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Article No.: 13-12, December 1, 2013

Article Title: It's Time for a New Leadership Paradigm,
Part II-Leadership in the Balance (see November article for Part I)

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

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Our observation of successful change initiatives lead us to believe that Leaders in Balance have some common ways of thinking, being, and acting.  Leaders in Balance focus on the work and the organization’s Mission, Core Values, and Strategic Objectives.  Even when distractions are buzzing about them, Leaders in Balance manage the information overload and tune into people, events, and information that will help them achieve the organization’s key business imperatives.
 
Leaders in Balance focus first on behavior changes in themselves and others, understanding that attitudes may not change immediately.  Employees may not fully agree, for instance, that a leader’s newly-published safety procedures are necessary.  The leader wants employees to engage in safe activities first and foremost, regardless of their personal beliefs.  Once employees experience a safe, stress free workplace firsthand their attitude towards following safety procedures is likely to change.
 
A Leader in Balance establishes methods to build new competencies for herself and others in the organization.  For example, if the company has decided that one of its key objectives during the coming three years is to expand its marketplace to Southeast Asia, key players will need to expand their language skills, operate in a different culture, and be well versed in the economy and currency of the target countries. 
 
Through the conventions and traditions that comprise an organization’s culture, the Leader in Balance achieves results and effects changes that ensure the company remains cutting edge.  The leadership behaviors that are critical during the change effort are envisioning; communicating; motivating; measuring; and retaining change.
 
Strategic leaders are aware of how events in their environment affect the organization’s ability to succeed.  Given constant change in a global economy, effective leaders have a vision of how their organization can leverage employees’ skills, knowledge and abilities to take advantage of evolving markets.  Visionary leaders regularly ask, “what if we…?” and focus on breakthroughs in technology, services, and products that will provide a competitive advantage.  From this vision, anchored in Core Values, flow key result areas or objectives that drive the actions of the leadership team and all employees.
 
The critical challenge for a Leader in Balance is finding an effective means to transfer values and a vision for the future from their hearts and minds to all the organization’s stakeholders.  A strategic plan, for instance, is only as effective as the weakest link within the organization, for every employee’s talents, abilities, and behaviors must be called upon to implement the plan. 
 
Our experience with top executives who have taken their organizations through significant change efforts is they use a consistent framework for building commitment to change, a framework we call the “PACE” of change:

PACE diagram 

Using the PACE model shown above, we recommend four phases for communicating and building commitment to change:  preparation, acceptance, commitment, and execution.

In the preparation phase, the Leader in Balance lays the groundwork for impending change.  For example, let’s say that an organization has decided to implement a diversity initiative as part of its strategic plan.  Successful implementation may require people to behave differently.  Prior to rolling out the initiative, the Leader in Balance shares information about the world around the organization, such as changes in societal norms, the customer base, and the economy, that will necessitate recruiting, developing, and retaining a diverse workforce.  This information can be provided in several forms:  articles on bulletin boards or on the company web site, company-wide meetings, or brown bag lunch seminars.  At this point, there’s no “pitch” for people to change; the focus is solely on providing information.
 
In the second phase, acceptance, the Leader in Balance brings employees into the change process through solicitation of ideas and suggestions about how potential changes in their work environment might affect them personally, their department, and the company as a whole.  The question on most peoples’ minds will be, “What will coming changes mean to me and the way I do things?”  If that question isn’t addressed in the acceptance phase, real change will not occur.  Continuing our example with the diversity initiative, the Leader in Balance can build acceptance by commissioning a culture audit, which is a needs assessment that surfaces issues regarding recruitment, orientation, training, career development and compensation.  A culture audit focuses on whether certain employee segments, such as people over 40, believe they haven’t experienced the full benefit of promotional opportunities and training as much as other groups.  If issues like this are uncovered, focus groups could be conducted to get input around ways to ensure every workforce segment is provided with growth opportunities.  The Leader in Balance knows that acceptance of policy changes is more likely to occur if employees have been involved in those changes.
 
When employees are made aware of specifically how their contributions have affected the organization, the Leader in Balance has more leverage to establish an environment that will motivate people to continue those efforts.  During the commitment phase of the change process, the Leader in Balance establishes new policies and procedures and then acts on the new ways of behaving himself in order to serve as a role model.  He sets and pursues clear objectives; for example, the following diversity goals:

  • Expand our recruiting sources to ensure the organization hires more qualified Hispanic and African-American employees by 12/31/07
  • Expand our customer base by 6/30/08 to include the 50-65 year old demographic

In order to execute change and sustain the momentum, the Leader in Balance empowers employees to remove artificial barriers and engage in behaviors that will support the change effort.  For example, if part of a company’s diversity initiative is to establish cross-functional process improvement teams that are comprised of employees at line, first-line supervisor, and managerial level, the “senior” person cannot step into the first team meeting and assert herself as the boss of everybody.  If executives announce that they have an open door policy to hear and discuss suggestions around expanding a diverse client base, employees can’t be stopped by five assistants and a waiting period of six months before gaining access to those executives.
 
Michael Marks, CEO of Flextronics International, is known for his disdain of bureaucracy and red tape.  He avoids meetings.  He keeps his management levels to a minimum.  He gives his executives financial and creative latitude to make major decisions and doesn’t micromanage.  In a 2000 article he said, “I’ve surrounded myself with people who are bright and enthusiastic and don’t want a lot of direction.  We grew at 60 percent a year for six or seven years.  If you don’t have this kind of organization, you can’t grow like that.” (Linksy, Gene, “Heroes of U.S. Manufacturing:  Michael Marks,” Fortune, March 20, 2000, p. 192)
 
The Leader in Balance is constantly nurturing change efforts to allow new behaviors to develop, mature and evolve.  Whether the organization has six days or six months to effect change, the Leader in Balance allows people to move through the four phases in order to fully understand, appreciate, and become involved in the change process.
 
The Leader in Balance engages in behaviors that establish and expand networks, as opposed to only following hierarchical structures to accomplish organizational objectives.  The Leader in Balance understands when to effect decision making by autocratic methods and when to effect decision making through consensus.
 
A friend of Linda’s is a surgeon at a Cincinnati hospital.  His demeanor outside the OR is quiet, unassuming and easygoing.  His medical colleagues, however, say that as chief surgeon he is abrupt, decisive, and demanding.  He doesn’t “ask” for a medical instrument; he instructs the nurse to give it to him.  He doesn’t ask for a discussion from the assisting doctors when there’s a crisis with a patient on his table; he barks out orders that he fully expects will be instantly followed.  Autocratic?  Yes, indeed.  Appropriate for the circumstance?  Yes, again.
 
A Leader in Balance will assess any given situation and guide the decision making process to one of consensus or democratic style, whichever is needed.  Jack Kraeutler, COO of Meridian Diagnostics, promotes consensus among his scientist/researcher direct reports when he wants to ensure that the complete team is involved and invested in a decision.  When this occurs, the entire team is responsible for the outcome, not just him.  Everyone has a stake in the outcome of the decision.  Before leaving the conference or meeting room, then, Jack and each direct report must indicate their commitment to the decision so they present a united position.  Consensus building is time consuming.  It takes practice.  Jack is willing to take the time, and the result is a dedicated team of scientists who support one another and want the right decision for their stakeholders.
 
On the other hand, Linda worked with a Process Improvement Team a few years ago that thought they had reached consensus on a decision but were woefully mistaken.  The Team Leader encouraged a discussion about understanding fully the process the team was attempting to improve.  After a few minutes, most of the team members were comfortable with the suggestion to videotape employees on all three shifts for short periods of time.  They believed this would provide a snapshot of how the process worked.  One person was very vocal about not wanting to use a videotape because he didn’t think employees trusted how the tape would ultimately be used.  The Team Leader did not provide this member with enough “air time” during the meeting to fully expand on his concerns, and the team reached “consensus” about videotaping employees.  Each team member was asked to videotape a group of employees.  When it came time for the dissenting member to do his videotaping, one of the employees on the line complained, saying that he didn’t want “the man” looking over his shoulder.  The team member stopped videotaping immediately and said to his co-worker, “You’re right.  This is stupid.  I told them we shouldn’t do this.  Never mind.”  The team leader thought there was consensus at the end of the team meeting.  Clearly, that was not the case.  The team leader did not have the right balance between encouraging dialogue and calling for a decision.

Reflections:

Outdated paradigms, or mental maps about leadership, won’t work in today’s global society.  Critical thinking and analysis, strategic perspective, fostering collaboration, global focus and understanding, sharing power, and innovation are all essential competencies for a Leader in Balance.
 
A Leader in Balance employs networks to encourage diversity of thought and creativity.  Networks do not in all cases replace existing hierarchies; but rather can enhance and augment this dynamic.
 
New paradigms necessitate new behaviors for leaders:  challenging assumptions; creating breakthrough products and services; engaging in frequent quality dialogues with all stakeholders; and mentoring.  These may on the surface seem like “soft skills”; however, leadership behaviors that minimize conflict, reduce turnover, and enhance productivity directly affect profitability and organizational resiliency.

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