In an excerpt from Finding Your Leadership Strengths (by Tom Rath and Barrie Conchie), published in the Gallup Management Journal of Nov 2008, I noticed a very significant statement:
"We have spoken with several leaders who claim to be great at developing their people, but when we interview the people they lead, we hear a very different story. In some cases, the leaders in question may be better at demoralizing than developing people. At its worst, this lack of self-awareness can lead to masses of disengaged employees, unhappy customers, and undue stress beyond the workplace".
In a "CorporateTheatre" workshop, when the group is divided into Teams and given a script, based on which they need to do a production within a given time, two clearly distinct leadership styles emerge. One style is where the group gets together, discusses the script, allot or take on different roles and responsibilities and then begin to work, improvising, enhancing, and fine tuning as they go along till the last minute. Very often, as they go forward, if they notice the other team doing something interesting, they adopt the idea for their own production and add value to their own process. By the end of the allocated time, when they have finished their performance, the team as well as their audience marvel at the outstanding quality of work, which is most often far beyond their initial expectations.
In this case, there is no rigidly defined leadership role. Each person takes on responsibility for leadership depending on who has the maximum clarity, creativity, or energy in a given task at a given time. Even in a certain task, you may find that the leadership passes from one person to another without anyone trying to hold on to it, or grab it. Everyone's focus is on what is best for the team and on how best to get the task done. In most cases, once the right environment for excellence has been set, this is the leadership style that emerges, instintively. We also notice that energy levels, enjoyment, and morale is very high throughout the process and the production.
The other style of leadership often manifests itself when there is someone in the team who has done some theatre before, and the team is aware of this fact. More often than not, this person who has some experience of theatre is expected to take on the 'direction' of the play. Taking charge, this person, starts allocating roles, and telling the others what to do. Even if the 'leader' does not want to dominate, many of the others in the team look up to him/her for suggestions. One can see that as people keep coming to the 'leader' for suggestions from time to time, he/she begins to get pressurised, feeling compelled to give suggestions and solutions thinking that it is expected of them, as an experienced theatre person. Inevitably, the end production is not as effective as the other group's. Whereas, in the first style, the ideas, perspectives, and creativity of every individual is tapped and enriches the process, in the second case, it is mostly one person's idea. This can be severely limiting. The level of enjoyment is much lower, and so is the energy.
The first leadership style is possible only in an environment of clarity, collaboration, and trust, as facilitated by the 3 pillars of a natural team, defined in the earlier posts. From the first style, some very clear concepts of effective leadership emerge:
It is accepted that no team or organization can function without a functional hierarchy. There has to be a designated leader or leadership. The role of the designated leadership is: To define the destination and to ensure that everyone in the team has clarity of the destination. More importantly, everyone in the team must by aligned towards reaching the same destination. This alignment, as defined in earlier posts, comes only out of the realisation that reaching the destination along with the team within the given time, will make me a winner. Conversely, I also know that even if I reach the destination, and the team does not, I cannot become a winner. Thereby, not only is everyone keen to reach the destination. Everyone is equally keen that everyone else in the team also reaches the same destination.
Once the journey starts, let leadership evolve based on who has the maximum clarity and familiarity with that particular part of the journey. If the person who defined the destination decides to lead at every step of the journey, the journey may not be as effective as it can be. There may be others who know the places that you touch as you go along, better than you do. If they are allowed to lead, the journey can be much more enjoyable, much more effective. If they are not given the opportunity to lead, and they realise that they know the place better than the compulsive leader does, it can lead to severe frustration and demoralisation.
In a natural team, leadership is not person-centric. It is team-centric. The team is the leader and the designated leader is the enabler of team leadership.
Another interesting learning that comes through very powerfully in the workshops is that, in a natural team, no one focuses on what you cannot deliver. Instead, everyone celebrates what you can deliver and as you deliver what you can with all your commitment and energy, someone else delivers with equal commitment and energy, what you cannot. It is amazing, how, in all these hundreds of workshops and thousands of participants, not once has a team been unable to deliver performances beyond initial expectations in spite of the resource constraints, time constraints, and perceived competency constraints, without material rewards. Focussing on each other's strengths and celebrating them adds much more positive energy than trying to work on each other's weaknesses, no matter how noble the motive may be, of helping the other person. Competencies can be conditional and may vary but commitment has to be consistent and unconditional.
It goes without saying that it takes a lot of self-confidence and inner strength and security on the part of the leader to define the destination, create the alignment, and then step back into the team and let the team lead based on situational competence. A lot of this strength and confidence comes from the environment that is created in terms of the 3 pillars. And that, primarily, is the task and the responsibility of the top leadership.