More Thoughts On Leadership

Last time I covered the basics of leadership and its relationship to groups.  I cannot stress strongly enough that leadership does not operate in a vacuum or is separate from group membership.  The question arises as to how leadership is formed in a group.  I say formed because it is a part of human behavioral interactions.  A marriage is a group of two individuals who have formed a group for several purposes.  Usually both marriage partners share similar values and goals although we know from the divorce records that sometimes these values and goals that were stated may differ significantly form those that are more privately held.  Be that as it may, we do know that one individual will be the less influential than the other.  In effect, one individual will take a more assertive position and this is one of leadership.  We may like to believe in equality between the man and the woman but in practice one of them takes the stronger role in the making of decisions.

But not all groups are dyads and marriages.  The more members a group may have the more there is a spread of influence among its members.  The leader will exert more influence than the others but it may hardly be a dominate influence.  There are those groups where one individual tends to dominate the rest of the group and this may be done through various forms of intimidation, manipulation, and other behaviors that are not conducive to good group leadership.  The effectiveness of individual members can deteriorate due to these behaviors.  Another condition is that there may be two or three members of the group that vie for leadership and thus a power struggle ensues.  This power struggle usually ends when one of the contenders wins enough support and the others are dealt with in any one of a number of ways.  The losers may be eliminated from the group or moved to another group.  What remains is the consolidation of power by the winning leader. On the other hand, a leader may face a challenge from within the group and this requires successful handling on his part.  This may mean giving the challenger special projects so that he can show his leadership skills.  Or it may mean making the challenger a leadership partner, sharing some of the leaders power in return for the challengers support.  This second type of challenge can often result is a successful combination of leadership skills that each partner brings to the group and to the role of leader.  You might call this the strong second in command leadership team.

Then we have that hideous term, leadership vision.  People, there is no such thing.  Visions do not accomplish goals, people do.  I take you back to the days of AT&T when it faced bankruptcy and break-up.  Bell had run the company into the ground because he was not a particularly good manager.  Theodore Vail had been part of Bells early team in research and had left the company by the time Bell began selling his ideas to the public.  But Bell called Vail back in as the general manager and thought Vail could do something to save the situation.  Vail called a meeting of the various top managers and board members.  About half wanted to liquidate the company, the other half sell it to the federal government.  Vail asked two relatively simple questions of this group of businessmen.  The first: “What is our product?”  Many thought it was selling telephone equipment.  Vail’s answer was that AT&T was in the business to sell service.  That is telephone service to the public and the governments.  His second question was:”Who are our customers?”  The various answers were muddled.  Again, Vail said that our customers are the public who buy our service and the various state public utility commissions who regulate our business.  That is not some mystical vision and does not require paragraphs of mission statements.  I remember when I was working at Pacific Telephone and our top management was spouting visions and mission statements.  In all its absurdity, We strive to be the best telephone company” is literally a statement of stupidity.  At that time there was limited cellular telephone service, land line was the business.  And since Pacific Telephone was a regulated monopoly, it was required to give service 99.999 percent of the time.  It is what we used to refer to five nines reliability.  Now tell me, how can you do any better job than that?  Well, what about delighting the customer?  Make sure that his service is available 99.999 percent of the time and that when he calls the company during business hours he gets through to a real person who can do something like solve his problem.  Leadership is not about visions and mission statements, it never was.  Like the old Goodyear Tire commercial, performance is where the rubber meets the road.  So if your CEO doesn’t know what his product is and who his customers are then maybe he is not equipped with the knowledge to lead anyone anywhere.

So this principle reaches down to every level of the organization.  The organization is full of groups and full of group leaders.  I worked craft for many years at Pacific Bell as a cable splicer.  When I did construction work my goals were those of my supervisor.  I was to do the construction work safely, with great quality, and on time.  Actually I was urged to give my supervisor that ten percent savings in labor.  That is, if a job was rated at ten work units, I gave him ten extra units each week.  That kept him happy and off my back.  He in turn was able to help his manager get that bonus and keep that man out of our hair.  My reward was the screw-off time I wanted for myself.  I was going to school at night and I needed time to read and do homework.  If I could work fasted and smarter I got what I wanted, my boss got what he wanted, and his boss got what he wanted.  There was no vision and mission statement.  My boss and his boss were my customers and my product were the extra work units I had to give.  The quality of my work contributed to the five nines reliability on the system.  Leadership is knowing what you want, what everyone else wants, and then figuring out a way in which it all gets accomplished.  This is the practical side of leadership.  In turn, my boss trained me or had me trained by others he could trust.  He saw to my needs on the job.  He granted favors when I needed them because favors were returned.  You see, every member of any group has the potential to be his own leader.  My boss showed me how to do it.  I also learned that not everyone wanted to be their own leader.  A new man comes on the crew, they have to be socialized by both the supervisor and the crew members.  We have to influence your values and your goals to align to some degree with those of the group.

Leadership is a symbiotic relationship.  Ideally, the leader feeds off his group and its members feed off him.  A good leader is a catalyst, he causes good productive reactions among his group members.  It’s the members who do the work, he directs their efforts.  He causes then to be trained and gives them the tools needed.  And leadership is always a two way street for his group must be able to express themselve to him as well as to each other.  Tell me why something can’t be dome and I’ll help you to find a way to do it.  That is effective listening and problem solving.  Even a management consultant can be a leader.  Peter Drucker is perhaps the best management consultant to ever walk this earth.  But he really didn’t solve problems.  His manner was to sit and ask question in the socratic manner.  Eventually the manager who had consulted with him would arrive at the correct answer.  Yes, there are time when a leader, usually in times of urgency or emergency will need to directly solve the problem.  But the usual manner is to provide a means, a method in which those who are responsible for the work can solve the problems that face their efforts.  Managers and leaders are not the same animal.  Yes, there is an art to leadership and one size does not fit all.  But is all gets down to group interactions among the members.

Human behavior is largely habitual.  Don’t believe it?  How do you start your morning?  How do you choose the close, shave, shower, eat breakfast, if any, and so forth.  How do you drive your car to work, how do you react to heavy traffic and accidents that block your progress?  Do you take the same route to work every day?  The list of questions continues and you should, by now, understand that you have created a number of daily habits, behaviors that seldom deviate.  Members of a group form habits as do their leaders.  Sometimes these habits are less than productive.  If you as the leader perceive unproductive habits, what do you do?  Did you know that extinguishing a habit or habitual response, is almost impossible?  One of the “tricks’ to stop smoking was to chew gum.  The reason is deceptively simple.  Both smoking and chewing gum are oral activities.  Replace one with the other and the former habit is displaced while the latter one is re-enforced.  We don’t stop bad habits, we substitute good for bad.  How many leadership consultants will ever tell you that bit of information?

Well, I could go on but I think it is time to stop and let the lessons sink in.  Most leadership studies are founded on faulty assumptions.  Ignorance of basic human behavior prevails and then we get a lot of gloss and idiocy.  For any of those who may read my posts I hope you have gotten some bit of information and enlightenment.

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