to clear the bottom of the steel and concrete deck of the bridge. But as he was passing under, he suddenly hear a loud screeching noise! The screech turned in to a grind and the lurching truck came to a dead stop! It was now locked under the bridge and could go neither forward or backward. Putting the transmission in reverse, or one of the forward gears was to no avail as the vehicle was now firmly lodged directly under the bridge. Traffic came to a complete standstill and naturally the local authorities were called out to examine the situation. How would they get the truck out from under the bridge?
A tow truck was sent out to try to pull the vehicle free. A county engineer arrived to examine this difficult situation. There were deep discussions and many measurements were made. Various calculations were performed to determine how much of the truck or bridge would be destroyed if the vehicle was simply yanked or pulled out! If too much of the bridge’s concrete was broken in the process, it might cause the bridge to become unsafe. What if road equipment was brought in to cut a grove into the road under the vehicle tires to lower it? What if heavy equipment was brought in to lift the bridge just a few inches? Traffic continued to back up and discussions raged on as frustrated workers and authorities pondered this difficult problem. A crowd also gathered around the scene to watch all the exciting activity and hubbub. Then something funny happened as a worker was walking by part of the crowd and surveying the situation. A little boy who had previously been riding his bicycle, and had stopped to glare, said to the man, “Why not let the air out of the tires?” “What?”, stated the worker in incredulous shock! “What did you say?” The boy repeated, “Why not let the air out of the tires?” From this simple observation and statement, an easy and effective solution was found to a difficult problem that had confounded some very bright and energetic people!
What the little boy demonstrated is what every effective leader needs to achieve personal success! The boy had imagination. Within his mind, he dug deep for a creative solution and envisioned the vehicle becoming shorter because the tires would lower the vehicle when air was removed from them. It was this imagination that gave the boy the resourcefulness to solve a serious problem. Sadly, most researchers tell us that we lose a part of our creativity as we age. The innovative skills we learned at play as a child become lost as we enter adulthood. However, many solutions to difficult problems are easily solved if we learn to use our imagination and mentally step outside our comfort zone. This is a common problem in business today. Many managers believe that it takes millions of dollars, and a severe culture shock to solve large problems in their organizations. Like in the example above, when mountains are made out of molehills, problem solving can become more difficult and costly than it really needs to be.
As a leader, there will be many times when emergencies, unexpected circumstances or complications arise to block the path to our goals. There will also be times when rational and analytical thinking isn’t good enough to make the right or best decision! This is where we need to use our imagination as a resource to remove or to go around the obstacle. Remember that during these kinds of demanding situations we should never panic. We need a clear head and calm emotions to think logically and rapidly. In addition, we also need to maintain our composure in order for our imagination to be most effective and help us to arrive at a wise decision. The time for passion will arise later on when we act on the decision we have made, and make it happen!
Earlier in our series on The Twelve Principles of Personal Leadership we spoke about the essential need for vision. It is a compelling vision that feeds our desire to accomplish great things in life. Remember that our personal vision is the mental picture we have that inspires us to establish, and seek our goals during good times and bad! In this principle we will discuss the ability to once again tap into ourimagination to solve the many problems that threaten to block us in achieving our goals. This can be especially difficult for leaders who have a “black or white” view of the world. If we define every person, event or activity as “good or bad” or “right or wrong” we greatly limit our ability to solve problems creatively. The truth is that some things are indeed “good or bad”, but most things are neutral unless they are misused. To have a healthy creative imagination to solve problems requires us to be open-minded and look for the good in others and events, not the worse.
Obviously, to solve a problem requires that we keep going forward and not quit. Imagination is the resource that helps us to plow through an obstacle! Some folks have a good vivid imagination naturally and have a reputation as an “idea person”. But most of us need to do some research, seek advice and perform some analysis to “prime the pump” of our imagination. It often requires us to think differently than we normally do. Asking a series of “what if…” questions can often spark innovative solutions. Organizations have found that the imagination generated during “brainstorming” sessions can be very productive. However, the potential solutions we ponder should always be legal, ethical and not intended to harm others. Sadly, our prisons are populated with some very creative and imaginative individuals. They allowed their imagination to be used selfishly and to harm other people.
It is also important to realize that there is usually more than one solution to most problems. Even though it is desirable to find the best solution, it is not always practical. When this occurs, be open-minded, and don’t delay making a critical decision because you are searching for the perfect answer. Some managers even use this as an excuse not to make the important decisions that need to be made. When you have faced a difficult challenge and used your imagination as a resource to discover a solution, don’t stop there!
It is not enough to have imagination as a resource if you are unwilling to make the hard decisions. Possessing the right answer without the strength or will to implement it will not solve difficult problems. Some folks are good at finding solutions, but struggle to make decisions. It is easy to understand why many leaders want to avoid making decisions. There are a number of valid reasons. First of all, it is often risky! Risk is defined as the possibility of suffering harm, loss or danger. We tend to be comfortable in our patterns and expectations. Often times making a decision means we must step out of our “comfort zone” and into the unknown. Past experiences teach us that even a slight shift in our course can have dramatic effects on an outcome. On a personal level, we may have the right answersbut avoid making decisions about our family, careers or finances because of an aversion to risk and fear of failure. Secondly, leaders often make decisions while they are slightly ahead of the prevailing group or culture. It is often a lonely, thankless experience with little visible support. This situation is often compounded greatly when the leader has not taken the time and energy to build a strong consensus among others.
But here is an important point about decision-making and risk. We will frequently come to a crossroads in life or business where an important decision must be made. Then… we have a choice to make. Either we make the decision, or “time and chance” will decide for us what we were unwilling to decide for ourselves! Either way, a decision will be made. The question is, will we take charge and assume greater control of the outcome, or will we allow luck, chance or fate to determine the outcome for us? There is an old story about two men drifting on a raft traveling down the Niagara River toward the ominous Niagara Falls. They began to argue about how far they were from the falls and when they should go ashore. The argument continued and went on and on. While they haggled and delayed making a decision, time made the decision for them, with unfortunate results.
I am not suggesting that you to lurch into ill-advised or poor decision-making. Leaders should seek the facts, get advice, do the research and resourcefully find an answer. But there does come a time when a decision…the decision must be made! It has been said that former American President and World War II General Dwight D. Eisenhower once commented, “A wrong decision is better than indecision”. Think about why a military General would have made this comment. A wrong decision is at least a choice, and if that choice is wrong there if often enough time to retrench, regroup and alter the course. Creativity is flexible and can be modified early in the decision process. However, indecision only erodes precious time and often removes the option of an alternative choice from the decision maker. Sometimes the real risk is not taking one. As author and educator Gary Dessler states, “Very few decisions are forever; there is more “give” in most decisions than we realize. While many major strategic decisions are hard to reverse, most poor decisions won’t mean the end of the world for you, so don’t become frozen in the finality of your decision”.
At the heart and core of leadership is also the willingness to take personal responsibility for a difficult decision. On June 6, 1944, during World War II, General Eisenhower agonized over a difficult decision to allow Allied forces to land on the beaches of Normandy, France. The weather had been poor and threatened to derail the Allied assault. A window of opportunity was closing and it was time for decisive action. Eisenhower finally gave approval for the landing. However, he also took the time to write an “official statement” to the media in case the landing failed and the Allies were unable to secure a beachhead. In his handwritten announcement, Eisenhower accepted full responsibility for the failure. Thankfully, it was never needed!
Many experts in management believe that not all decisions are the same. They differentiate between what they call programmed and nonprogrammed decisions. Programmed decisions are defined as ones that are repetitive and can typically be resolved through rational analysis and mechanical procedures. It is believed that the overwhelming majority of decisions we make are programmeddecisions. Standard rules of deduction can be applied to these decision types. These kinds of decisions do not require a great degree of imagination.
On the other hand, nonprogrammed decisions are defined as unique in nature. These include crisis situations or when we have arrived at a personal crossroad in our life. Nonprogrammed decisions rely heavily on our judgment and values rather than clear-cut analysis. They are typically more urgent and require greater focus. We all must eventually face them… the tough agonizing decisions that often need to be based on incomplete information and unknown criteria! Sometimes there is no clear choice of what or who is absolutely right or wrong. There may be little “black and white”, but rather shades of gray. Using our positive ethics and deep-seated values as a guide, we will need to muster all the creativity and intuition we can find deep within ourselves for a solution. Because these nonprogrammed decisions are usually critical, the risk and consequences can be great, but don’t let that stop you from taking action when required!
Here are a few tips to improve your decision-making ability. Recognize the facts as they really are and not how you want to see them. It is easy to ignore or distort the truth because we already desire to support a particular answer . For example, those who study theology often fall prey to a problem called proof-texting. This is where the theologian first comes to a personal conclusion, and then looks for scriptures to support a preconceived belief. Many scientists are also guilty of the same problem. Maintain your objectivity so your decision is based on an intelligent analysis of the actual facts and not a preconceived decision. Along with analysis, don’t be afraid to use your heart as long as it is not blinded by raw emotion! A balanced decision is one that is made from both the head and the heart. This is where you make a decision based on accumulated experience, knowledge and intuition. Remember, having firm personal values and strong ethics is the foundation of good intuition. Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud stated,
“When making a decision of minor importance I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of our personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”
Obviously if the deep inner needs of our nature are centered on integrity and genuine concern for others, our intuition will serve us well. Another decision-making tip is to be careful not to useshortcuts to save time. A common shortcut is called heuristics. This is used to speed up decision-making by applying “rules of thumb” to quickly reach a conclusion. For example, a senior manager may say, “I only want individuals with advanced degrees to apply for this position”. Yes, this may speed up the selection process, but may also mean the best qualified or most talented individual is not even considered for the position. The final tip I offer is to avoid anchoring. The trait of anchoring is where we give too much credence to the first communication or set of facts that we hear. This first bit of information then becomes the benchmark by which the decision will be made and later information that is contrary to it is dismissed or minimized.
So the next time you are confronted with the need to make a decision, remember the little boy gazing at the truck stuck under a bridge. The best answer will require using your imagination as a resource. Challenge yourself to think differently and from a fresh perspective. When you have made a decision and an answer is at hand, don’t stop there! A leader’s calling is to make the hard decisions when they are needed. No one said the job is easy! Yes, there is a risk to decision-making, but there is often a greater risk when we do nothing and allow fate to decide for us. So be sure you gather the facts, get sound advice, and do the necessary research. Then make the decision. If you get stuck… maybe you need to just step back and look at things differently. Perhaps you will even need to let some of the air out!
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About the author:
Greg has over 20 years of sales and marketing experience within the electrical distribution industry. Some of his positions have included being a National Sales Manager, National Marketing Manager and for the past 13 years that of Regional Sales Manager. He also has extensive experience in public speaking and has written articles for various publications. Greg has a Master of Arts degree in Leadership from Bellevue University where he presently serves as an adjunct professor teaching courses in business management and leadership. He is also the president and founder of weLEAD Incorporated.
Have you heard the story about a truck that got stuck under a bridge? It is said that a box truck was attempting to pass under a large bridge. As the truck driver approached the structure he felt there was enough room to clear the bottom of the steel and concrete deck of the bridge. But as he was passing under, he suddenly hear a loud screeching noise! The screech turned in to a grind and the lGreg L. Thomas Articles
"The self-explorer, whether he wants to or not, becomes the explorer of everything else. He learns to see himself, but suddenly, provided he was honest, all the rest appears, and it is as rich as he was, and, as a final crowning, richer." — Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock. Austrian novelist, philosopher
An ass found a lion's skin, and dressed himself up in it. Then he went about frightening every one he met, for they all took him to be a lion, men and beasts alike, and took to their heels when they saw him coming. Elated by the success of his trick, he loudly brayed in triumph. The fox heard him, and recognized him at once for the ass he was, and said to him, "Oho, my friend, it's you, is it? I, too, should have been afraid if I hadn't heard your voice."
This classic Aesop fable shows how easy it is to play a part — to be someone else. But those closest to us will eventually see through us. The key question is — can I see myself? Can I recognize my own inner voice? Do I listen to what it is telling me? Am I drawn into roles, jobs, or relationships that I am not cut out for? Am I following the path that society or someone thinks I should be on or am I blazing my own path? Am I following my heart?
Reputation is what people think I am. Personality is what I seem to be. Character is what I really am. Our goal should be to blur the lines between the three until they are one and the same. That means living my life from the inside out. When I live my life from the outside in, appearances are everything. What other people think of me and want from me becomes my guiding principle. That means my confidence and self-image is out of my control. I set myself up to be a victim of the fickle opinion of others. The harder I try to make an impression, then that is exactly the impression I make.
As a leader, I do want to serve others and need to know how others see me. However, I can't serve, support, or guide others if I am not coming from a strong inner core. Only if I believe in myself can I generate believers. In Hamlet, William Shakespeare writes, "this above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." A modern storyteller, television producer Norman Lear, puts similar advice into modern terms, "First and foremost, find out what it is you're about, and be that. Be what you are, and don't lose it. It's very hard to be who we are, because it doesn't seem to be what anyone wants."
Continually peeling back the layers of who we are is a life long effort. It's the leadership process of “becoming”. Our own inner space is as vast as outer space. Like the many generations of Star Trekkers, we can "boldly go where no one has gone before" as we continue to push back the frontiers of self-knowledge. If we're going to continue to deepen and grow, it's our own never ending discovery trek.
"The process of spiritual growth is an effortful and difficult one. This is because it is conducted against a natural resistance, against a natural inclination to keep things the way they were, to cling to the old maps and old ways of doing things, to take the easy path." — M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled
A timeless principle of inside out leadership is continuous personal growth. When U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., was hospitalized at the age of 92, President Roosevelt went to visit him. He found Holmes reading a Greek Primer. "Why are you reading that?" the president asked. The great jurist replied, "Why, Mr. President, to improve my mind."
Continuous personal improvement means we often outgrow our own standards and what we previously thought was acceptable. A dull author once complained to William Dean Howells, the 19th century editor of Atlantic Monthly (he encouraged a number of writers including Mark Twain and Henry James). "I don't seem to write as well as I used to," the mediocre writer grumbled. "Oh yes you do...indeed you do," Howells reassured him, "It's your taste that is improving."
We need to find the combination of reflection, networking, participating in learning events, training, discussions, taking on new assignments and responsibilities, experimenting, — or whatever — that keep us stretching and growing. Reading is a powerful way to stretch our minds and keep growing. Not all readers are leaders, but most lifelong leaders are avid readers. A Gallup Poll found that high-income people read an average of nineteen books per year.
The 19th century president of Harvard University, Charles William Eliot said, "Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers." "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body," declared the 18th century writer, Sir Richard Steele. I heartily agree. However, as an author I will admit to a little bias on the subject.
Continuous learning, growing, and developing helps us find the path that is personal and unique to us. Ways of doing things depend upon tools and techniques. This can range from how to operate a machine, use a software program, deal with a customer, manage a process, cook a meal, or resolve a conflict. There are no tools or techniques for ways of being. We all need to keep searching, growing, and developing those ways that are true to our inner selves and take us where we want to go.
There are no quick-and-easy formulas to leadership development. In his book, The Heart Aroused, poet David Whyte illustrates how difficult it can be to find our own way. "In my experience, the more true we are to our own creative gifts the less there is an outer reassurance or help at the beginning. The more we are on the path, the deeper the silence in the first stages of the process. Following our path is in effect a kind of going off the path, through open country, there is a certain early stage when we are left to camp out in the wilderness, alone, with few supporting voices. Out there in the silence we must build a hearth, gather the twigs, and strike the flint for the fire ourselves...if we can see the path laid out for us, there is a good chance it is not our path: it is probably someone else's we have substituted for our own. Our own path must be deciphered every step of the way."
The unknown author of the following story entitled "The Moth," illustrates the necessity for struggling to find our own way:
A man found a cocoon of an emperor moth. He took it home so that he could watch the moth come out of the cocoon. On that day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the moth for several hours as the moth struggled to force the body through that little hole.
Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. It just seemed to be stuck.
Then the man, in his kindness, decided to help the moth, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The moth then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch the moth because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.
Neither happened! In fact, the little moth spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.
What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the moth to get through the tiny opening was the way of forcing fluid from the body of the moth into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon. Freedom and flight would only come after the struggle.
By depriving the moth of a struggle, he deprived the moth of health. Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If we were to go through our life without any obstacles, we would be crippled. We would not be as strong as what we could have been.
About the author:
Excerpted from Jim Clemmer's latest bestseller, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His recent bestsellers include Pathways to Performance: A Guide to Transforming Yourself, Your Team, and Your Organization, and Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance. His web site is http://www.clemmer.net/.
*Image courtesy of vorakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
"The self-explorer, whether he wants to or not, becomes the explorer of everything else. He learns to see himself, but suddenly, provided he was honest, all the rest appears, and it is as rich as he was, and, as a final crowning, richer." — Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock. Austrian novelist, philosopher An ass found a lion's skin,Jim Clemmer Articles
Many of us grew up watching teenage movies with themes based on the popularity of high school cheerleaders, beauty queens, and good-looking star athletes. These were the “beautiful people” that everyone admired and wanted to have as friends. Of course many times these popular teenagers were actually self-centered, insensitive, and very superficial. Before the end of the movie the true character of these idols was exposed. The exposure usually came with the triumphant recognition by the students of a timid, shy, mousy teenager who really possessed the true character.
Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, identifies a change that has taken place in America over the past fifty to seventy-five years. For the first 150 years in America the success literature focused on what he calls the “character ethic.” Individuals living their lives based on ethical principles such as honesty, integrity and humility characterized this earlier period. Around World War I there began a gradual shift from an emphasis on character to an emphasis on personality. This shift was toward what Stephen Covey calls the “personality ethic.” It places emphasis on outward appearance rather than character. It emphasizes “appearing to be” rather than “actually being.” 4
David Riesman, in his book The Lonely Crowd, says that character is developed in the home and then dispersed into society through work, play, politics and various activities of society. 7 Riesman recognizes that the emphasis on character that was dominant in America in the nineteenth century has gradually been replaced. Today the success literature emphasizes techniques more than character. Communication techniques, public relations techniques and dressing for success are major themes today.
Recently, a friend of mine shared her experiences about an employee who was a true diamond in the rough. Prior to returning to the work force full-time, she was working a few hours each week as a consultant to several small businesses. Entering a client’s business one day, she observed that the whole office was in an uproar. The problem was that on the day before, the owner had hired a person we’ll call Mary, who appeared in short shorts and looked like she had just left an all night bar. Because the owner was short handed and desperately needed help, he hired Mary on the spot and put her to work immediately.
My friend soon came to depend a great deal on Mary to assist her. Mary was always eager to learn and do things the right way. As my friend spent more time with Mary, she began to see that Mary had real character built on a strong work ethic. Unfortunately, like the greater part of an iceberg, this character was hidden “under water” from the casual viewer, and only the “tip of the iceberg” was visible to others. Mary was abrasive at times and lacked many social skills.
Stephen Covey uses the iceberg as a metaphor to explain the relationship between personality and character. 4 Covey explains that personality is like the tip of an iceberg—the part that people see or come in contact with first. In teenage movies, and many times in real life, we judge people by their physical beauty or their possessions. The tip of the iceberg symbolizes all these traits that are immediately visible.
The first time that my acquaintance suggested to Mary that she continue her education at the local college, Mary was horrified at the suggestion and said it was something that she could never do. No one in her family had ever graduated from college. Mary had been scripted by what Stephen Covey calls the “social mirror.” Each of us tends to form the perception of our self from our surroundings and the opinions, perceptions, and paradigms of others. How we perceive ourselves is often very distorted and out of proportion. 4
You can see someone’s outward beauty, but you can’t physically see character. Character is “below the surface.” People with character are honest and sincere in their relationships. They demonstrate integrity daily by standing up for what they believe, and they know what is right and what is wrong. They treat people fairly. They live the six “pillars of character,” which are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. 2
The “character ethic” is based on such pillars, and principles such as sincerity, temperance, humility, courage, integrity, honesty, industry, and thrift. These principles cannot be violated if an individual wishes to be truly successful. 3 True success goes beyond financial success. This character, symbolized by the larger portion of the iceberg submerged under the water, was still extant in 1933 during the Great Depression. Many Americans were without work and lacked any means of supporting their families. President Roosevelt implemented an emergency assistance program to help these individuals. Written into the law was the requirement that assistance be given in cash. It was hoped that by giving assistance in cash, officials would be able to convince these proud men, who were industrious, to accept government help. 1 How times have changed!
Some people have a tremendous strength of character but it is hidden behind a personality or appearance that is not acceptable. How often do we ignore such people or “write them off” immediately as failures? We need to prepare ourselves to recognize when a character base is strong enough to overcome the lack of an acceptable personality or image, and give such people support and encouragement until they are able to acquire the necessary social skills to function in healthy personal and business relationships.
I was once so introverted and awkward that one of my teachers told me I would never be a public speaker. A manager once painted a mental picture of me working in an office by myself for the rest of my life, with someone sliding a tray of food under the door at lunchtime. I carried these images, derived from the social mirror, in my head for many years. I accepted them as reality—“the way things are.” Thanks to the help and encouragement from many people over the years, I came to recognize that my self-concept was not totally accurate—and certainly not predetermined. I discovered that I could be proactive and change my social skills over time. Today I speak regularly before audiences of hundreds of people and have taught communication and leadership courses at the college level for many years.
Some time passed and my friend had been working full time at another location for about a year when a position came open in her department. She immediately thought of Mary. Forgotten was her lack of acceptable social skills and her unprofessional dress and language. What was remembered was the fact that Mary was a dedicated employee who worked very hard, was very honest, and always eager to learn. As brusque as Mary could be at times, she was never mean or spiteful or cruel to anyone. She did not have a winning personality, but she did have a lot of character.
My friend hired Mary. When Mary came to work for the department, the response was worse than it had been at the first business where she had worked. Employees would come to my friend and say, “Did you hear what she just said?” “I can’t believe you hired her!” One manager even said Mary needed to be talked to about the way she conducted herself when men came in the office. However, there was never a single complaint about her work or her work ethic—only her social skills.
Within a year Mary had won over the office staff just as she had won my friend. They too began to recognize the solid character underneath the unsuitable social interaction. People in the office began to informally help Mary become more aware of her inappropriate dress and language. Mary was also urged to continue her education. She finally developed enough confidence to enroll at the local junior college. Once she saw that she was an “A” student, she decided to continue her education and pursue a management degree at the local university.
Last May my friend attended graduation ceremonies and watched Mary graduate magna cum laude! Over the past eight years, Mary has developed a winning personality, which complements her outstanding character. Because of her hard work, dedication, and work at self-improvement, Mary has moved into a professional position within her organization and is considered a very valuable employee.
Many times we are guilty of “selective perception.” When we first meet someone, we are often guilty of judging the value or worth of the person based on what we immediately see—the “tip of the iceberg.” Often the halo effect causes us to make a determination about the person we have met based on a single characteristic, such as their looks or their speech. 6 The shortcuts we use to judge others may keep us from opportunities to help others to grow and mature. How many people appear to be “losers” at first, but turn out to be real “winners” once we get to know them? Judging on outward appearance and first impressions can keep us from developing personal and professional relationships that would be very fulfilling and beneficial.
Personality is unique to each individual. Some people have very flawed personalities, yet under the surface they have a magnificent character. Often it takes time to discover this since it is “below the surface.” My personal experience tells me that a person with a flawed personality and strong character is usually easier to assist than a person with a winning personality and a flawed character!
Anybody can lead perfect people. Servant leadership organizations believe that a person that is immature, stumbling and inept is capable of greatthings when wisely led. As Robert Greenleaf said, “The secret of institution building is to be able to weld a team of such people by lifting them up to grow taller than they would otherwise be.” 5
As leaders, we are in the business of “growing people.” We must not overlook those who may lack certain social skills, but have character. Once such a person is worked with, there is no limit to what such a person can contribute to the organization.
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Dr. J. Howard Baker is Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Dr. Baker has been a Franklin Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People certified facilitator for eight years, and has served the University of Texas at Tyler as their facilitator for four years. During the summer he offers a graduate and undergraduate course at U. T. Tyler in personal and organizational leadership. He holds a B.S. in Management from Samford University, a Master of Accounting (MAcc) from the University of Southern California, and a Ph.D. in Information Systems from the University of Texas at Arlington.
1. Bernstein, I. (1985). A Caring Society: The New Deal, the Worker, and the Great Depression. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
2. Character Counts! Retrieved July 28, 2001 from http://www.newciv.org/ncn/eric/character.html
3. Character Ethic Vs. Personality Ethic. Retrieved July 28, 2001 from http://www.ryu.com/mascio/7habits/Chicago/sld017.htm
4. Covey, Stephen R (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster.
5. Greenleaf, Robert K. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. New York: Paulist Press, 1977.
6. Frequently Used Shortcuts in Judging Others. Retrieved July 27, 2001 from http://mars.acnet.wnec.edu/~achelte/obl/lprob03/tsld009.htm
7. Riesman, David (1974). The Lonely Crowd. Clinton, Massachusetts: The Colonial Press, Inc.
Many of us grew up watching teenage movies with themes based on the popularity of high school cheerleaders, beauty queens, and good-looking star athletes. These were the “beautiful people” that everyone admired and wanted to have as friends. Of course many times these popular teenagers were actually self-centered, insensitive, and very superficial. Before the end of the movie the tJ. Howard Baker Articles
One Leaders Perspective
If you study the subject of leadership at one of our fine educational institutions or read many books on the subject of leadership, you will eventually come across the term “contingency theory” or situational leadership. In the past, most researchers believed in a “one best way” or universal approach to leadership. Many also held the opinion that leaders were those who simply had the “right stuff” to lead others. This right stuff was defined as commitment, strength, vision and often charisma. Of course, one hundred years ago many assumed that great leaders were simply “born” to lead and the “right stuff” was unavailable to others! Within the past 40 years, two avid supporters of the best way theory or universal leadership approach have been Robert Blake and Jane Moulton. Their books, training programs and articles have taught that a single leadership style is the right approach for all situations.
Blake and Moulton created a two-dimensional “managerial grid” that has become a classic way to diagram the best way or universal approach model. This grid diagrams two basic dimensions of an effective leader. They are the concern for results (task) and concern for people. This managerial grid model has a numerical rating for each cell depending on the degree or amount of concern a manager demonstrates for results and for people. These two “concerns” are considered to be independent of each other. The ideal is considered a 9.9-oriented manager who integrates a high concern for both the task and people to produce outstanding performance. Apparently, unlike physical beauty or gymnastic skill, leadership is incapable of achieving a perfect 10! The original grid concept appeared in 1961 and has been modified into the 1990’s. In a survey performed by the National Industrial Conference Board, this grid was mentioned as one of the most frequently identified behavioral science approaches to management.
However, as other researchers studied farther, a different model was developed that viewed good leadership as contingent upon the given situation or environment. The best way or universal model was criticized by those who recognized that good leadership often adapts with the situation. Widely varying circumstances typically require different qualities of leadership. These became known as contingency theories. Two respected researchers by the names of Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard established a contingency theory known as situational leadership. They also created a managerial grid similar to Blake and Molton, since two of its dimensions also included results (tasks) and people.
Paul Hersey then merged the relationship between behavior tasks and people into a four-cell chart that reveals four distinct leadership styles… directing (telling)… coaching (selling)…supporting (participating) and delegating. Hersey and Blanchard believe a manager may effectively use any of the four styles depending on the “readiness level” or “maturity” of the subordinates (Hersey, 1984). For example, a manager whose subordinates are unable and unwilling to do a good job would demonstrate leadership by directing (telling) them what and how to do the task. So according to this theory when the leader is demonstrating a directing(telling) leadership style, they are providing high direction and low support.
However, this contingency theory has also been under assault by researchers. Continued studies have cast doubts on its validity. As Bolman and Deal point out, “If, for example, managers give unwilling and unable subordinates high direction and low support, what would cause their motivation to improve?” Other problems with this theory include no task structure variables. Also, the concept of follower “maturity” is not well defined and is therefore open to interpretation. Many other contingency theories have arisen and all have supporters and detractors about either the relevance or quality of research associated with them. Leadership thinker James O’Toole opines, “Yet, evidence mounts that contingency, or situational, leadership is ineffective. All around we see the signs of failure: the depressing social and organizational indicators that point to the inability of leaders to bring about constructive change.” So the debate continues regarding the “best way theory” and various “contingency” theories. There is also presently a global leadership (GLOBE) project in progress since 1993. It involves a sampling of over 15,000 leaders from 779 organizations in 62 various cultures from around the globe. It enlists the help of 170 co-investigators to help in the research. The goal of the project is to find out what really makes for effective leadership.http://mgmt3.ucalgary.ca/web/globe.nsf/pages/publications
It is for these reasons that Bolman and Deal offer yet a different approach to leadership they call reframing leadership. They offer four images of leadership that include structural, human resource, political and symbolic viewpoints. Each of these images potentially extend effective or ineffective leadership styles! They believe that “each of the frames offers a distinctive image of the leadership process. Depending on leader and circumstance, each can lead to compelling and constructive leadership, but none is right for all times and seasons.”
So what is the conclusion? Is there a universal or one best way approach to leadership? Or is the best approach contingent upon the present situation? I am afraid that like most areas of leadership research, this subject will be open to debate and confusion for some time to come. This is just one example of why many people find the subject of leadership a complex and perplexing study. Sometimes it is hard to get most researchers to agree to a definition of what “leadership” actually is! But we should not allow the confusion and inconclusive research to frustrate us in our attempt to practice it in our daily lives.
Regarding the “one best way” or universal theory verses the contingency theories; we need to understand a basic truth. Yes, leadership does require different approaches and methods for different situations. We must resist the temptation to view leadership in a narrow and oversimplified way. Allow me to provide some examples. A leader may need to use a different set of skills to motivate individuals who have “tenure” or are protected by a union in contrast to temporary or part time employees. Often leaders may use different traits when working in the private sector when compared to the public sector. The leadership skills needed to motivate followers who are unskilled and alienated are different than for a group who are highly skilled and deeply motivated. Because of cultural differences, the role of police chief may require different leadership skills in the United States than in China. Exhibiting leadership to a group of executives is often different than leading the mailroom staff. Recently I had a conversation with a prominent social advocate and political leader in the state of New Jersey. She told me one of the most difficult tasks she has ever encountered was to attempt to build a consensus among a room full of other influential leaders and executives. This situation called upon her to use a unique set of leadership skills since they all wanted to be the most influential and to lead!
However, situational leadership has too often been used as an excuse for situation ethics. Some high-powered managers who have been given appropriate nicknames such as “chainsaw” or “the hatchet” have used the premise of situational leadership or contingency theory as an excuse for instant disposal of workers due to “losses” or an “economic downturn”. Yes, I realize and accept that there are times when the workforce absolutely must be reduced. Unfortunately the cycle of growth and contraction are part of the economic system we have in the western world. The question is how this worker reduction is accomplished and how these individuals are treated. Many of these workers were highly committed people who did everything that was asked of them! Some have worked for decades under one new CEO after another, who immediately incorporated their own new “priority of the month club”. Many of these people endured years of personal career sacrifice and additional workload only to be disposed of when “chainsaw” decided to let another group of “unessential” personnel go! Perhaps what is most pathetic is what occurs when the myopic corporate board finally decides its time to let “chainsaw” go because he or she has devastated the once proud organization and its culture. It is usually done with a million-dollar “severance agreement” and a plaque for appreciation of “dedicated” service.
Does the “one best way” or universal approach have any application? It absolutely does and this question brings us to an important subject regarding truly effective leadership. Researcher Gary Yukl makes the following comment about the “one best way” or universal model created by Blake and Mouton. He states, “The universal feature of their theory is the value orientation used by a high-high manager to select appropriate behavior, not a particular pattern of high-high behavior that is applied automatically in all situations.” Yukl is correctly stating here that he believes the universal aspect of Blake and Moulton’s theory relates to the values behavior of the leader and not necessarily to the skills or traits a leader may use. There is always a best way to treat people under any circumstance. That is with respect, fairness and dignity.
For example, even if you must reprimand or correct an indignant worker you can do it privately and respectfully. There is always a “best way” to handle a coworker if they are being “let go” due to poor economic circumstances or even incompetence. That is with compassion and a sincere interest in their future. Even if you must change an existing culture or ask others to sacrifice important gains, you can do it with a deep sense of appreciation for their past efforts and commitment to the organization. In the same vein, the “best way” is to always encourage and motivate others from the heart whether they are able, unable, willing or unwilling to do a task! The same thing applies to learning. The best way for a leader to encourage a “learning organization” is to promote the value of knowledge and reward learning in any situation or environment. Yes, some leadership behaviors are universal because they are built upon an ethical foundation of respect and high regard for people! Why are these values universal? Because smart leaders know that people are their greatest natural resource and people treated with dignity, care and genuine concern are the most productive. People who are properly motivated, encouraged, trained and appreciated will far out perform others who are disrespected, discouraged, neglected or abused. In the 21st century, this is the competitive edge.
In conclusion, the “best way” or universal aspect of leadership theory is valid in regards to right values and ethics. People should never be viewed as disposable or unimportant. An effective leader must treat all employees or followers with the heartfelt values reflected in the “golden rule”, including respect, dignity and a genuine concern for the individual. This requires an investment in time and resources, even if they are limited. But this is an investment in your most powerful asset…your people! Do it right and it pays large dividends by engendering a healthy culture, increased productivity and higher levels of commitment.
Conversely, leadership does require different approaches, methods, skills and tasks for different situations. We must resist the temptation to view leadership in a narrow and oversimplified way. Yes, these approaches, skills and tasks are indeed contingent upon the present situation the leader experiences. But, understanding this legitimate need for situational leadership should never be used as a motive or excuse to mistreat or casually discard other people. Today organizations must exist to serve their stakeholders, and that not only includes their customers, but also their employees. Any organization today that doesn’t get this essential point may ultimately have their product or service displayed in the Smithsonian Institute…right next to buggy whip manufacturers!
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About the author:
Greg has over 20 years of sales and marketing experience within the electrical distribution industry. Some of his positions have included being a National Sales Manager, National Marketing Manager and for the past 9 years that of Regional Sales Manager. He also has extensive experience in public speaking and has written articles for various publications. In August of 2000, Greg completed his studies for a Master of Arts degree in Leadership from Bellevue University. He is the founder of weLEAD Incorporated.
Blake, R. and Mouton, J.S., (1969) Building a Dynamic Corporation Through Grid Organizational Development.
Reading: Mass., Addison-Wesley
Blake, R and Mouton, J.S, (1985) Managerial Grid III. Houston, Tx., Gulf
Bolman, L. and Deal, T., (1977) Reframing Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers
Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K.H., (1977) The Management of Organizational Behavior (3rd ed.), Upper Saddle River:
N.J., Prentice Hall
O’Toole, J. (1995) Leading Change – Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and the Tyranny of Custom
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers
Yukl, G. (1998) Leadership in Organizations (4th ed.), Upper Saddle River: N.J., Prentice Hall
One Leaders Perspective If you study the subject of leadership at one of our fine educational institutions or read many books on the subject of leadership, you will eventually come across the term “contingency theory” or situational leadershipArticles
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