Monthly Archives: December 2012

And thou shall not enter…

Teamwork. The first interpretation of this word is of people coming and staying together to achieve a goal.  A closeness develops, even if for the period of their project or mission, as they exchange ideas and information, pool their collective experience to draft plans and actions.  And the longer the association is, the tighter the bond grows.

Such tight bonding that forms the basis of teamwork, it is good, right?

But wait!

When does this become a suffocating clique that bars entry to other people or ideas?

Hmmm…good points, but nothing new. There is enough leadership counsel that warns leaders what to look out for and how to build agile teams that embrace diversity.

But here is the catch. What happens if leaders themselves form this clique?

Let us step back for a minute. There are three basic traits most of us display to varying degrees at work. One, we guard our independence. Two, we think of our importance a tad higher than it actually is. As a consequence of these two traits, we end up with the third – we control the information that reflects on our work.

So much for us as individuals. If the situation now moves to a close-knit team, these three traits balloon to form the perfect clique. And the higher this group moves in the hierarchical ladder, the clique becomes an impenetrable fiefdom!

When leaders possess vision and values, an organization can experience great growth and success. When they fail to pass on the baton to the next generation of leadership, and are more interested in protecting their turf, the organization gets stale and goes into decline.

The promise of the next level will either battle to break such fiefdoms, or leave. Leave to translate their promise to reality elsewhere, where they are appreciated and can blossom. Both are bad news for organizations. The old cliques will eventually tire of meeting new challenges, may wonder why there is no competent second line and leave the organization to be rebuilt from the shambles they created.

It is a question of perspective. The ‘let-me-guard-my-authority’ monarchs need not worry. It is really not about giving up ‘turf’ – it is about being ‘welcoming’ to the promising next-gen leaders and not make them wonder if they will forever be on the outside.

The willingness to step off the spotlight and let others step into it to grow and develop themselves is the signature of a great leader. What makes them even greater is their willingness to take ownership of minor failures during this transition.

How do I, as a leader, look out for signs of any unintentional fiefdom I may be creating? I would keep the following questions as my constant watchdog.

  1. Am I acting as a gatekeeper to monopolize and manipulate information, relationships and resources?
  2. Am I playing the game of strategic non-cooperation? Saying yes, but delaying to act?
  3. Am I subtly or overtly excluding or ‘outlawing’ individuals or groups? Using my authority to create doubt about another person’s competence or credibility?
  4. Do I intimidate others?
  5. Do I distract needlessly – out-talk others and prevent action?

A recent article in ‘The Economist’ on the increasing clout of the internet giants concluded thus “The four big fish nowadays also have a reputation for arrogance and plenty of enemies. If they really want to keep the trustbusters at bay, they should not let their size go to their heads”

Not a bad message really, for individuals too!

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Dare to vision

Corporate lore has it that McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc, pictured his empire long before it existed, and he saw how to get there. He invented the McDonald motto ‘Quality, service, cleanliness and value’ and kept the vision alive by repeating it to his employees throughout his life.

Everyone will agree, and categorically so, that vision is very critical to any organization. The irony sometimes is that it is placed on too high a pedestal to reach, too hidden in a grandiose statement to see and understand, and locked in too safe a vault to ‘touch-and-feel’. How many of us can say, without pausing to think, what the vision of our organization is?

Both on pragmatic and  emotional levels, it is a true eureka moment when vision morphs into strategy. The question is never a choice between vision and strategy – it is the priority or order in which they are placed. When strategy flows from vision, there is purpose and clarity. Looking at it in the reverse order, or looking at strategy without a vision is like applying faith in reverse gear. What you expect becomes the reality – not what you believe in.

This assumes significance in today’s stubborn down economy, where we feel cornered to stay very tactical. We need, and so try to survive. Will what works this moment be an indicator of the next moment’s success? Let us get pragmatic, we say, this quarter is all we can focus on.

But then what happens to the workforce, the engine of the organization? The constant slogan of the now starts wearing thin on them. Why does my effort matter? How does it connect to a bigger picture, a larger story? Am I just working from Monday to Friday, week to week, paycheck to paycheck?

This is where great leadership makes all the difference. Leadership is not about influence alone.  It is about building the large compelling picture – exhorting and reminding people of what it is we are trying to build— as the story goes, a wall or a cathedral. And, most important, why it matters. Good leaders do not dismiss vision as ‘nice-to-have’ hype, nor do they make it the first casualty when times are tough. It is their target to focus resources and energy. It is also their solid contingency measure against setbacks, including failure. The inspiring leader sees the future and still can stay focused in the present. He uses vision to push all stakeholders toward the same goals together rather than separately. She uses it to harmonize the corporate hierarchy. And yes, they show the ability to oversee its implementation and execution.

For us as individuals too, vision should not be just an entitlement we expect from our leaders. We should dare to see beyond our current reality, to create what does not now exist, to become what we are not right now. We should motivate ourselves to raise our ego healthily to envisage what the world would lose if we were not present. In good times, it inspires us to connect with our passions and potential. It makes us feel valuable as individuals. In tough times, it buoys us to overcome obstacles and motivates us to ‘hang on there’.

Otherwise, how in the world will I now how to get there, if I do not know where to go?