In my first blog I spoke of the need to revolutionize the leadership and diversity relationship because how leaders develop and how diversity is practiced in our organizations is outdated. In this blog I will be expanding on this view by exploring the science and are of leadership.
There is a wealth of books and articles on what makes a good leader and how to develop leaders. In the main, these sources based on theories focus on the leader's character and their associated personality traits. Examples of these types of theories include transactional leadership, charismatic leadership and transformational leadership. More recently, other concepts such as authentic leadership and distributed leadership have come to the fore and yet again, these tend to focus on a single strand of being a leader such as the leader's values, the leader's way of being or the leader's way of working.
This blog challenges these well tread perspectives as I do not believe that leaders and their development are adequately catered for in our rapidly changing, volatile and uncertain world. I believe that the concept of leadership needs to be updated on two bases:
The first basis is when planning the development of leadership capabilities the design is often mapped out within the confines of a leaders own context and environment. That is, a domestic environment that fails to take into account the development of global leaders in a global environment. Therefore, the question underlying the development of leaders should be how can leaders amplify their performance on many levels so as to embrace the dynamism that operating in a global environment presents?
The second basis is that leading and leadership is not a static activity -- it is fluid and it is about shifting and changing mind-sets and skills so that behaviors and practices are agile and adaptable to context.
Taking into consideration these two bases it is my proposition that the development of leaders is best forged through a holistic and integrated approach that develops a leader's capability to work in multi-faceted environments on several levels. At the --:
• 'Cognitive level' -- the way in which a leader will collect, process and disseminate information and perform selected tasks to deal with competing and conflicting concerns.
• 'Social level' -- the way in which a leader will appropriately apply interpersonal skills within a thorough understanding of one's social setting.
• 'Behavioral level' -- the way in which a leader will interact with multiple stakeholders and apply behaviors such as courage, listening, empathy etc. across cultural boundaries.
• 'Business level' -- the way in which she/he will demonstrate skills that relate to specific functional areas.
• 'Strategic level' -- the way in she/he will we understand the 'big picture' so as to lead with vision, understand complexity, deal with ambiguity and effect influence.
Finally, underlying these five levels and so that leaders can navigate across different cultures it is necessary that they acquire a global mindset. The constitution of a global mindset can consists of a variety of ingredients. According to some researchers it consists of 'intellectual capital', 'psychological capital', and 'social capital'¹. For others, it is about a willingness to learn and an ability to adapt readily to environmental changes², and for others yet, it is about being able to balance national responsiveness and global integration³.
To illustrate the case for updating leadership on par with these levels and a global mindset I will paint scenario and provide you with a real life example. This scenario I term the globalization versus localization dilemma. This dilemma touches on four out of the five levels: the cognitive, social, behavioral and strategic levels and I begin by asking you a question. How many times have you been witness to an organization that decides to expand its business from a national or regional platform to a global platform? What are the normal practices and impact of this act? My experience is that the tendency is for leaders to simply transfer their strategy, management teams and operational practices and policies into their targeted new markets and hope for the best! The crime that they commit in doing so is that it has overwhelming negative ramifications in the host countries that they are trying to penetrate and build their business in.
First, in one single swoop, by transferring a senior management team from headquarters into local markets, they have dismissed the local talent that exists and disenfranchise the employees (strategic). Second, this new management team (expatriates) will often not integrate with the local communities of the host country and therefore disengage with the community base by failing to build relationships resulting in them having a limited understanding of their social setting (social). Third, they would have undoubtedly fractured their potential customer base as their appreciation of the nuances of the customers' needs, wants and experiences will be marginal (behavioral). Fourth, because of the above three they will experience conflicting priorities and competing demands (cognitive) with regard to differences across cultures and within cultures, as well as, political and ethical challenges. All of these factors will inevitably impact on how the leaders manage context.
For example, recently an organization wanted to transfer the handheld devices that they used in the fields of Europe and the USA to Africa. Their solution was to ruggedize these devices. This solution was based on an assumption that Africa did not have a sophisticated technological infrastructure and therefore did not look at the human factors involved whereby Africans had adopted mobile commerce at a simpler level. Because they did not include, engage and collaborate with employees on the ground in Africa, or understand how potential customers engage with businesses, nor, appreciate the cultural and social settings they completely missed the opportunity to capitalize and exploit Africa's sophisticated mobile infrastructure.
The development of a leaders' capability needs to be cognizant of these five levels and global mindset or the implications for followers is that they will adopt the skills, practices, mindsets and attitudes role modeled by their leaders -- leaders that are stuck in existing patterns of leading. Therefore, by putting in place this basic pattern of the mosaic together, and tessellating this pattern across the organization, therein lays an opportunity that affords leaders with a chance for holistic development.
Leaders need to take accountability for their development and within this accountability, accept that the organizations that they lead are complex adaptive systems that embody both technical (science) and human (art) processes. Until this way of thinking and understanding of organizational life is embraced and embedded along with the adoption of a long-term view as opposed to a short-term view as well as, an appreciation for the value interdependence and interconnectedness then we are failing our leaders of the future. Remember "you cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore" Mac Anderson.
1. Hanges' et al, 2000
2. Estienne, 1997
3. Prahalad and Doz, 1987