Follow the leaders

leadership culture to all levels of an organisation not only requires a
recognition of the difference between the roles of manager and leader, but a
firm commitment to a company-wide programme of change. By Keith Rodgers

you’re looking for evidence of the huge gulf between operational management
skills and the leadership qualities required to drive a company forward
long-term, Kate Lidbetter has some powerful anecdotes. A founding director of
leadership consultancy SKAI Associates, she is frequently brought into
blue-chip organisations to help train newly appointed directors. "They are
aware that they are now a leader," she says, "but they have no idea
what they should be doing. So they tend to revert to type, which is managing.
It is like having a completely new job when you land in a leadership chair."

concept of leadership is popularly personified by high-profile, charismatic
figures in the mould of Jack Welch or Richard Branson. The reality, however, is
both more mundane and far-reaching. Leadership qualities are not the exclusive
domain of those at the top of an organisation or division – they need to
cascade down through an organisation, as far as frontline departmental heads on
the shopfloor. And contrary to popular myth about leaders being born not made;
many of these qualities can be developed when managers are sufficiently
determined to grow into new roles.

difficulty organisations face is that this development programme is
time-consuming: it requires a thorough understanding of where management stops
and leadership starts, and leads to major cultural shifts within the company.

the disciplines of managing and leading are synonymous in popular culture, much
of the focus in business consultancy and academia is on mapping out the
distinctions between the two. One of the clearest explanations of what
leadership entails was published in Harvard Business Review in 1990. In What
Leaders Really Do, John P Kotter argues that leadership and management are
"two distinctive and complementary systems of action". Management,
which evolved primarily in response to the emergence of large organisations in
the 20th century, is about coping with complexity; leadership is about coping
with change.

points to three core tasks where the two disciplines require different actions
and responses – deciding what needs to be done; creating networks of people and
relationships to accomplish an agenda; and ensuring those people do the job. In
the first instance, managers use planning and budgeting techniques to handle
complexity; leaders, by contrast, set a direction, mapping out a vision and
developing strategies to achieve them. In terms of people and relationships,
managers create organisational structures and fill the relevant roles, making
judgements that "are much like architectural decisions". Leaders,
however, focus on aligning people, which is "more of a communications
challenge than a design problem". Aligning involves talking to more
individuals – anyone who can either implement or block the vision – getting
people to accept the message and empowering them to act on it. Finally,
managers ensure the agenda is accomplished by controlling and problem solving,
while leaders achieve their vision by motivating and inspiring.

Potter, a leadership expert appointed visiting professor to the Centre for
Leadership Studies at the University of Exeter in 1998, reinforces this
argument, suggesting that: "Leadership is primarily an emotionally-based
process, whereas management is to do with a control process, and is largely
intellectually based in its nature". He identifies four qualities that
mark out leaders. They have to be believable and credible; they need to be able
to take on board a variety of viewpoints dispassionately; and, unlike managers,
they require strong communication and interpersonal skills, and a high degree
of emotional intelligence.

danger in drawing distinctions between management and leadership is that the
latter comes to be seen as a higher-value quality, while management appears
mundane and tedious. But the reality is that both are crucial. As Lidbetter
says: "If you think of an organisation focusing too much on management –
on processes, standards, execution, and so on – in my experience you have an
organisation that is not sustainable in the long run. It is constrained, and
nobody is inspired about the future. If you think of an organisation that has
leadership – someone inspiring, setting the direction, defining strategy – but
no management capability, then you have no possibility of follow-through. It is
all talk, no action. You can’t have one without the other."

most established companies, management skills are not the main issue: senior
and middle-ranking executives are usually seasoned professionals boasting extensive
operational skills. Developing leadership qualities, however, is a different
matter. While knowledge of processes and execution can be taught, vision and
the other ’emotional’ qualities required of leaders need to be developed, often
through practical experience.

suggest the best way to translate theory into practice is to take a pragmatic
approach, focusing on areas where individuals can quickly see for themselves
how leadership brings about different results from management.

Wallbridge, principal consultant at Penna Change Consulting, argues that the
development process can initially be spurred by playing on an individual’s
basic instincts – for many, the idea of being termed a ‘leader’ is in itself
appealing. It also helps show senior managers that those beneath them are
looking to them for leadership – they may not have been delivering it, but the
expectation is there. By assessing how leadership skills would be applied in
everyday scenarios, managers can begin to meet those expectations.

manager undertaking an employee review, for example, should see it as a
critical exercise and work out how a leader would approach it – as an
opportunity to inspire people with a sense of passion and energy. "You can
get people to act differently by asking what a leader would do, even if the
situation is fairly mundane," Wallbridge says. "You can get most
managers to realise that leaders act in certain ways at certain times."

his Harvard Business Review article, Kotter reinforces the fact that many of
the attributes associated with leadership are surprisingly straightforward.
"Most discussions of vision have a tendency to degenerate into the
mystical. But developing good business direction isn’t magic – it is a tough,
sometimes exhausting process of gathering and analysing information. Nor do
visions and strategies have to be brilliantly innovative: effective business
visions regularly have an almost mundane quality, usually consisting of ideas
that are already well known."

attributes in this way becomes more critical as leadership culture is filtered
down from senior execs to others in an organisation. While the Bransons and
Welchs of the world take credit for driving entire businesses forward, much of
the need for leadership is in frontline positions, where departmental managers
are required to motivate and inspire their teams on a day-to-day basis. As
Potter points out, this kind of leadership is just as big a challenge as that
required in the higher echelons of a company. "We are asking people in the
frontline to act more like leaders than they ever have done," he says.

leadership culture can, however, lead to problems. Tony Dunk, head of
performance programmes at HR specialist CDA Group, points out that after
implementing change at the top of the organisation, many companies focus their
next development effort on frontline staff. That can leave middle management
untrained and out in the cold.

worked with a UK leisure chain which undertook a major change management
programme, switching from a dictatorial approach where rules and guidelines for
local managers were centrally enforced, to a culture where individuals were
better empowered to interpret customer need in their own way. Over a three-year
programme, the highest number of casualties came from middle management.
"Usually they were part of the new structure, but [some] disappeared when
they couldn’t manage the change. For example, if they’d go into an [outlet] and
see something they didn’t like, a manager would say: ‘You shouldn’t be doing
that.’ A leader would say: ‘Why are you doing that, what advantage does it give
us, and would it benefit other people?’ In other words, they did not focus on
compliance. There are some real differences between management and leadership –
it causes a lot of stress and a lot of casualties."

this change management process should create a perfect opportunity for HR, but
experts’ experiences of how well the function rises to the challenge differs
considerably. "We often see ourselves hitting up against HR
organisations," says Dunk. "Mostly HR is policing, not leading. Most
of our good experiences are where there is good alignment between HR and the
line, and the benefits are obvious to both."

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