Leadership Breakdown

June 20, 2011

“Leadership is a state of being, constantly evolving; changing from the inside out and then again from outside in.” – Enfkay

Have you met or worked with people in key leadership positions who are charismatic, dynamic, supremely intelligent and have oodles of experience but who:

  • appear to be inconsistent in what they say
  • have selective listening
  • are never around when you need them the most or in most cases are inaccessible.
  • are constantly pre-occupied with a thousand things and you seem to be most often the last on their priority list.
  • are very concerned about being seen in the right circles, connecting with the right people.
  • call themselves ‘Strategic Thinkers’ / ‘Thought Leaders’ but often come up with only half baked ideas and expect you to fill in the gaps.
  • have an intense desire to be motivators, life coaches and mentors to other people around but appear to be restless themselves.
  • have created a brand for themselves no matter how hollow it might seem in retrospect.
  • refuse to get their hands dirty in the grime of work saying (if not in so many words) that with their kind of experience they should not be doing this sort of work or they have long past the stage of doing that kind of work.

If you have answered a YES to any of these questions it is indeed cause for concern to you as well as your organization and most importantly to the Leader in question. Most of these leaders are unaware of their behaviours and its impact on their immediate environment. Tragically it is seen that more prolific and well known the leader the more prone he / she is into falling into these traps or dysfunctional behaviour patterns.

As members of influence of the inner circle it then becomes your responsibility to directly or indirectly adopt means not just to ensure the smooth functioning of the organization but also to gently nudge the leader back on track. In order to do so it becomes imperative to have a better understanding of the various stages / levels in leadership and the traps that leaders might fall into at each stage / level.

Stage 1: The Unconscious Leader – A leader who is unaware of this true potential but displays all the characteristics of an influencer, role model and visionary.

Leadership Trap: Tends to remain in the background, may not utilize his full potential, may not purse goals / dreams with the required passion. Tends to be a tad bit unsure of himself and us very often overly self critical.

Corrective Measure: Needs to be shown the difference that he has made as a leader to people, teams and organization as a whole. Should be encouraged to take the fore front more often and lead larger teams openly.

Stage 2: Unconsciously Independent Leader – these leaders have risen to the position of power through years of dedication and hard work. They have made serious efforts to build a brand for themselves. They are in the news and headlines, are often quoted by the media and are in the constant limelight. These people often call themselves self made leaders who have worked hard to realize their dreams through persistence and hard work.

Leadership Trap: Personal Power serves as a trap door in this case. They do not realize that it was a large group / team of people, working behind the scenes who helped them reach the position there are in today in addition to their own efforts. Most leaders in this stage develop inflated egos due to the position they are in and the unprecedented amount of power they wield. Leaders in this position tend to become stubborn and are not very open to change. They prefer to do things in there own manner and do not like others telling them what and how to do things. It is seen that they often enjoy having the last word.

Corrective Measure: If remedial steps are not taken quickly at this stage, leadership is most likely to break down. Motivation of team members begins to dip, dissidence becomes common within the team and the team culture radically changes from an open and transparent one into a closed and authoritative one. The work environment is strained, misunderstandings and communication gaps become frequent and conflicts are on the rise.

The Leader needs to be made aware of his ‘Blind Spot,’ furthermore, he has to be sensitized on the importance of letting go and learning to take a step back. Personal credibility of the leader is maintained only when he learns to balance ambition consciously without trampling on the ambitions of his immediate team members. A classical example of Leadership failure at this stage is often seen in the Political Arena, wherein personal gains take precedence over societal welfare.

Stage 3: Consciously Independent Leader – This is a leader who has been in leadership position for an extensive period of time. Over time he has learnt to make quick, independent decision, is well aware of the consequences of his actions and is not just willing to take risks but becomes a ‘change champion’ within the organization. At this point in his career the leader is not very concerned about personal power and recognition – he has moved beyond that; now as a leader he aims at empowering his/her team and he defines success as a measure of his teams performance.

Leadership Trap: The leader at this stage begins to question his purpose in life and tries to find inner meaning in all his actions. Tragically, what he sees around him plunges him into depression and often feelings of being a failure take prominence as he feels that he has not made a significant impact on society in improving the quality of life. He wants to give back to society at large, but encounters bottlenecks in the form of corruption, dishonesty, complacency and indifference at every stage, which de-motivates him even further, questioning his efforts of making a difference. Self doubt is one of the biggest traps for a leader at this stage.

Due to inner changes and challenges the leader typically encounters a lot for problems with his family at this stage, as there is a paradigm shift in perception and wave length which many a time the family is unable to deal with. The leader prefers to spend time alone, finds socializing unnecessary and a waste of time. Typically the leader would want to spend every minute dedicated towards making a difference. It is at this stage that most leaders become very preachy which only has an adverse affect on everything around them, adding to their bucket of woes.

Preventive Measures: The only thing that will help the leader from falling into a trap at this stage is working without expectation, cultivating a non judgmental attitude, and deep insight into one’s current state of being. The leader has to learn to respect the fact that people around him might not be at the same level of develop as him. This is an exceptionally difficult phase in a leaders development and very few leaders make it through and move to the next level.

Stage 4: Consciously Dependent Leader – This is the highest level of development, which involves consciously crushing the ego and emptying one’s self completely. It is a time to unlearn everything assimilated over the years and walk the path of a ‘Leader without a face.’

It is a state of consciously becoming dependent on others, knowing very well that he is most likely to contribute much more if he worked on his own; but the time of individual gain and personal power are long gone. The leader realizes that he alone is nothing and must come down to the level of the common man to help others realize their true potential, for in it lies his true purpose. It is state of constant giving, without expectation, constantly working behind the scenes – a state of utmost humility.

‘Detached Attachment’ is the calling of this leader, being a part of everything, yet not being attached to any of it. This is what is called ‘Spiritual Leadership’ and sustained growth of an organization depends on it. There are just a handful of these leaders and it is almost impossible to meet them for they take great pains to fade into the background.

There are no traps for a leader in stage, the traps lie for the rest of us who are fighting hard to strike a balance between ambition and conscience.

It is important to note that, leaders  might not follow the stage wise sequential approach. There are a few leaders who jump levels and come to the final stage at a very young age, and then there are those who are constantly swinging back and forth between levels.

“The situation never changes, it is our perception of it that is constantly changing.”  – Enfkay

– Noor Fathima

(E):nf@dishacv.com / noor.fathima@gmail.com


Gen Y Views on Leadership

April 22, 2011

During my travel and speaking to a variety of GenY people who have been gainfully employed, on their views of what is the kind of leader that they would like to work for, I got a few answers that I thought was worth discussing.

They highlighted the following traits that they would look for.

  1. Lead with the Heart

It is necessary that the leader puts their heart and head together. Accomplishing extraordinary things, calls for extraordinary work. Leaders must put forth objectives that they believe in, so that they can live it. They need to recognize the work put in by the team members. All members of the team must be treated fairly for what they contribute. Leaders should mark and celebrate accomplishments and make the members feel like heroes.

  1. Get a “buy-in” on the vision

If leaders can lead with the heart, this would be possible. Leaders must communicate in a way that the vision or the objective is accepted by all the team members. They must set an inspiring objective, which members would like to align to. While the organization would like to focus on the bottom line, the leaders must not lose sight of the building of human capital. This could happen only with a shared vision that focuses on people which in turn could generate results.

  1. Walk the talk

Leaders need to walk the talk. People like to follow the leaders who model the roles that they would like their team members do. When leaders practice what they preach, they get their message across quickly and effectively. After all, they are seen as “mentors” and the team is dependent on what they see, so that they can emulate the behaviors and build a strong team. Finally it is “team work” that makes things happen in any organization. It is necessary that the leader not only guides the rowing of the boat, but also shows how it is done. Leading and doing have to be in alignment. They should create standards of excellence by example, for the team to follow. Leaders should not only be able to put up signposts to direct the team, but also roll up their sleeves and get under the hood, when people are not clear on what or how to do things.

  1. Challenge the process

Leaders should be willing to challenge the way things are being done and look for different ways to be able to do better. They should be willing to change. The pace at which things are moving is so fast that there is a constant need to adapt. While it is necessary to have some processes, leaders must be willing to challenge them and seek newer ways of doing things and constantly moving ahead on the learning curve. The “what was good yesterday is good for tomorrow” is not something that can be considered true any longer.

  1. Enable action from others

Leaders need to create an environment where others are empowered to act. They need to create an environment where team members can experiment and try new things. They need to provide support for innovation. They should be seen as supportive to help build spirited teams that can work in collaboration. Leaders must establish a climate of mutual respect, if they want to see sustained extraordinary efforts by their teams. They must create an environment that build trust, which strengthens the team members and make people feel capable.

Leveraging the Generation Differences in Leadership

April 21, 2011

Today’s workplace comprises of three generations of leaders.

Baby Boomers (BB) – those born between the years 1945 – 1960

Generation X (GX) – those born between the years 1961 – 1981

Generation Y (GY) – those born between the years 1981 – 1994

and we would soon see the coming in of the next group

Generation Z (GZ) – those born after 1994

Each generation comes to work with different needs. They have different views on how they should be treated, how they should be compensated, have different attitudes towards work, and have very different views on how they should be managed and led. Successful leaders have seen this and have not only adapted to embrace these differences but went on to leverage them.

It is critically important to get them to work together in a productive manner. A successful leader would need to focus on three very general aspects in particular.

1. Communication

2. Tech savvy

3. Work-Life Balance

Communication styles and preferences are very different. Businesses recognize email as the most common and preferred way of communicating, while situations would prompt the need for telephone or audio / videoconference or perhaps even face-to-face. BBs are usually more comfortable with face to face as they have gone through their years, participating in meetings. GX have grown up with voice mail and email and would often prefer this mode, as they would be comfortable with computers and smart phone devices. GY have grown up with technology all around them and would tend to prefer texting and social media. Often they do not differentiate between medium of communication whether work or personal. They perhaps would like to share their work ideas with colleagues too in this medium of communication.

While the message is the important part of communication, for it to be effective and well received, the choice of the medium by the leader may become the differentiating factor for success. If the recipient of the message is not engaged in the process, they are less likely to understand the message and respond with the required action. It would thus be smart for a leader to ask the team about how they would like to communicate and how they prefer to receive the information, and discuss how to build these preferences in the organization’s communication process.

Tech savvy is not the same as defined by these three generations. Today’s business needs effective use of technology as teams work together across geographic locations or even if they are working from the same site.

While GX and GY can be assumed to be more tech savvy than BBs, BBs are also upgrading their skills and integrating new technology in their work life, as they also believe that communication and tech savvy are interlinked.

Leaders could view differences in technology capability as an opportunity for training and development. Encourage the technology savvy GenY to teach or train the GenX and Boomer employees how to utilize software or other technology tools and techniques necessary to perform their roles.

Work-Life Balance has become a strong point of negotiation in the present day interviews, which gives us an insight that differing attitudes and expectations are prevalent across these three generations. BB grew up in an environment where loyalty and dedication was encouraged and rewarded. Being focused only on results, although beneficial to the organization overall is most likely to create conflict with GY employees. GY workers are more interested in work-life balance and will spend work time on their Facebook page, which is something BBs would probably only do at home and perhaps during weekends.

As a leader, if one could view this aspect of GY behavior, as a need to take a break from work, would probably be the way to go. The BBs and GX probably prefer coffee breaks instead. Integrating this need of GY like a break time would perhaps generate the desired outcome.

Tons of research show that each generation views work differently. Each generation has different things that motivate them. Even with differing communication styles, tools, and methods leveraging the diversity of these employee groups will increase productivity. Members of these generations will need to learn from each other and develop the capacity to accept various points of view. Bringing together these different generations has an additional benefit of establishing a “learning culture” in the organization, which lays the ground for ongoing growth and development.

Managing to Lead: Leaking Values Vs. Leading Values

April 9, 2011

Managing to lead is a series of articles attempted at simplifying and demystifying the seemingly overrated phenomenon of ‘Leadership’; Leaking Vs Leading values is the first in the series.

“Models are many and theories even more, all in an attempt to understand leaders and the ship they carry ever since man became more than a group of four.” – enfkay

Before you proceed reading this article take this quick self assessment on whether you as a leader Leak or Lead Values within your organisation. Choose one statement that best describes your behaviour in each row. Be open an honest as this will help you understand yourself better. Do not skip or leave out any statement. This questionnaire a small part of a larger psychometric assessment tool on ‘Managing to Lead.’

Scoring and Interpretation:

Leading Values – 1(a), 2(a), 3(b), 4(b), 5(a), 6(b), 7(a), 8(a), 9(a)

Leaking Values – 1(b), 2(b), 3(a), 4(a), 5(b), 6(a), 7(b), 8(b), 9(b)

A score of 6 and above on either of the scales (leading/leaking values) gives an indication of the kind of value system that you as a leader display at work.

Leaders who display the ‘leading value system’ tend to be verbose about what is right and wrong, ethical and non ethical. Often these leaders uphold a very strict moral and ethical code within their teams, adopting a hands on approach to everything, giving their teams very little margin for experimentation. They strongly believe that each individual is different and it is the leaders responsibility to see these differences, while assigning responsibilities within the team. These leaders tend to blame themselves if the project does not go as planned and feel it is a lapse in judgement on their part. Had they been more careful in selecting the right person for the right job, they would not have to face the current consequences. These are classic traits of a leader emotionally involved with the project at hand as well as the team members. Such leaders take it upon themselves to groom weak members by drawing detailed career and coaching maps, monitoring team members progress and career graph at every step. Constantly reminding team members that they are there for them.

Display of such tremendous effort in helping another individual achieve his true potential leads to dramatic results, that are often short lived. Team members feel charged, energized, motivated to push the limits but in the long term it makes them‘person dependent.’ Tragically, the most common outcome is that when such a leader leaves the organisation, a whole bunch of employees leave with him, nullifying the whole value system and questioning the style of leadership. This clearly defeats the purpose of empowerment at all levels – one of the biggest challenges that organisations across the globe are facing today.

Leaking Values on the other hand is a subtle way of knowingly transmitting the essence of what the leader believes in and stands for among members of the team, without unnecessary fuss. It is a well formulated strategy practiced by some of the most influential leaders across the globe. Such leaders are experimental in nature, working with detached passion wherein, every project is a new learning experience and they do not hesitate in disrupting the current flow of things just to see how people handle change within teams. Constantly encouraging team members to take the forefront while playing the role of a back stage mentor, neither taking credit for the team achievements nor becoming overly critical when things do not work out. These leaders maintain a low profile, constantly working hard to remain behind the scene, focussed on achieving organisations goals, inculcating a strong sense of independence among team members. These individuals are rare to come by – they work on the principle that everyone is capable of brilliance irrespective of the roles assigned to them, and hence do not discriminate. Constantly looking for commonalities among team members rather than differences they help teams evolve into units of excellence. Such individuals focus on the global environment rather than isolated reactions to current situations.

Whether politics, sports, running a business conglomerate or a nuclear family, the common thread that binds it all together are values. The difference between success and failure in every area then lies in the manner in which these values are transmitted. Leading values is the easiest way to disseminate what you believe in but this technique has a relatively short shelf life. Subtly leaking values takes time, patience and a non judgmental attitude, the rewards however are exponentially satisfying and permanent for everyone involved – the team members, organisation and most importantly the leader, who has truly learnt the art of ‘managing to lead’.

– Noor Fathima

Director, Disha Consulting Ventures Pvt. Ltd.