Positive Leadership has also been recognised as a Top 50 Leadership Expert to Follow on Twitter.

Follow us on Twitter @posleadership


Monday, December 28, 2009

Leadership is About Behaviour

Military experience can illuminate the identification, development and practice of leadership.

In the corporate world, potential leaders are identified because they excel in a technical area and are then taught leadership skills. Sometimes it is assumed functional excellence implies leadership effectiveness so new leaders are left to sink or swim.

The military provides a contrast. For example, if you join the RAF you probably want to fly a plane. But you have to wait six months to get to that point: for the first six months you are immersed in issues of brand, leadership and followership.

People see the military as inflexible: as having a set hierarchy, a way of doing things. Of course you learn certain things ‘by the book’ so you can free up your brain to make crucial judgements. But if you are flying a night mission over Kosovo, there is no time for a request to go up the chain of command and the decision to come back down. Everyone is involved in leadership. Mission decision-making is fluid and flexible.

In military operations, leadership has little to do with seniority. Operational teams are complex matrix structures. Once goals are set you decide who is best placed to fulfil each role. Since everyone has a grounding in leadership, anyone can take up that role. The key is to decide who is best to lead the project, to push decision making as far down the chain as it will go and then to support the people you’ve delegated to. If you do that right it solves the disengagement problem.

A mission without debriefing is unfinished. Debriefing is a constantly iterated cycle of 360° feedback and performance appraisal. Just as in execution, debriefing sidelines seniority. Leaders’ performance is critiqued and praised so they in turn learn. How leaders react to this – defensively or openly – is critical to the loyalty and motivation of their team. So debriefing, carried out in this way, sites leaders within the team: not as someone who ‘has all the answers’ but as someone learning, improving and responding to upward insights. It pulls together everything: leadership; motivation; engagement and an upward performance trajectory.

A lot of business thinkers and business schools have taken the passion out of leadership by overcomplicating it. Leadership is underpinned by process but, in the end, it's about behaviour.

Why Command and Control Leadership Does Not Work in Business Today

This New York Times interview with Joseph J. Plumeri, chairman and chief executive of Willis Group Holdings, the insurance brokerage, sheds light on why 'command and control' leadership does not work in business today:

'Q. How has your leadership style evolved?

A. I was once a command-and-control guy, but the environment’s different today. I think now it’s a question of making people feel they’re making a contribution, and they’re part of the process. In the end, you’re still directing the process, but you’re allowing for the collaboration and debate to take place, which in a command-and-control environment doesn’t happen.

A command-and-control environment is where you have a meeting and you say, “This is what I think; what do you think?” The good news about that was there was no question about where we were going, and what we were going to do. And if it works, that’s terrific. The problem is when it doesn’t work, and people start to grow and feel like they’ve got more to contribute, it wears out. I think that’s what happened to that whole command-and-control approach.

Q. What surprised you the most about getting the top job, running your own show?

A. You can’t do it yourself. You have to build up a group of people around you. In a lot of ways the C.E.O. of a company as large as this one is more like a baseball manager. I have a lot to do with what happens before they go on the field. I have a lot to do with where I put them on the field. I have a lot to do with the preparation for what they’re supposed to do when they’re on the field. But once the game starts, I have nothing whatsoever to do with what they do when something happens.

So I’m different from a football manager who calls every play. I can’t call every play. I can’t be a basketball coach, because I can’t slow down or increase the flow of the game. So I have to be putting the right people in the right spots and make sure that they know what we want to achieve. And you’ve got to make them feel that their own stats are important, but the company doing well because of their contribution is really what’s important.

Q. What else surprised you?

A. I never fully appreciated that there are people who choose certain things in life where they can’t have a bad day. I can’t have a bad day. If I walk into a meeting, and I’m grumpy — not good. I don’t think you fully appreciate that until you’re actually in a position like this, that you can’t have a bad day. My doctor can’t have a bad day. And I think anybody in a leadership position, where people depend upon you, you simply can’t have that one off day that’s bad, because you’re going to affect a lot of people.'

For more, see - http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/business/06corner.html?pagewanted=1&ref=business