Masters of the universe

To
survive in the global marketplace, companies need to operate new leadership
models based on principles, argues Stephen Covey

Globalisation,
despite protests in the streets, has unstoppable momentum. World markets and
global competition are now the order of the day, the Pandora’s box of the
Internet has been opened, and customers expect international standards.

What
is the nature of the new challenge today? It is permanent whitewater – raging
waters, constantly churning and creating a natural, powerful stream of change,
turbulence and noise. Contrast this to yesteryear’s analogy of a rowing crew on
a beautiful, placid lake.

The
crew – an ideal vision of teamwork – takes orders from the coxswain. The team
immediately responds in sync. Contrast this with rowing in a raft in turbulent
whitewater; the noise alone drowns out any possibility of managing the team by
one coxswain. It’s no good having one captain giving out orders, because nobody
can see or hear him – especially if he speaks a different language.

Similarly,
the old corporate structures often no longer apply. Traditional habits – such
as the "accountancy" style of analysis, check, recheck and pass
upwards for a decision – are outmoded. Embedded in a global organisation, these
habits can become crippling, as innovation and reaction speed are stifled.

Clearly,
doing business in a whitewater environment demands that each individual leads
him or herself. Each must know and understand what his role is, what needs to
be done and why. They must be able to answer: "What are we trying to
do?" "What are the principles operating here?" and "How
should I respond?" These survival skills must be based on mutual trust and
common vision, purpose and goals.

I
suggest there are only three constants in life – change, principles and choice
– the power we have to adapt and respond to the other two constants. The latest
need we have in this whitewater world, however, is a changeless core. Placing
changeless, timeless principles such as trust, equality, integrity and
compassion at the centre of our lives gives us such a core – an anchor enabling
us to adapt and respond to the forces of change and new dynamics of a global
economy. For example, how do you:


Create effective decision-making, accountability and reporting?


Motivate staff from different cultures and backgrounds?


Check that an overseas division’s activities mesh with company goals?

Grappling
with such issues, it is natural for companies with "command and
control" management systems to want to clamp down even harder, especially
with their overseas operations. The reality is that top-down management style
is defunct, especially in today’s knowledge economy where the real value of an
organisation rests with the people or the knowledge worker. Now, more than
ever, employees need to be empowered, their human potential unleashed, allowing
them greater innovation, creativity and productivity. But how do you do this?

I
believe the answer lies in true leadership built on mutual trust. Empowerment
without trust does not work. The traditional centre – the global head office –
cannot be the only coxswain; the organisation must trust its people.
Trustworthiness comes from being grounded in behaviour, which follows universal
principles of equity, justice, compassion integrity and honesty.

But
how can we build trust? In fact, the methods are simple, but take time and
effort – this is not a quick fix. We need to listen to people, to seek to
understand. We need to demonstrate respect, and communicate people’s worth and
potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves – the true essence
of leadership.

Where
does all this leave the HR function? Like anyone else, HR professionals can
tend to fall into line with expectations, rather than promote change. The
complexity of global personnel issues makes it easy to become immersed in the
detail. Today’s HR must look beyond this to consider what matters most about a
business’ people. HR must consider the organisation’s mission, vision and
purpose. Once an HR professional understands the strategy and what matters
most, she can strategically recruit and hire. She must also consider hiring
people for their talents and train for needed skills – allowing a company to
hire and retain the best people for its growing needs.

HR
also has a tremendous role for building trust and understanding in the
organisation. The Internet can be a powerful tool for doing this. Its great
strength is its interactivity and ability to collect real-time information and
instant feedback. Used effectively, say to create a stakeholder dialogue
system, it can help build the "interdependence" that cements success.

Companies,
which can build principle-centred leadership will find many of their previous
concerns no longer relevant. In the long term, the top-down ethos of
"masters of the universe" will give way to self-led staff, who think
globally and acts locally, working towards mutual mission, vision and goals – a
powerful driver for true, sustainable effectiveness and success.

Stephen
R Covey is co-chairman of Franklin Covey Company and international best-selling
author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Principle-Centred Leadership,
First Things First, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families and Living the 7
Habits.  See www.franklincoveyeurope.com

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