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EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP: Now and for the Future

February 23, 2015 - In Articles, Featured, Leadership and Management articles - No comments yet

In July 2014 the Commission on the Future of Management and Leadership reported on its work about the current state of UK management and leadership and its recommendations for the future.  Founded by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Management and the Chartered Management Institute, the Commission described a variety of challenges (and opportunities) facing UK organisations with respect to leadership development, management effectiveness, the engagement of people and productivity.

From the analysis of the information provided to the Commission, ten ‘characteristics of a highly effective 21st century leader and manager’ were identified:

On the face of it, these seem important characteristics for all levels of manager.  On further reflection, they raise questions as to what they really mean, such as what ‘sense of purpose’ or specifically what ‘strong values’.  Also, how characteristics shape action depends on the views and attitudes that managers may have.

If a manager shared the assumptions of Douglas McGregor’s Theory X, that the average person dislikes work, avoids responsibility and has to be directed/controlled to get them to put in the requisite effort, then the actions that the 10 characteristics would drive will be very different from those delivered by a manager who adopts the assumptions of McGregor’s Theory Y.  Theory Y’s assumptions, among others, are that people like work for the sense of achievement and satisfaction that work can provide, and that people will exert self-direction and put in effort to achieve objectives to which they are committed.

Effectiveness depends on many things, sometimes things outside the leader’s control, like luck.  With this in mind, we focus here on three vital aspects of leadership: self-confidence, power and vision.

Self-confidence.  This is very important and needs to be a profound characteristic.  As Jack Welch said, a person ‘must be comfortable in their own skin’.  Self-confidence needs to include self-awareness in that the leader is aware of their impact on others.  The awareness of how one affects others can be developed by a willingness to receive feedback from colleagues at all levels in the organisation.  This requires sufficient self-confidence on behalf of the leader to take the risk of opening oneself to potential criticism.  The ‘ability to engage and communicate across all levels’ is a managerial skill which will help garner a wide range of feedback.

Self-confidence needs to be matched by authenticity, being genuine.  People respect openness and honesty and feeling that their leaders and managers are real.  The leader’s self-confidence is tested in building a successful organisation, by helping others do things for themselves.  Self confidence is crucially necessary to use our other selected aspects of leadership effectively; power and vision.

Power.  It is the use of power that markedly differentiates successful leaders from the not successful.  David McClelland identified three needs in relation to motivation: the need to achieve, the need for power and control and the need for friendship.  McClelland’s observations of managers in organisations identified that some managers’ use of power was ineffective.  This was because they used power to gain status and privileges and expected people to respond to their commands.  However, it was found that effective leaders used power to empower others to take responsibility for their own work and make a wider contribution to organisational effectiveness.

Vision.  The leader’s self-confidence and use of power need to be applied to developing the organisation’s purpose/vision.  In developing a clear vision, the leader’s ideas are important, potentially as a starting point for establishing purpose.  But the critical role is to lead and help the top group of executives develop a vision and ensure that everyone contributes to enrich the outcome.  The leader is also generating common ownership by involving the top executives in shaping the vision.

Essentially, the work should create an enduring long term vision for the organisation that will serve as a starting point for strategic planning and enable organisational effectiveness, the motivation, engagement and empowerment of people, unifying effort up and down and across the organisation, challenging the past and stimulating innovation.  The vision must also explain how the organisation will relate to its stakeholders:  employees, customers, suppliers, communities in which it operates and shareholders.

In this act of leadership, the leader uses power to direct the process towards a successful outcome, that of the organisation having an inspiring and enduring vision.  He/she is not using power to impose their personal opinion of exactly what the vision should be; this is the result of the senior executives’ participative work that includes obtaining contributions from their people

The Commission refers to the challenges facing UK management, we suggest they are opportunities, some relatively easily resolved through management education and training.  Leading positions need to be filled by people interested in fulfilling a leadership role as an enabler of exceptional performance.  Power should be used to facilitate the development of an effective organisation and culture.

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