From our observation leadership and management development seems to be trending so far in 2016. We hear of a number of inquiries regarding the topic and we make our best guesses as far as what might be driving this need. We can look at the economy, the price of oil, geopolitical conflicts, tightening budgets, lack of skills on the part of new entrants into the business world and the list goes on.
It probably boils down to making the most out of our human resources and further developing individual capabilities in harnessing the collective engagement of a workforce in producing needed results.
Over the last 150 years or longer we examine, analyze, discuss and describe leadership in many ways in terms of personality traits, skills, effects on others, or some combination of these. This reminds me of a presentation I did for an American Society for Training and Development (ASTD now ATD) chapter on leadership development a few years ago. The topic was Leadership: From Neanderthal to Dilbert: Not Much Change in 50,000 Years. I may reprise and update that presentation on LinkedIn as it has many good learning points.
As an aside, let us take a fun revisit to the “Great Man Theory” of leadership. As we assess personality traits and attributes, we always arrive at the question of, “Are great leaders born or made?” Let us take a close look at similarities between great leaders by looking at three of them.
Q: What do Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great and Attila the Hun all have in common?
A: The only three common leadership traits or attributes these three “great leaders” have in common are:
- All male
- All short (Genghis Khan was 5’8”, Alexander the Great was 5’7”(best guess) and Attila the Hun (Priscus, who visited Attila’s camp in 448 AD, described him as being “short and squat with a large head”)
- All left-handed
(Additionally, the one other thing they had in common was that that all died of mysterious causes (could have been sexually transmitted diseases)
Most of this is true and confirmed by “extensive” research but possibly embellished a bit. <wink>
What does this tell us? It tells us that the nature vs. nurture argument holds no water. Leaders are not born; they are made (developed). The important thing is that we can develop leadership at all levels of the organization from the leader of a small work unit or a cross-functional team to the executive suite and everything in between.
What is Leadership?
We usually look at mainstream business literature to find answers. For example a more scholarly view might be, Decades of academic analysis have given us more than 850 definitions of leadership. Literally thousands of empirical investigations of leaders have been conducted in the last seventy-five years alone, but no clear and unequivocal understanding exists as to what distinguishes leaders from non-leaders, and perhaps more important, what distinguishes effective leaders from ineffective leaders. (Bennis and Nanus, Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, 1985)
I prefer going to more non-conventional sources for gaining my insights into leadership like:
“Leadership is an intangible quality with no clear definition. That’s probably a good thing, because if the people being led knew the definition, they would hunt down their leaders and kill them.” The Dilbert Principle, 1996
The whole concept of leadership involves getting people to do things they don’t want to do. The trick is to convince employees that they will feel good if they do these things—not in the sense of having adequate food and shelter, but in the sense that their hearts and souls will be nourished. Fortunately, their egos are so beaten down that they’re like goats trying to munch tin cans—willing to digest any ridiculous thing you feed them. Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook, 1996
In looking in my library I have volumes of books from the usual suspects of Bennis, Schein, Covey, Burke, Block and an abundance of Kotter books encompassing leadership and change totaling some 30 – 40 books on leadership and management from this variety of authors. Digging more deeply I find other book titles describing leadership as enlightened, empowered, principle-centered even “white water” leadership.
TheVectorView on Leadership
At Vector Group, we take a functional approach to this analysis and description. Instead of asking what good leaders are like, a functional approach asks what they accomplish and how? This has two significant benefits:
- Functional leadership is results-oriented. It begins by looking at the results expected or desired of good leaders, rather than by looking at the people themselves, or the subject matter. It is not much use getting high marks for having leadership characteristics if no one follows.
- Functional leadership provides a useful framework for understanding disparate, or apparently contradictory, phenomena. For example, we accept Winston Churchill and Mohandas Gandhi as acknowledged leaders with very different traits and behaviors. We facilitate making sense of the wide differences among leaders if we examine actions in light of the purposes or functions they serve. Examining complex performances this way makes it clear that, with differing populations, environments, and conditions, very different behaviors may accomplish the same purpose.
FUNCTIONS OF LEADERSHIPThere are three basic needs common to such diverse groups as a mob storming the Bastille, a primitive tribe of hunter-gatherers, a basketball team, or the executive committee of a corporation. The first need is for a common direction: for example, “free the prisoners,” “bring in the harvest,” “make the goal.” The second need is for motivation — for a reason to work together toward that direction. Without that motivation, individuals may fall away from the group, or spend much of their time meeting their own needs, at the expense of the group’s needs. The executive committee will be ineffective if its members are concerned solely with their own personal advancement; the tribe of hunter-gatherers may starve if individuals eat all the berries they find without saving or sharing. The third need is for some kind of guidance; both the team and individuals within it need to know whether or not they are on track, and what they can do about it. The mob storming the Bastille will be helped by knowing where the gates are unguarded; the basketball player will be helped by advice on how to get open.When one person provides for most of these needs, that person is usually called the leader. Thus, the fundamental functions of leadership, and the associated results are:Direction: People know where they’re going: they can describe their mission and goals; they spend most of their time on tasks and behavior directly related to achieving those goals.Motivation: People see reasons for going there: they find the work and its goals rewarding; they generally prefer team- and goal- oriented behavior (at least in the work setting) preferable to non-goal oriented behavior.Guidance: People know how they’re doing and what to change: they get information about progress and how to improve; they can act on that information.Though this description of leadership differs from that found in much literature on the subject, it is not incompatible with it. The primary difference lies in the use of functions or purposes to drive the description. Bennis and Nanus (1985) describe leadership in terms of four “strategies,” five key leadership skills, and their effect on followers (empowerment) but most, if not all, of the content of that description can be encompassed within the functions above.The functional view assumes that we define leadership by the relationship between the leader and a group including both the leader’s behavior and its effect on the group. Leadership is not inherent in the individual; it is neither a set of traits, nor something people are born with. Rather, it is something one provides to a group to meet certain needs. One cannot be a leader without a group that wants and will use what a leader can provide.
LEADERSHIP vs MANAGEMENT: IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?There are two generic strategies the leader can take to improve the performance of individuals or a group:
- Take what exists and make it work to its fullest capacity
- Change what exists to make it work better
The first is the “master mechanic” approach. Mechanics do not redesign a car; they tune it, clean it, and supply it with the best parts and fuel to make it work to its fullest potential. The second is the “master inventor’s approach. Inventors are more likely to dispense with the existing order and design something new. The second approach is clearly the riskier, but is sometimes well worth the risk.Both strategies are legitimate, depending on circumstances; and they are not incompatible. For example, in the process of making something work better, people often find ways to change it; and in the process of trying to redesign something, people may find a way to make the original item work better. A leader may operate in either or both of these modes.We prefer to avoid a leader-manager distinction for two reasons. First, it suggests that leadership consists primarily in changing what exists, which limits the applicability of the concept. Second, the sharp contrast between “leaders” and “managers” may suggest that one cannot be both, and often leads people to consider one better than the other. Some authors take the leader-manager separation to an extreme that extols the virtues of leaders and leadership behavior in part by denigrating managers and management behavior.A functional approach to leadership begins with the assumption that, given the right circumstances and support, people can often learn the behavior of either leadership, or management, or both. To do otherwise is to place unnecessary, and usually inappropriate, limits on people and their capacity to perform. Kotter (1990) takes a similar approach to the leader-manager distinction.When we look at the implications of the transformational and transactional approaches for the functions and behavior of leadership, we see that they do not affect the need to perform the functions of direction, motivation, and guidance. The difference lies primarily in the form of behavior used to accomplish each function.The following table provides examples of how the behavior of a leader would be different when operating in the transformational or transactional mode.
|Direction||Goals and Objectives
|Vision and Values|
|Motivation||Recognition and Rewards
A Shameful Commercial Plug—Vector Group Capabilities around Leadership Development
Vector Group’s Functional Leadership model focuses on the behaviors of an organization’s leaders – what they do and what their accomplishments are rather than on leadership characteristics. We help organizations establish the key functions of leadership:
Providing Direction Where is the company going? What are its mission, vision, strategy and values?
Providing Motivation Why should we go there? What are the business reasons? What are the benefits?
Providing Guidance How do we get there? What is the plan, and what behaviors are required to get us from where we are to where we want to be?
Vector Group works with organizations to determine leadership priorities and practices. We build and implement a customized Leadership Development model and programs that establish consistent leadership at all levels of our client organizations.
We developed effective, high-impact leadership programs for British Airways, General Motors and Alliant TechSystems among others.
Executive Development is not optional in today’s business environment; it is mandatory. Vector Group’s Executive Development Model is a customized system of selection, recruitment, training, development and on–going executive feedback and coaching.
Among the key components of our system:
- Development of key competencies, practices and behaviors
- Just–in-time training
- Action learning–based development
- Individual/team focus on priority business issues
- Customized 360° feedback on leadership and management practices
- Executive coaching
Next blog: TBA
Welcome back to The Vector View. We encourage your comments and questions.
©Vector Group, Inc., 2016
Gary W. Craig
Vector Group, Inc.
Gary W. Craig is the Managing Partner and COO for the Americas and Asia at Vector Group, Inc. You may reach him at [email protected]. Vector Group is a global consulting firm specializing in systematic organizational diagnosis and interventions to ensure that corporate strategy, culture, and infrastructure are aligned to achieve breakthrough success. Please visit our website at http://www.vectorgroupinc.com or call us at (800) 566-0877.