Do you combine Strategy in your Leadership Role?

ciel blog - strategic-leadership-spl-reference-with-harvard-business-review-8-638

Leaders evolve strategy in an offsite of a day or two and keep executing them until the next offsite unless there is an unprecedented disruption that faces them in-between. So, it is execution all the way interlaced with relatively a very small time to develop the strategy. Why is there so much of hullabaloo about this topic of strategic leadership?

Strategy is over-rated?

Top leaders have to be skilled in developing strategy for an organization, translating those into action plans, measuring the progress made against the action plans and making course-corrections. Strategy is about making choices and hence, the most crucial part for the long-term future for a firm. One understands its importance vis-a-vis an operational decision. But, the question is about the percentage of time a leader spends in evolving the strategy. Is it more than 50% of his or her time?

One needs to be alert of what happens in the market and other industry sectors. One has to make sense of these and decide for oneself if these signals are strong or weak. At times, a strong wind of change might get ignored while a loud noise could be treated as a major signal. Resources and investments of firms go awry due to wrong choices made by the top leaders.

Observing the developments and interpreting them are not an activity of a day or two. It is a continuous process and the first two steps in developing a strategy. Hence, it is not a mere 20% or 50% of the day-job, rather more than 100% of the day-job. Naturally, strategic leadership is the most critical for an organization and the best talent needs to get deployed on this esoteric task.

Do you engage your 6th sense and the 3rd eye?

Undoubtedly the top leaders have to deploy all their faculties in mind and heart to excel. However, is it really so esoteric and occult? How can we make it learnable?

A lot has been written on the topic. As a practitioner, I see it as a 3-step process and a skill that has to be acquired over a period of time. Luck favours the brave. So, with experience and quest for excellence, one can expect a bit of luck and make less mistakes.

The 3-step process starts with observation and reflection. The leader listens deeply, sees intently, reads widely and reflects to connect the dots. This is an ongoing process that runs in the background all the time. The second step is consultation and choice-making. And the last one is to develop an action plan and align the resources for it.

Action Plans are piloted by Operations Leaders?

Many a times, the top bosses are the visionary leaders; they delegate the execution of the action plans to the operations leaders. Is that the best thing to do?

Often great ideas do not yield good results and the first-movers do not succeed. One of the reasons behind such failures is because the visionary leader does not involve in day-to-day operations. Organizations celebrate when the new strategy is commissioned and a wow-effect pervades the atmosphere. The energy and enthusiasm decays soon after as the top leaders are not seen on the deck. Operations leaders take over but they fail to sustain the impact, keep an eye on the right metrics and make the necessary course-corrections at the right time.

People say, Steve Jobs was a visionary leader in his first stint in Apple Computers and did not have the operations strength; hence, the ideas that time did not get executed well. However, in his second stint, the ideas of ipod, iphone and ipad were great successes because of the right choices made in terms of strategy and the rigorous execution that followed each time.

Strategic leadership combine the powers of observing, thinking, deciding, planning and execution. Enterprises grow and deliver value when the managers on the top are able to deploy strategic leadership.

Are you the charismatic leader?

ciel blog - charismatic leadershipAll of us revere charismatic leaders. We relate to the charisma of leaders like Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Jack Welch and so on. We get mesmerized with their words and inspired with their actions. We idolize them and do not need to examine their words with a lens of rationality. They do not need any special intervention to align the thoughts of their team members. Once signed up, the members stay committed to the cause and the conviction levels do not change. How often do we see such leaders? Is charisma a born quality or it can be acquired? When do we know that we have a charismatic leader amidst us? Is it practical to expect all the leaders in an organization are charismatic?

Is Charisma something that you either have or don’t?

People ask if leaders are born or made. Loads of research have taken place and most of them seem to be believe that one-third of leadership traits are in-born and the majority of the traits are learnt. Similarly, is Charisma a born quality?

If charisma is a born quality, all the leaders that we consider charismatic would have shone brightly right from their first experience of working with a group. We know of tales of these great leaders who were shy and private personalities; were not the natural public speakers. All of them were not gregarious; they were not magnets attracting people towards them. They were inspired by a cause and built a franchise of support base that connected with the same cause; they developed their ability to connect with the audience through their words – spoken and written; though their actions on the ground in support of the same cause. They knew how to establish that unique connection and kept at it. So, charisma is something that grows over a period of time like skills develop, maturity grows and strength evolves. It isn’t binary like YES and NO. It is a process of acquiring it one’s own way.

Good for an Organization?

Many predicted that Apple Computers will be in trouble after its charismatic leader Steve Jobs was away. Similarly, people weren’t sure if GE would continue staying at the top after Jack Welch is gone. However, all these fears have been put to rest.

It is true that a charismatic leader has a huge fan-following. So, organizations function very well without worrying much about the internal processes for governance and decision making. Various stakeholders respect the aura of the leader; they tend to see the bright side of the actions and gloss over the dark sides. The charisma of the leader is so strong in the minds of the followers that the leader’s intentions are never questioned.

For a sustainable organization, it is important to have democratic processes, objectives and rational approach interlaced with commitment of its employees towards the overall goal. Since a charismatic leader inspires the teams very well and the leader’s appeal is strong in their hearts, the organization stays cohesive. It is not necessary to put in place many internal processes and run them rigorously.

Missionaries of Charity ran in more than 100 countries in the world because all the teams in the world were deeply influenced by Mother Teresa, their leader. They did not need a machine-like organization to deliver the results. However, for the organization to sustain for many more decades, strong processes are required. A charismatic leader will be a huge plus, of course! A start-up, a new idea flourishes very well under the leadership of a visionary, a charismatic persona; for it to blossom into a greater and bigger institution, one cannot rely on charisma alone.

Grow your charisma!

We look upto someone who speaks his mind and appeals to our hearts. As much courage is needed to speak up, that much is required to listen! Do we listen to understand someone and examine our beliefs or counter the other person’s view point? Can we step into someone’s shoes and feel what the person is going through? Do we genuinely care for the people we work with? Do we show our care and compassion bound by the role of being the boss or we do it because we seriously care of their well-being? Do we talk the talk or walk the talk? Talking the talk wins someone the face-time but not the heart-time. Do we wear the mask of being confident, knowledgeable, unassailable, invincible and enigmatic all the time or stay human? Do we stay humble? Do we improve continuously and accept our follies?

Being authentic and human, passionate about a cause and connecting with the larger audience are the best solutions for someone aspiring to be a charismatic leader.

Do you really believe in diversity, as a leader?

ciel blog - cross cultural leadershipAs businesses are operating in an increasingly interconnected world, they find their stakeholders coming from different backgrounds of religious practices, cultural norms, language nativities, social do’s and don’ts. For a leader, it is not easy to deal with such a large diversity. Given an opportunity, most people tend to build an ecosystem that draws upon similarities rather than thriving on novelties. Some people welcome and in fact, look forward to understanding diverse practices; however, they do not have to deal with a wide range of emotions, multitude of ambitions and a sea of perspectives each day of their lives. Getting such a group of people from diverse backgrounds to converge on a few ideas is quite a challenge.

Why do organizations value diversity so much?

Undoubtedly, the first step is to recruit a mix of talent in terms of gender, academics, culture, ethnicity and physical abilities. The second and the most crucial step is to include all of them and engage all their hearts on the same set of goals and drive a common sense of purpose. All of us know that leading a diverse team is not an easy task, yet most forward-looking organizations call upon their employees in managerial roles to see the bright side of the coin.

We grow up with a set of social beliefs, norms and practices. We operate with a set of do’s and don’ts by the time we join the labour pool. We behave in certain ways without knowing why we do as such. In an organization, an employee deals with stakeholders who is not necessarily having the same perspective as the employee has. If the organization lacks diversity, the mismatch between viewpoint of the employee with that of the external stakeholder starts manifesting as customer complaints, employee grievances, lack of motivation to achieve the goals and so on. The stress starts showing up in the results of the firm.

To solve this undesired situation, organizations assemble a team which brings to the table a variety of experiences, views and beliefs. This team starts viewing a challenge from multiple angles and develops a solution which is more holistic than that can be delivered by a homogeneous team.

Inclusion is much beyond the diversity index.

Organizations want diversity and the index must look good. Hence, they want to hire women leaders, ex-servicemen, people from cities other than the home city, people with different abilities, young mothers returning back to work, older folks and so on. What do they get other than a healthy number meeting the target of diversity index?

One must not lose the sight of the wood for the trees. Organizations want diversity because they believe that they would be able to respond to external and internal situations holistically. The leader has to be build the environment where all the viewpoints are generated, heard and worked upon. Diversity plays its role only when the power of this characteristic is leveraged.

Organizations have to build platforms to bring together all groups of people to analyze a situation and come up with alternates. Every view must reach the ears and minds of people who are supposed to act on them.

Do not compromise the pace!

A leader in the armed forces has to direct the troops rather than engage in a dialogue and debate. This is because of the fact that a battlefield does not allow the luxury of time for a discussion, debate and consensus. Organizations who want to leverage on the power of diversity might get caught in the trap of slow pace. In today’s world, businesses need to be extremely agile. How can one be agile, yet at the same time engage all its rank and file in conversations?

In fact, organizations who value the talent of their employees, provide them with adequate freedom and independence to act. This empowerment creates a sense of responsibility and ownership in the minds of the employees, in turn creating a greater organizational momentum. A homogeneous workforce, on the other hand, might just fall into a zone of comfort, take things for granted and not challenge each other enough. It is not necessary that a lack of variety makes decision making easy and quickens the pace of execution. And at the same time, diversity does not slows things down.

The leader has to truly believe in the fact that a cross-cultural team can potentially deliver holistic and complete solutions. He has to build the right platforms in the organization to facilitate integration of ideas.

Are you Transforming your Team?

ciel blog - transformational-leadershipEvery leader wishes to leave his mark behind in the minds of the people he works with and the journey of the institution decades after he has stepped down. This is not only applicable in an organization but also for a teacher, a parent, a doctor, a caretaker, a gardener, practically everybody. A teacher imparts knowledge, builds skills and shapes thinking of the student not only to be measured at the end of the academic term rather the impact on the life of the student through the years after he or she has graduated from the class. Do we not remember such teachers? Similarly don’t we recall having been deeply impacted by the words and behaviours of a babysitter, an office assistant, the security guard in the parking lot? We certainly do. That is because these individuals transformed our thinking on a subject and our way of life. They demonstrate the qualities of the celebrated transformation leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and so on. What do they do differently? Can we learn and practice them?

They had a dream which grew vivid each day!

These transformation leaders dreamt big and saw what others did not dare exploring. Steve Jobs looked at the music players differently from the others; Akio Morita saw the need to listen to music outdoors; Bill Gates saw the need to simplify the interface of a computer so that millions can use the computer; Bindeshwar Pathak reformed the way people in India answered the call of nature while travelling for long time; Dr. Devi Shetty delivered world-class cardiac-care at affordable prices by several innovations in the work processes. We can see many more such as mobile phone camera, cab aggregation, ecommerce, social networks, advances in healthcare, agriculture, education and so on. All these leaders saw an opportunity to simplify life, serve humanity or fortify our planet. For a manager, a parent, a teacher or whatever role one might have taken, the question is, “Do I have a dream and see the possible ways to reach there?”

Mahatma Gandhi saw the picture of independent India in his head; Mother Teresa saw a world free from suffering and full of compassion. They kept thinking of the ways and means of reaching the goal. History tells us how these leaders undertook various experiments, some of which worked and some did not. The point to note here is that these leaders did not give up, kept altering the course with the same vigour and determination. Possibly, the picture grew vivid in their mind by the day and the passion took them closer to the goal. They talked about it and the others followed.

They care for the others!

The Transformation Leaders communicate their vision with their followers and inspire them to follow the path. They listen to them with interest; take personal interest in fulfillment of individual needs and aspirations to the best possible extent. They build an environment of mutual trust, respect and sharing with their team members. They care for bonding among the members of the team.  They listen to the concerns of their team members and act upon them transparently. They don’t brush issues under the carpet, rather discuss them openly and seek solutions. They mentor their team deeply, inspire them to co-create the path and co-own the achievements. It calls for high degree of sacrifice and mental energy to embrace the diversity of thoughts and energies. Do we practice it daily?

They stretch their intellectual bandwidth!

Intellectual capability is not about the academic qualifications and honours one earns in life. It is about one’s ability to empathise with others, think deeply about a situation and connect the dots to decide the course of action. They challenge the sense of purpose, evolve the course of action and do not hesitate to change the course. They recognize their strengths, limitations and egos. They balance rationality with gut-feel and use them judiciously in taking risks and making decisions. The external world which is used to a high degree of order and structure will find it difficult to relate to the internal environment of such a team. The members of the team being highly aligned with their leader, have complete faith in the path and a great degree of association with the purpose, do not find the continuous change to be chaotic and disturbing; rather, they find it invigorating and encouraging. Do we deep-dive and at the same time learn from the others with humility?

It is easier said than done to transform a situation. It takes humility to learn and the focus to practice the art each day of our lives. Our actions of today will not only transform lives in the near term but also many more in the long term.

Are you a Laissez-faire Leader?

The High Call of Church LeadershipIn our world today, a significant part of our workforce values freedom, demonstrates self-confidence and sets high ambitions. This phenomenon is not restricted to the white collar workforce, rather all-pervasive. Leaders  having the experience of directed people and having seen their managers directing teams in a certain way, find the changing environment discomforting. They are trying to readjust their styles and adapt to the new situation. It is common knowledge for a leader to practice clear communication while delegating tasks, but the trick lies in the manner of delegation, the tasks are organized and distributed.

Micro-managing or Hands-on Leadership?

Leaders in their quest to be clear, get highly task-focused at times. They tend to break down the goals into miniature steps, direct their team members in carrying out each of those steps, measure the results and tell them what to do when the results differ from the desired goals. Is this micro-managing or leading the team hands-on?

It depends upon the context in which the leader operates, the experience and the maturity level of the team members. Let us say, the team is highly skilled and the members have a good level of understanding and co-operation. This is a good situation to adopt a laissez-faire leadership where you need the team to know the end-goal, the near-term milestones, the purpose behind achieving the milestones and the timelines. Since they know the ‘how’ and ‘what’, the leader does not need to tell them the break-down. It is good enough for the leader to keep an eye on a few parameters at an appropriate interval of time. The team needs a pat on the back at the right time; a few insights and suggestions as and when needed. However, at times, leaders in their quest of ‘being in control’ get anxious and micro-manage. They hurt the team dynamics by over-monitoring, nit-picking and meddling too much. One must know what kind of delegation works the best in the given context!

A team which is newly formed or has many freshers or relatively inexperienced members needs support and direction. Managing them by setting a high-level goal, defining the objectives and a process might not sound wrong. However, the team could potentially feel lost, un-cared for and dull given this style of delegation. They need a style of hands-on leadership where the leader is always eager and available to help the members on-demand, coaching real time, enthusing the team when a task is done well and course-correcting when needed. In this context, the leader isn’t micro-managing, rather showing hands-on leadership.

Are you abdicating your responsibility by Laissez-faire style?

One argues that the laissez-faire style of leadership could create a lot of free time for the leader if the primary responsibility of delivering the results is passed on to the Direct Reports.

Experienced people look for independence in decision-making and a certain amount of latitude in going about achieving their goals. Hence, the top boss has to provide the space for them to function and steer their respective teams towards the predefined goals.

Given this context, the top boss has to find a way of adding value by providing the necessary encouragement to his team crafting a space to support them and continuously evolving it in tune with the challenges that they face. This is easier said than done since this space that we are talking about, is fuzzy and more often than not, determined by the dynamics in external environment.

A leader fails miserably when he passes on all his responsibilities in the name of delegation and takes on the administrative role of aggregating information and presenting them to the others. The team stops looking up to him and relating to the larger purpose behind the goals. It loses momentum and often looks forward to holidays, breaks and off-sites. This is worst that can happen to any team.

The Leader has to be playing alongside his team.

Every game has multiple stakeholders and there are umpteen challenges. The leader has to be playing alongside his team or the concerned member in the team solving the tough issues rather than merely being an observer.

It is easy to divide a target into a few parts and assign each part to a member in the team. However, the leader’s job doesn’t end with it. Rather, it starts right there. The critical contributions of the leader must be in creating an environment for the team to succeed, providing the right strokes of rewards and reprimands, getting hands-on to solve an issue or create a process or a system. The energy levels, confidence and the determination of the team must be held up by the leader.

Laissez-faire works well. But, there is no one particular style that works for all the situations. While the leader delegates, one must know what to delegate, how to monitor and what to get one’s hands dirty with.

How about the leader being a facilitator?

ciel blog - facilitative leadership

Every leader is invested with some authority, given the command over a set of resources and asked upon to deliver predefined results. Leaders make decisions each day how to marshal their resources. Some of them arrive at the decisions themselves and make announcements to their team. Some of them involve others in the team and arrive at an action plan by consultation with them. And some of them empower the others in their team to take the decisions required to achieve the results. Which style is better than the other? Does one style work most of the time?

Adapt to the market!

Today’s time has heightened economic uncertainty. Customers are increasingly discerning and in constant need of speedy action; they are looking for maximizing the value that they derive from the supplier. The environment is highly competitive and the boundaries in the world are getting highly complex due to socio-political changes all over. Technology has been changing fast and disrupting not only the internal environment of a firm but also the marketplace. Given this context, it is near impossible for any leader to be able to comprehend all relevant information, arrive at the insights and conclude the action plan. The erstwhile leader was considered a superhero who had all the wisdom and prowess to decide the course of the journey; the team followed him. However, the macho style of leadership which was commonplace a decade ago does not work now. One has to necessarily discuss the state of affairs with the others in the team and co-create the path to the destination.

Telling style or directive style is not going to work any more unless the situation is simply a task-based decision which has limited risk on the ultimate results. Rather the leader of today needs to show empathy, trust and respect the members of the team; be listening deeply. That is facilitating the team.

One size doesn’t fit all!

There are situations in the team which are unique to an organization and the leader of the team. For example, many members in the team could be new and the team could be establishing the practices and norms for their performance. Another situation could be that the person is a first-time leader or a young manager; most members of the team could be inexperienced. The organization could be a start-up. In each of these situations, the demands on the leader are not only to get a set of tasks done but also to build the team. Hence, one needs to balance between directive style to complete the tasks and democratic style to build ownership.

On the other hand, if the organization is established, the leader is experienced and the members of the team have a track record of performing well, the leader’s style should be largely delegation and empowerment to the others in the team. The leader largely should be happy with information coming in at regular intervals rather than intervening every now and then to take stock and direct next course of action.

It is impossible to prescribe a leadership style without taking into consideration the internal dynamics of the team and the extent of risk posed by the situation towards achieving the ultimate goal. However, irrespective of the style, any situational leadership these days has to be that of facilitation.

The leader has to facilitate in such a way that the members in the team have to be clear about the end goal, the processes to follow and the rationale of doing what they are expected to do. They value freedom and independence; but do not expect to be left alone to learn swimming by themselves. They expect appropriate amount of coaching and guidance along the way to reach their full potential. The leader has to facilitate all of these along the way!

Facilitating Course-Corrections:

One of the important roles that the leader performs is to keep the ship steady and safe on the course. Given the context of our times, the leader has to move fast, negotiate sharp turns and create alternate paths creatively. Driving these change programs is one of the most challenging aspects of leadership. This gets exciting when the pace of change is fast in the external environment as well as internally.

The leader constantly looks at the results and the process if everything ran as expected. More often than not, things have to change : they may be the metrics, the benchmarks, the process, the equipment or the raw materials. When there are changes in the external environment such as government policies, technology, the approach of the business partners or the competition, the need for change becomes all the more complex.

It is critical that the others in the team get involved in observing such trends, analyzing them and making course corrections. Such programs are critical for the leader to initiate so that the changes are co-created, co-owned and hence, implementation on the ground gets better. While the top boss cannot abdicate his responsibility of delivering the results, it is important to facilitate these change initiatives across the the entire spectrum of leadership in the firm rather than mere announcement of change measures and asking the team to implement them.

The leader’s authority in the current times do not mean much unless there is active facilitation. Let’s take these on!

Are you a disruptive leader?

ciel blog disruptive leadership

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Charles Darwin, Lord Buddha, Prophet Muhammad and some more such people challenged the status quo, traversed the uncharted path and created history. I am sure, there are million others who tried to emulate a similar path, had the ambition to drive such major changes, were passionate but did not make the cut. Why?

Do you keep an eye on what is coming?

In the business world, we have seen challenges faced by organizations like Kodak, Blackberry and Nokia. Their Boards had learned and capable leaders; had access to the best advisors and experts that one can think of. Still, they did not see what was coming. Their bets did not work in their favour. They were slow to disrupt the status quo and missed the bus. Reports say that Fortune 500 list in 2010 does not have 40% of those listed in Fortune 500 in the year 2000. So, 40% lost their way in a matter of just one decade. And at the same time, there are leading institutions like GE, Coca Cola, Exxon Mobil, 3M, Citigroup, Ford Motors, Kellogg, Xerox and many more who have lived more than 100 years already! There must be something right that the Boards of these companies have done to weather various storms that came their way.

Leadership in these organizations have continuously challenged the status quo and examined what lays ahead. They did not fear to chart new paths. They watched the developments in various industry sectors closely and connected the dots to come up with new possibilities. They listened to various stakeholders. They were not scared to try various new initiatives and fail in some of them. They kept discovering new formulations.

If we have to talk about the current times, we see new technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, robotics; social changes such as rise of self-centricity, right-of-centre approach, radicalisation and so on. It does not matter if you are in the field of education, transport, food, health, chemicals, machinery, energy, infrastructure or technology. Any of these changes staring at us is likely to challenge the business model. If we see this ahead of the others, we can win!

Does your team care about it?

In an organization, it is not enough if the leader sees or suspects what is coming. People at all the levels of leadership need to believe that status quo has to be challenged and they have to open their minds to new vistas of doing things. The top boss has to be communicating across the rank and file in the organization about the need of being unassuming and looking at the external world. It has to be in the DNA of the organization.

Some leaders love stability, believe in making small course corrections along the journey and accordingly drive those behaviours in their teams. There is nothing wrong in this approach if the ship is sailing in a calm sea. However, given the fact that our business environment has been dynamic, it is impossible that an organization will not encounter choppy waters every now and then. A bit of chaos is the order of the day. The leaders must learn how to stay calm in the midst of a chaos and at the same time, they must be enthusiastic and dynamic to look through the window and spot opportunities as well as challenges.

What matters is Execution!

It is not enough to have the top boss keeping an eye on what is coming and aligning the leadership at all levels about the need to look at the external world. While those are the first two essentials, the most critical aspect in the jigsaw is execution.

The leaders have to determine what needs to be done and how it will be done. They need to agree on the results to expect and define the timeline. Responsibilities have to be fixed and the team driving the disruption has to be in the direct visibility of the top boss of the organization. Frequent communication on the progress of the project has to be all over the place to increase visibility and drive the message home that the organization cares for innovation and is taking to uncharted territories.

It is equally important that the leaders know when to abandon the project for there are several possibilities to disrupt. It is not easy to let go of initiatives created with a lot of efforts, emotion and fanfare. However, a significant large number of disruptive steps do not bear fruit, but all of them teach valuable lessons. It is important that the leaders have the courage to wind down projects, announce the closure transparently and protect the people who worked hands-on.

Let’s do it!