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Article No.: 09-2

Article Title: It's Time for a New Leadership Paradigm (Part I)

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SPHR, CEQC, and John Kucia, Ed.D.

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The following article is an excerpt from Linda and John’s forthcoming book, Leadership in Balance.  Part I follows, and Part II of this article will continue in March.

We believe it’s time for a new leadership paradigm to support how an organization survives and thrives in a global society.  A “paradigm” is simply a mental map about how to navigate in the world around us.  Just like any map, mental maps can be wrong; they can be outdated.  Navigating the global society of the 21st century will require updated mental maps for the leaders of tomorrow.

In this article we will make the case that eight updated ways of thinking and related core competencies are required to be a Leader in Balance:

  1. Approaches leadership as a relationship.
  2. Understands the leader embodies the brand promise.
  3. Is motivated by a higher purpose; mission drives the numbers.
  4. Understands collaboration must have a business purpose.
  5. Believes in sharing power and spreading leadership authority.
  6. Believes teaching and leadership have a great deal in common.
  7. Has a personal comfort with and values diversity.
  8. Believes that the challenge of leading change is about leadership in balance, not leadership in control.

The first strength that we believe is essential for top leaders is critical analysis.  We can break this competency into two parts:  thinking and analysis.  Thinking involves manipulation of sensations individuals pick up from the outside world, through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin.  These sensations are transmitted by the nerves to the brain, which then translates, decodes, and encodes messages before sending them on throughout the nervous system.  Analysis occurs when perceptions are turned into reactions, based on concepts, ideas, assumptions, suppositions, inferences, hypotheses, and beliefs.

A major component of critical analysis in the workplace is knowledge management, which can be described as knowing how to apply information and concepts to the true problem.  Critical analysis involves knowing what information is important to the organization…..and what is superfluous.  We’ve observed that critical analysis requires focus in the face of information overload.  A critical thinker can select and use the appropriate technology to process information.  Even if incoming data does not affect a critical thinker’s immediate problem or issue, he discerns who within the organization should have the data.  Lastly, a critical thinker uses concepts and ideas she encounters to improve existing organizational processes by continually asking questions such as, “where in our organization can this idea apply to improve results?”

Critical analysis certainly does not have to be cold, emotionless, and dispassionate.  Actually, it can be very liberating to be free of past assumptions and the self-doubt that can result in constantly making poor choices.  Critical thinkers must keep lines of communication open to colleagues at all levels, to keep valuable information flowing, resulting in sound decisions.

Critical analysis affects other leadership behaviors, of course, such as embracing diversity.  A critical thinker is sensitive to stereotypes about people and waits to form an opinion about another’s value to the organization until there is substantive information on which to base that opinion.  A critical thinker attempts to understand others’ perspectives and reasons for engaging in particular behaviors in order to communicate effectively with them, taking them where they are as opposed to where he or she thinks they should be at any point.  A critical thinker works well in a global environment because of a tolerance for ambiguity, or ability to accept multiple interpretations of the same situation.  Finally, critical thinkers are often curious about other people and the world around them, always seeking to understand how systems and processes work and how people work best within those systems and processes.

A leader who is not in balance might engage in critical analysis in a totally negative way; for example, searching for ways to tear down ideas without replacing them with viable options.  When this happens, leaders cannot make a decision or make commitments to people, ideas, or plans.  They fall back on tried and true approaches such as unilateral decision making.  Leaders who operate constantly in the command and control posture might fall into this category.  Leaders who are not in balance tend to accept justifications for decisions and behaviors (of themselves and others) at face value, without taking time to obtain sufficient facts or engage in intentional reflection, learning and growth.

A second critical competency for the Leader in Balance is reflection.  Reflection is looking back at events that have already occurred.  Intentional reflection is setting time aside to positively and thoughtfully take a look back, even when that reflection is not flattering.  Intentional reflection is reviewing the past in order to make better decisions in the future.

We suggest using reflection to look forward as well as backward.  Whenever a crisis occurs, leaders are forced to decide the best course of action and act quickly (and sometimes unilaterally).  We believe that a Leader in Balance will pause before acting to draw on both instinct and experience to respond appropriately.  Peter Chung, President and CEO of the Eminata Group, an education-based company headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, said in a 2008 article, “You have to search your soul and discover why you want to go in that direction.” (Secrets of Success, Kevin Miller, “Why Do You Want to be Successful?”) After a crisis has passed, contemplative leaders reflect on important lessons they’ve learned during the difficult time just past.  They consider changes their organization can make to minimize the chance of reoccurrence of the same or a similar crisis.  Problems are viewed as learning opportunities for people throughout the organization.

One of the leaders we interviewed for our book provides an excellent example of a person who is intentionally reflective and self aware:  Bob McDonald, Chief Operating Officer of Procter & Gamble.  He said:

“I think the best leaders are highly self-aware and that, to me, is kind of like a common denominator.  Those leaders who struggle lack self-awareness.  Being reflective on one’s self is all about character.  Being reflective is not weak; it’s strong.  You have to be much more deliberate as a leader, much more thoughtful, and much more reflective to get the most out of those personal interactions that you have with others.”

A third critical competency for a Leader in Balance is strategic perspective.  This perspective is inclusive of shareholders, consumers, the community, and employees.  Jack Kraeutler, COO and President of Meridian Diagnostics, explains strategic perspective this way: “I am an observer and a listener.  I do what makes sense to the consumer.”

Leaders at the top level are often faced with divergent stakeholder agendas.  How should a leader in balance respond?  The direction, we believe, should flow from the organization’s Mission Statement, Core Values, and business imperatives.  A Leader in Balance is clear on how his or her personal values align with those of the organization.  We believe that the ability to establish and articulate core values is the fourth core competency.

In her research for a recent book on generational differences in the workplace, (Bridging the Generation Gap, 2007) Linda interviewed 500 people in each of the two youngest workplace generations, Generation X and Generation Y.  She found that a compelling factor in enticing these employees to stay with an organization is trust; that is, they want to work in a high trust work environment.  A leader who can foster a high trust work environment encourages people at all organizational levels to share ideas and suggestions to improve processes.  She insists that information is shared, from something as straightforward as a new employee coming on board to more complicated and sensitive information, such as errors in judgment on reporting in an annual report.  A leader who fosters high trust is not stingy with praise and recognition; he acknowledges others who’ve helped him achieve success.  This leader invites a healthy debate among stakeholders prior to making key decisions.  She channels the discussion towards a mission-driven decision that focuses on customer requirements.  Finally, a leader in a high trust workplace admits errors in judgment and learns from those mistakes.

Many CEOs today promote the establishment of core values and ensure they are published across the organization and are available for the public to read.  The recent onslaught of breaches in ethics and executive “perp walks” on national TV has forced companies to at least appear to be concerned about values.  A Leader in Balance is compelled to dig deeper and first search her personal value system for understanding about boundaries of acceptable behavior.  A Leader in Balance is able to bring his leadership team together to articulate the core values that serve as the foundation for ethical decision making.  Once consensus is reached at the top level regarding organizational values, the Leader in Balance is able to clearly articulate those values across the organization, sharing concrete examples of how everyday dilemmas are dealt with using these values as a compass.  A Leader in Balance behaves in a way that embodies the core values, every day.

The fifth competency for Leaders in Balance is fostering collaboration.  This competency is evidenced when a leader has a clear purpose in mind that relates to business imperatives each time he brings people together.  The leader in balance strives to leverage 100% of peoples’ talents, 100% of the time, to achieve the organization’s objectives.  A driving force for this leader is curiosity – about people, situations, and systems.  She seeks to understand and tap into peoples’ motivators in order to spark enthusiasm, creativity, and positive outcomes.

The Leader in Balance has a carefully developed network of employees, customers, and colleagues with whom he collaborates to arrive at the best solution for each business problem.  A Leader in Balance understands her own strengths and expertise, as well as limitations, and strives to surround herself with people who contribute in ways that are different yet complementary.  We think that this leader recognizes talent in others and crafts a leadership continuity plan to leverage those talents for the survival of the organization.  As a foundation for this process, top executives reflect on the core competencies required for success in today’s global society.  Their role is to place clarity around the behaviors necessary to, in COO Jack Kraeutler’s words, “sit at the table anywhere in the world.”

Merely having a list of core competencies, such as managing change, on hand isn’t all a leader should do.  She also needs to articulate and model behaviors within each competency.  For example, “global focus and understanding” could be described as:

  • Demonstrates sensitivity to cultural norms
  • Adapts quickly to different cultures
  • Transforms knowledge about U.S. markets to global markets
  • Tailors decisions to fit the location and culture
  • Maintains an awareness of world events that impact the business

A Leader in Balance is able to share power appropriately.  Sharing power does not mean abdication of authority or accountability.  Sharing power does not mean hiring one or two colleagues that think and act just like you.  Harry Nieman, CEO of Premier Manufacturing Support Services in Cincinnati, Ohio, told us that sharing power is part of his company’s business model.  He added that he could not work for an organization that operated under a different model and that a “command and control” approach is a symptom of serious organizational issues. 

Another core competency for Leaders in Balance is innovation.  An innovative leader creates an environment that is safe for calculated risk taking and models this behavior.  An innovative leader is open and receptive to trying new approaches and ideas.

Harry Nieman sponsored an innovation initiative that uses an Internet portal to connect his employees worldwide in order to share innovations to address business imperatives and problems.  This is not merely a sophisticated way for employees to “vent”; innovations are reviewed, assessed for alignment with business needs, and implemented.  Results of innovations are tracked and measured against strategic objectives.

John Lechleiter at Lilly also talked with the us about the importance of innovation.  He believes that promoting innovation and calculated risk taking promotes employee engagement.  He said that this involves “having the courage to act and to take risks, the willingness to accept that not everything is going to work, and a level of comfort with the fact that perfection is not required in every situation.”

Innovative leaders leverage existing or potential resources to achieve business objectives.  In other words, they find creative ways to utilize 100% of their resources 100% of the time.  For example, Leaders in Balance not only seek out a qualified, diverse work force, they ensure their employees are actively using their talents and knowledge wisely for their own and the organization’s development.  Innovative leaders reach out to individuals intentionally as a form of solidarity to connect human needs and wants to the mission and vision of the organization.  The result is a higher level of learning across the organization that continually intersects “real world” constraints and customer needs with the human capital of intellect.

Experiential learning allows all of us to take classroom concepts and apply them on the job.  As Buckingham and Coffman note in First, Break All the Rules, one can have a well of knowledge yet be totally incapable of transferring that knowledge to daily life.  The ability to take one’s knowledge and use it wisely and appropriately is another critical competency in today’s global community. Linda studied textbook Japanese carefully before moving to Japan for three years.  Immersion in the culture helped her learn the nuances of Japanese and navigate life among native residents, not the classroom lessons.

The competencies, or behaviors, that we’ve just described will sound familiar to those of you who’ve studied Emotional Intelligence.  In Resonant Leadership (2005, Boyatzis and McKee, Harvard Business School Press) and How to Enhance the Emotional Intelligence of Those You Lead (2009, Caldwell and Gravett, Palgrave MacMillan), the authors present the concept of Emotional Intelligence in four primary domains:  self-awareness; self-management; social awareness; and interpersonal competence.

For leaders that possess a high degree of self-awareness, using a “gut” sense to guide their decisions is commonplace.  These leaders know their strengths, and when to use them, as well as their limitations.  When a leader understands his or her boundaries in terms of competency levels, it’s an easier choice to bring others into the decision making process with specific skills and expertise.  There is no belief that as leader, it’s necessary to “be all things to all people” or false pride.  A humble acknowledgement that each individual has talents that can be leveraged opens the door for leaders to let the “right people on the bus”, in Collins’ terminology in Good to Great

Emotional self-control ensures that leaders are able to engage in objective critical thinking and analysis.  Especially in crisis situations, a leader in balance needs to manage input and behaviors around him that may be careening out of control.  This is the time for a leader to act fluidly, adapting to changing situations and obstacles and ready to pounce on opportunities before or as they develop.

A Leader in Balance employs networks to encourage diversity of thought, innovation, and creativity; to spread influence and power; and organize learning communities and produce disciplined people, thought, and action.  Instead of replacing hierarchy, networks can be used to augment it in a balanced manner and to encourage the culture and practice of collaboration.

We believe these competencies and underlying Emotional Intelligence flow from mindfulness, hope, and compassion.  Mindfulness is living in a state of full conscious awareness of one’s self and other people - being present in every moment.  Hopeful leaders feel excited about the future and possibilities.  Compassionate leaders are in tune with those around them, empathetic to their wants and needs, and motivated by a true concern for others.

In practice, the range of challenges a leader must manage in a balanced manner is highly situational, calling for good judgment, at times intuition and even wisdom.  The notion of balance as conceived in The Kucia Balance Framework means the right chemistry, the right mix and choice, at the right time, based upon the situation and the good judgment, intuition and wisdom of the leader.  Balance does not mean in the middle, half-way, or 50/50.  An organization as a living system is not under the control of one person or force, but has many influences that necessitate a balanced operation. 

A New Paradigm Necessitates A New Set of Behaviors

We believe that the flow of our process under discussion can be depicted in the following manner:

In this next section, we’ll share examples of concrete behaviors that more fully demonstrate the competencies described in the first part of this chapter.

A leadership behavior that exemplifies critical thinking is challenging assumptions and engaging in breakthroughs, rather than accepting the status quo and steering clear of any actions that may involve risk. 

Breakthrough actions involve development of a service or product that:

  • provides a significant customer benefit
  • changes the basis of competition
  • requires a different allocation of resources
  • creates a new standard or system

The Leader in Balance encourages others to engage in critical analysis by asking what we term Quality Dialogue Questions.   Leaders can model asking these types of questions in focus groups, one-on-one meetings, or staff meetings.  Here are some examples of this type of question, designed to provoke thought and open dialogue:

  • I’ve always wondered why we. . .
  • I don’t think we spend enough time. . .
  • I think we should focus on. . .
  • Our success lies in. . .
  • We are missing a business opportunity with. . .
  • I would like to be able to. . .
  • Everyone knows that_________ but is afraid to talk about it.
  • Our meetings would be more effective if. . .
  • I’ve noticed that. . .
  • Our customers would be happier if. . .
  • I’d like to see more__________around here.
  • I don’t fit in here because. . .

Linda has utilized these questions in several organizations that find themselves in a rut, following the same tired courses of action year after year without truly assessing the purpose of those actions.  The Leader in Balance follows through on these types of discussions of course.  For example, the last question above is, “I don’t fit in here because…”  This is often used in the needs assessment stage of a diversity initiative to ascertain whether specific segments of the workforce feel disengaged and disenfranchised.  After leading several focus groups in a Midwestern nonprofit agency a couple of years ago, Linda found that people over 40 were feeling disrespected and cut off from the mainstream activities.  When she shared this information with the CEO, he immediately began drawing on the expertise of older workers through team leadership opportunities, newsletter editing opportunities, and mentor positions.

Coaches do not “tell”.  They do not “consult”.  They ask provocative questions, listen with their entire being to the response, and offer tools the other person can select to achieve his or her objective.  The most effective coaches we know ask questions that revolve around elements of meaningfulness, such as:

  • What do you believe in?
  • How do you prefer to be treated?
  • What types of relationships help you to grow and learn?
  • What is your preferred learning style?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What type of work challenges you?
  • How do you prefer to receive feedback and recognition?

A Leader in Balance knows how to preserve continuity and drive necessary change and learning.  There are times in an organization’s growth cycle when only small, incremental change is required to ensure success, and there are times when radical (breakthrough) behaviors must occur to stay ahead of the competition.  Times of continuity are those which require organizations to store energy and times of change are those which require organizations to spring to action, turning stored into kinetic energy.

If you have any questions or need more information about this article, please complete our Contact Form, or contact Dr. Gravett by telephone at 513-753-8870.

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