Real Leadership
eBook - ePub

Real Leadership

Helping People and Organizations Face Their Toughest Challenges

Dean WIlliams

  1. 270 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (adapté aux mobiles)
  4. Disponible sur iOS et Android
eBook - ePub

Real Leadership

Helping People and Organizations Face Their Toughest Challenges

Dean WIlliams

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Too many organizations today play follow the leader: the commander articulates a "vision" and people uncritically go along with it. But this style of leadership is ultimately ineffective and even dangerous. It hampers people's ability to anticipate and react to changing circumstances. And if the leader's vision is flawed, the entire organization will suffer. In Real Leadership, Dean Williams argues that the true task of the leader is to get people to face the reality of any situation themselves and develop strategies to deal with problems or take advantage of opportunities. Leaders who are responsible with their power and authority don't dictate; they help people determine what shifts in their values, habits, practices and priorities will be needed to accommodate changing conditions and new demands. Williams details how to apply this new approach to six different challenges that every organization faces. Throughout, he uses examples from his own experiences--working with organizations as diverse as the government of Singapore, Aetna Life and Casualty, and the nomadic Penan tribe in Borneo--as well as historical examples and the insights gleaned from his many interviews with presidents, prime ministers, and business leaders to demonstrate the practical application of real leadership in the real world. At a time when so many "visionary" leaders have led their organizations to disaster, Real Leadership offers a needed, proven alternative.

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Real Leadership
The Engine of Progress


Odin, Enron, and the Apes

Distinguishing Real Leadership from Counterfeit Leadership

I sat with the prime minister of East Timor to discuss his options. Five days earlier, a mob of angry protestors burned his home down and wreaked havoc by destroying government buildings, businesses, and houses. They were angry because change wasn’t happening fast enough. During the melee, poorly trained police fired on the protestors, killing one young man and wounding others. The prime minister had been in his job for less than a year. Furthermore, he was East Timor’s first local leader, as the country had been under colonial rule for the previous four hundred years, by Portugal and then Indonesia. Under the Indonesians, a tenth of the population was killed. The prime minister had a seemingly impossible task: to create an honest and effective government and to build a nation from the ashes (not to mention his own home, which itself was also in ashes). The country was a powder keg, ready to explode. He knew he had to be exceptionally astute and responsible in how he used his power in this demanding and precarious predicament. All eyes were on him to see what he would do.
Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri faced, at a more extreme level, the leadership challenge many men and women confront every day: attempting to employ power to add or protect value and ensure that their organization, community, or nation not only can survive but is in a position to thrive. The prime minister had to consider a number of serious questions, such as, What challenge do the people really face? What strategies will give the people their best chance of success? What values should be promoted at this time? How will my behavior impact the people’s perception of those values? In essence, he was considering, “Given this problem, what would real leadership look like?”
Ultimately, Alkatiri handled the crisis well. He chose not to lash out, take revenge, or engage in wasteful politics. He realized that the social contract between the state and the people was fragile and would take time to strengthen—after all, this was a country that had been denied self-rule for centuries. He stood before the people and reiterated his commitment to democratic practices, reminded them of what was at stake, and personally sought out marginalized and discontented factions to assure them that they would be listened to and included in the nation-building process. These choices ensured that East Timor would not descend into civil war and would continue to develop the capacity for democratic self-governance.4

The Features of Real Leadership

The question “What is real leadership—the kind of leadership that keeps our world from falling apart and improves the human condition?” is one that philosophers, politicians, poets, and prophets have wrestled with since the beginning of time. Today, depending on whom you ask, you will probably get a different answer. When I asked the chairman of a Fortune 500 company, he explained that real leadership was about developing a unique corporate strategy and creating a sophisticated incentive system to entice managers and staff to focus on financial goals. Mullah Omar, the former head of the Taliban in Afghanistan, understood real leadership to be the implementation and enforcement of his interpretation of the Koran. A general in the U.S. Army recently told me that real leadership was manifest in the “art of motivation” to get soldiers to do what you want them to do. A former prime minister explained that for him real leadership was “all about persuasion” to ensure that the people would buy into his government’s agenda. The head of a church community described real leadership as simply “being an example.” A politician explained that, for him, real leadership was about “being committed to something,” and “when you’re out in front and you look behind you and your people are still with you, you’re probably a real leader.”
These notions are different variants on the same theme—“showing the way” and “getting people to follow.” These notions of leadership prevail in the modern marketplace. Basically, the goal is to get the people to do what you want them to do. To show the way and get people to follow, this model suggests that leaders must craft a vision, motivate people through persuasive communication, be an example, and employ a system of punishments and incentives to sustain action.5
This perspective is insufficient for dealing with the complexity of the challenges institutions and communities face in the age of globalization. What if the leader’s direction is wrong? What if the vision is the product of delusional thinking? What if the leader seeks to manipulate the people for his own nefarious purposes? What if the people become unhealthily dependent on the leader and fail to develop their own capabilities? What if the people yearn for easy answers and painless solutions, and reward charismatic, answer-giving demagogues with power? Given these possibilities, I believe that we need a new notion of what it means to be a real and responsible leader—one that does not emphasize the dynamic of leader-follower and goal but the dynamic of leadership-group and reality.

Real Leadership Gets People to Face Reality

“Showing the way” and generating “masses of followers” might be the primary measure of success for an authority figure or politician who seeks to gain power and get their way, but it should not be the measure of success in the realm of real leadership. Leadership that targets authentic progress must gauge success by the degree to which people are engaging the real problem versus symptoms, decoy concerns, or false tasks. That is, are the people facing reality or avoiding reality? Answers to tough problems are rarely obvious, and real solutions are elusive precisely because they require due regard for the ingrained values and habits of the group, which members of the group protect with daily striving and sacrifice.
Therefore, real leadership demands that the people make adjustments in their values, thinking, and priorities to deal with threats, accommodate new realities, and take advantage of emerging opportunities. At its essence, real leadership orchestrates social learning in regard to complex problems and demanding challenges. People must learn why they are in a particular condition in order to invent pathways forward that produce genuine progress, as opposed to hollow and temporary gains. If the people refuse to face hard truths, are weak at learning, or learn the wrong things, then their problem-solving capacity will suffer, and their group or enterprise may eventually wither and die.
When Carlos Ghosn became president of Nissan Motor Corporation in 1999, he had to get management and employees to face some hard truths—the company was deteriorating rapidly, and if it was to be turned around, the Japanese business practices that had existed in the company for generations would have to be revolutionized. This was a message that the traditionalists did not like to hear. It meant that there would be plant closures and massive layoffs, and the dismantling of the Nissan keiretsu— the network of suppliers and affiliated companies that underlies Japan’s blue chip corporations.61
One reason the company was close to bankruptcy was due to the negligent behavior of management. They were avoiding reality in regard to the condition of the company and the nature of the competitive threats. Ghosn spent time wandering the halls, showrooms, and factory floors of Nissan, questioning and listening. He wrote of his discovery:
To tell the truth, I never met anyone in Nissan who could give me an exhaustive analysis of what had happened to it. I never went to a single place where one could speak about the company articulately. No one was able to offer me a summary of the problems listed in order of importance. Management was in complete and obvious chaos. This was, I believed, the primary cause of Nissan’s difficulties.2
In putting reality in front of people, Ghosn faced opposition or criticism from many quarters—employees, suppliers, unions, even Japanese business associations. Few people wanted to acknowledge that the condition of Nissan was so bad, and few people were willing to accept the “medicine” that Ghosn was offering. Besides, the tradition had always been that if a company was in trouble, the government would bail it out. Given that Japan was in the midst of financial crisis, that option was impossible. The problem could not be resolved through a technical fix such as simply throwing money at it. It would require superior leadership. Remarkably, even though he was a foreigner (or perhaps because he was a foreigner), Ghosn was able to challenge the system and turn it around. He succeeded in getting people to face reality and make the necessary sacrifices and take the essential steps to transform Nissan from a sick and ailing entity with a $5.6 billion loss in 2000 to the most profitable large automotive manufacturer in the world by 2004.

Real Leadership Engages the Group to Do Adaptive Work

Through the exercise of real leadership, the conditions are created to give the people (or the organization) their best shot at success in the context of the particular challenge that the group faces. Success, however, should not be narrowly defined. It is not simply achieving a goal, although it certainly includes achieving goals. Fundamentally, it is about ensuring that whatever gets generated is inclusive, not exclusive; is moral, not immoral; is constructive, not destructive; is substantive, not delusional.7
We need to think of real leadership as a normative activity that adds real value to a group (in contrast to hollow or superficial gains that cannot be sustained). When I use the term group, I mean a social system of some sort, such as a company, school, community, or nation. By value, I mean the knowledge, relationships, capacity, and goods that produce sustained well-being, authentic satisfaction, and higher levels of performance in the group. Accordingly, real leadership must deal with the moral and ethical components of human affairs. Without concern for the moral and ethical elements of problem solving and collective effort, group value could be lost overnight.
To ensure that the people have their best shot at success and add value to their enterprise, the leader must get the people to address their adaptive challenges. An adaptive challenge is a problem that does not subside even when management applies the best-known methods and procedures to solve the problem. Generally, the resolution of an adaptive challenge requires a shift in values and mind-sets. For example, at least two competing values might shift to resolve a budget crisis in a company. On the one hand, the problem could be resolved if the employees shifted their values to take less pay and still be satisfied. On the other hand, the problem might be resolved if management shifted the values and mindsets in the organization to direct the business to new profitable markets, perhaps global markets.3
The work the people must do to progress in the face of an adaptive challenge is simply called adaptive work. Adaptive work is the effort that produces the organizational or systemic learning required to tackle tough problems. These problems often require an evolution of values, the development of new practices, and the revision of priorities. Leadership for adaptive work requires getting the various factions of the system addressing the conflicts in their values and priorities and refashioning those values and priorities to deal with the threat or take advantage of the opportunity.

Real Leadership Involves the Pursuit of Insight and Wisdom

Real leadership is not easy. It requires considerable wisdom to be a real leader on multiple adaptive challenges and succeed. The work of real leadership is often to defend or promote particular values and practices, while discouraging or phasing out other values and practices that impede progress, even though some people hold dearly to the impeding values and practices. Therefore, whoever exercises real leadership must discern which values to promote and protect, and which values need to be challenged or changed. It takes a degree of wisdom, not simply experience or intelligence, to know what to promote and how to promote it so a group can do the adaptive work.8
Unfortunately, outside the realms of religion and folklore, the concept of wisdom seems to be on the decline. We talk easily about intelligence, information, and knowledge, but wisdom seems to be a quaint, antiquated, outdated notion. We may think of Maimonides, Ben Franklin, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, or Tolkien’s Gandalf as wise, but when was the last time you heard anyone say they admired a corporate CEO, a manager, or a politician because of her or his wisdom? Wisdom remains outside the standard requirements for CEOs, managers, and politicians. Such people might be praised as smart, capable, or savvy—but wise, rarely.
As metaphor for the quest for insight and wisdom in regard to how to use one’s power in a responsible manner to help organizations and communities prosper, I use the Norse god Odin. The mythological Odin was deeply concerned with the issue of real and responsible leadership. Odin was god of the gods—the chairman of the board—a powerful authority figure who could use his power to create or destroy.4 He was also known as the god of magic, poetry, wisdom, and battle. You have heard indirectly of Odin through the days of the week. Wednesday is named after Odin (Wodin’s day). But what makes Odin an especially compelling and relevant mythological figure is that unlike many other deities, Odin was not omniscient or omnipotent. He was a flawed god. He knew his knowledge was incomplete, and therefore he actively sought to learn more about the world so that he could do a better job of being head god. Indeed, he was so hungry for knowledge that he put himself through terrible ordeals, including willingly sacrificing his eye, to acquire sufficient wisdom to lead.
Metaphorically, Odin represents all authority figures—bosses, managers, politicians, and CEOs. He is a powerful god, yet he never sees himself as having all the answers. In spite of his sincere quest for wisdom, there are times when his personal hungers and foibles lead him to commit many errors and to engage in wasteful activities that have more to do with self-interest and personal gain than with the real work of progress. His power is both a burden and a boon—and his challenge is to learn how to use it in a responsible and effective manner.
Odin’s quest for insight led him to the World Tree (Yggdrasil), the center of creation. The World Tree represented the physical and moral laws of the world.5 Odin was informed that in order to gain enough wisdom to actually help people, he would have to hang on the World Tree for nine days and nights. In the epic twelfth-century collection of poems known as the Elder Edda, Odin recounts his experience:9
I know I hung on the wind-swept tree nine entire nights in all. Wounded by a spear dedicated to Odin, given myself to myself, On the tree of which nobody knows from which root it grows With nothing to eat and nothing to drink I bent my head down and groaning, took the runes up, and fell down thereafter.
 Then I began to thrive and be wise, and grow and prosper.6
Must an aspiring leader go to Odin-like extremes in order to gain enough wisdom to use power responsibly and exercise real leadership? Perhaps not—although I am sure that many people would take great satisfaction in seeing their bosses hung on a tree for nine days of torment in order to be transformed into a wiser, more humane leader. But I suggest that taking responsibility for a group with a serious problematic challenge, be it a school, corporation, or nation, will at times feel like one is hanging alone on the World Tree. The responsibility that comes with the exercise of real leadership can be a heavy burden.
Wisdom, as it pertains to real leadership, does not mean having all the answers. It requires pursuing the truth with fervor and passion, being sensitive to the context in which the problem resides, and holding the question in each context, “What will make our work worthwhile—to our lives and the lives of others?” Even if one is accustomed to top-down management, one needs to understand the relationship between wisdom, power, and real leadership. For example, upon hearing that Dwight D. Eisenhower had been elected president of the United States, Harry S. Truman famously remarked, “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.”7 This is because in complex political and organizational systems where power is diffuse, leaders need considerable wisdom to navigate the terrain o...

Table des matiĂšres

  1. Cover Page
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright Page
  4. Introduction
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. PART I: Real Leadership The Engine of Progress
  7. PART II: The Six Challenges of Real Leadership
  8. PART III: Real Leadership in Action
  9. Notes
  10. Index
  11. About the Author
  12. About Berrett-Koehler Publishers
  13. Be Connected