Magazine article Management Review

Taking the Lid off Leadership

Magazine article Management Review

Taking the Lid off Leadership

Article excerpt

There may be fewer and fewer layers of management, but that doesn't mean there are fewer leaders.

In management, more time has been spent discussing leadership than any other issue. Yet, after decades of debate many of us are still not quite sure what it means. Perhaps it is safe to say that no one can really define it. In truth, it's something amorphous, something that depends upon the times we are living in and the times our organizations are going through.

At the top of the agenda of AMA's 1996 Top Management Forum (TMF) was leadership-- what it means and what it can contribute to the workplace. Two major conclusions emerged: Leadership--and how good at any one time leaders are--is always going to be a subject for discussion and debate. Second, leadership is taking on a new meaning as corporations continue to define and refine who they are and what their real cultural identity is.

What the TMF discovered is that there aren't necessarily any new leaders, but there is a new leadership imperative. Richard Pascale, a renowned observer and commentator on leadership styles, defined what distinguished leaders from managers in an easy-to-understand, yet difficult-to-execute, format.

"Management" he believes, "is the exercise of authority and influence to achieve levels of performance consistent with previously demonstrated levels"

On the other hand, "Leadership is making happen what wouldn't happen anyway." And this, he says, will "always entail working at the edge of what is acceptable."

A CEO who spends too much time at that edge may "risk being frozen out by the stakeholder community," says Pascale. But he also admits that today's organizations need radical thinking to free them up from their webs of complex organizations. He suggests that the new leaders are those who learn to share and give those they lead the reins of the corporate horse and carriage and let them get up and drive it forward.

Pascale's view is supported by the chairman of British Petroleum (BP), Sir David Simon, who considers that "no strategy is relevant unless it is the outcome of the realities you live through."

Sir David, who inherited BP at a time of major change, says that many organizations get it wrong because they "think they can manage any wind or tide and the ship will be strong enough to survive.,' But, as he admitted about BP, "We discovered we didn't have the capacity to diversify as we thought we could, so we had to identify the real strengths and weaknesses and not rely on our illusions."

He continues, "You have to know where you want to go, know what the crew can do and know what the weather is going to do along the way. If you get these three in alignment, you are on your way.

In business, that means the CEO cannot be the one who does all the thinking for the organization, says Pascale. Rather, the CEO has to let others--a support group--share the burden.

This may fly in the face of the perceived wisdom that the CEO, the leader, makes policy and sticks to it (see box below). But current thinking is that the leader has to be able to "resist the pressures to give the answer," as Mort Meyerson, CEO of Perot Systems, says.

Meyerson, who joined Perot Systems in 1992 after being with software giant EDS for 20 years, most recently as president, says, "The way to be a leader today is different. I no longer call the shots. I'm not the decision maker. The essence of leadership today is to make sure that the organization knows itself."

That view is supported by Sir David, but he adds the rider that it is also the leader's role to bring other managers down to earth. "I'm not too happy about this floating in vision territory," he says. "I like to know the how and the what"' And he adds, "I am very nervous of visions that end in superlatives (the 'we will be best' type)--I like deliverables."

Sir David ends with a suggestion that any manager would do well to heed, "Strategy should be simple, not easy. …

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