• August 10th, 2020

Overcoming the tyranny of conformity

The subject of leadership, expectations and legacy provides timeless study material. It has been in vogue over the past couple of weeks. This piece uses broad brushstrokes and I believe readers will identify an incident or two in which leadership went through the fiery furnace. Whether one stood on a political, social, philosophical or religious rostrum, questions about relationships within societies forced uncomfortable confrontations with difficult realities.

   An unsuccessful American politician, James MacGregor Burns, is credited with sharing the two terms, ‘transactional leadership’ and ‘transformational leadership’ with the world. In the Witch Doctors (a book about management), John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge describe, “a transformational leader as somebody who spots some profound need that the follower had not realised existed and sets out to answer it.”

According to Micklethwait and Wooldridge, the transformational type is closely related to “the potency of ‘normative’ organizational power: where people do what you want them to do because they share the same values rather than because they are responding to sticks and carrots.” In Burns’ words, the high point of transformational leadership arrives when “leaders and followers make each other to advance to a higher level of moral and motivation.”

   Quite clearly, the leader is severely tested where “one is expected to give away power while keeping some form of control, and tap the creative talents of his or her employees while creating a common culture within the company…it is hardly surprising that the executive search market is growing at fifteen percent a year.”

In this vein, I predicate the column on the conviction that certain leadership is giving way to a more progressive and inclusive order. Robert Sharrock writes that “the tough order-giving leaders are becoming a relic of the past, as are their rigid hierarchical organizational structures. Leaders who will thrive will create space for thoughtful, genuine conversations about issues impacting their employees to happen safely and sensitively within the workplace.”

   Indeed, the late one-time American presidential aspirant, Ross Perot’s advice was: “lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be led.”
Decisions may be small, domestic and apparently innocuous. Others are bigger, and have varied and forbidding implications for people’s lives. How does a transformational leader acquire the most effective arsenal in order to fight successfully? Is leadership vigilant in its review of decision-making processes? 

   I ask because costly errors of judgement continue to assail leadership.  At times, the mistakes become virtual millstones, drowning a career, an enterprise, and the hopes once held high. Unless corrected, flaws become unforgettable memorials to organizational failure, the cul-de-sac of many treasured dreams.
In a story called Connecting the Dots, writer Malcolm Gladwell argues that “the central challenge of intelligence gathering has always been the problem of noise: the fact that useless information is vastly plentiful than useful information. What is clear in hindsight is rarely so before the fact.”

   Cryptographer Bruce Schneier avers that, “as we’ve learned again and again, connecting the dots is hard. Rather than think of intelligence as a connect-the-dot picture, think of it as a million unnumbered pictures superimposed on top of each other. Which picture is relevant? When it comes to intelligence, it’s hard to be sure. There could always be something going on – something we’re not able to eavesdrop on, spy on, or see from our satellites. Again, our knowledge is most obvious after the fact.”

In light of the disturbing suggestion that we receive our lessons belatedly, is it possible for leaders to more accurately meet their goals and attain organizational targets? How do they respond to every day, grand-sounding and combative jibes like “eight things successful people do everyday” or “top ten books every business leader should read at least once in his or her lifetime?” Apparently trending now is “nine skills that will improve your life.”

   Author James Clear smashes these taunts into smithereens. He describes them as symptoms of the survivorship bias: “there is a tendency to focus on winners in a particular area, and then try to copy their formula. If only we took time to reflect, we would see others who failed using the same strategy.”
The author, Henna Inam, says “transformational leaders decide to have choice and power to affect change – starting with change within themselves. Research shows that when we are focused on our values and sense of purpose, it makes us more courageous, confident and resilient in the face of stress, challenge and change.”

   She adds that adaptable leaders have a curious mindset that overrides the temptation to settle for shortcuts. “We cannot afford to assume or judge all the change happening in today’s world. The simple practice is to ponder ‘what am I seeing as true that could just be an assumption?”

Carrie Steckl says the “tendency to judge a situation based on one’s most prevalent experiences and beliefs about the situation limits our consideration of other experiences and information.”

   In Gladwell’s words, there is a need to guard against what he calls a “creeping determinism – the sense that grows on us, in retrospect, that what happened was actually inevitable.” Take notice of apposite information and correctly connect the dots, he says. In this way, a leader will not miss his or her “aha moment” – the eye-opener or illuminating realization. 

 Equally assuring is Teamability founder Jessica Presser who asserts that getting the right set of skills is “simpler than most psychologists make it out to be. Understanding what personal buttons (strong points) engage you allows you to take actions that make them work for your benefit.”
   I venture to recommend self-awareness, adaptability, ability to multitask and a power to inspire others for the week’s take away. 

Staff Reporter
2019-09-20 08:14:54 | 10 months ago

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