A lot of attention has been given to the discussion, concepts and frameworks about leadership in the recent decades. The reality shows that with the development of the businesses and internationalization of their activities, companies continue experiencing pressure with regards to development of leadership capabilities and skills, which can lead diverse and multicultural organization through change in a dynamic environment. Leadership is a complex set of skills, which should be distinguished from management. The difference between the two can be seen, when we analyze the scope of the activities and objectives, set in front of managers and leaders. Many people confuse leadership and management, while, in fact, management skills involve daily management of the organization and dealing with small uncertainties, leadership is much more long-term oriented and should be able to drive organizations through the times of challenges.
It is also important to note that good managers are not necessarily effective leaders. One of the most challenging and difficult tasks of leadership, therefore, is a change management, where effective leader must have strong capabilities to deal with conflict and the resistance to change (Goleman, 2004). The first question that leaders should be able to ask themselves is: “Why People Should be led by Me?” To answer this question, one should look deep inside himself and go through a thorough self-analysis and discovery process. While there are numerous frameworks and concepts built and developed around leadership and which outline the set of characteristics, which a good and effective leader should have, the reality is that each individual has his own “recipe” for leading others and the secret ingredient of this “recipe” is the authenticity. With that in mind, one of the critical constructs of leadership is understanding self and building on the authentic leadership style. Only this comprehension of self can bring better understanding of the personal and cultural diversity within the company and assist leaders in building on the buy-in at the times of change and organizational transformation.
My experience as a leader, when I think about learning points, takes me back at the time, when I had to lead the organization through change in order to build on the compliance and alignment of the corporate culture. I moved up the career ladder in a leadership role, where I had to vastly experienced and older colleagues, reporting to me. I strongly believed that one of the important tasks was to change the mindset of these individuals and bring forward thinking with regards to general compliance thinking. The reality was that, busy with the process of implementation, I left behind an important stage of the change management process – buy-in from the stakeholders and continued working on the project without the support of the colleagues. The issue grew bigger as younger and less experienced professionals within the team started to demonstrate more resistant attitude towards the new processes, influenced by the older colleagues and their opinion about my work. This created a lot of complexity and made the process of organizational transformation more complex and unpredictable.
When I reflect back to the situation, I realize that following the mistake of not trying to take my colleagues on board with the suggested changed before bringing them forward, I also failed to recognize the issue and switched my management style to very heavy handed and headstrong leadership. This blindness was taking me even further from reaching my goals and I created a negative image around myself. Soon I realized that the approach I was using would not bring desired result and in order to become effective as a leader, I should find for new ways to approach my interdepartmental as well as cross departmental relationships. By the time I recognized the errors of my ways, I outlined several major areas of focus, which should have been in the center of my new strategy. First of all, there was a clear lack of clarity and transparency in the organization. All the departments worked in isolation. This silo thinking brought the colleagues apart and builds on unhealthy competitiveness, where cooperation was needed. Secondly, it was evident that rituals and values became paramount in the company and the functional hierarchy was somewhat inferior to the hierarchy built on a social level within the company. That said, older colleagues´ position and opinion had often higher weight in the eyes of younger team members than the guidance from their direct manager. Thirdly, the company was in need of change due to reducing effectiveness and productivity of the operations. Such change always demands more dedication and transformation of not only the way people work, but also the way they think.
The retention rate in the organization was very high and many colleagues, with whom I worked, stayed in the organization for many years. Nohria, Groysberg, and Linda-Eling (2008) argue that motivation and loyalty from employees develop along with the satisfaction of the four core drives of individuals drive to bond, drive to comprehend, drive to defend and drive to learn. People, working with me built on a strong bond with the organizational culture and comprehension of it made them feel comfortable with the situation. Any “stranger”, who would dare to change the way things were would naturally receive a negative response from the group. Finally, it was possible to observe that the organization as a whole did not promote decision-making and the structure and design of the management system called for bureaucracy and centralization. In the companies with such approach to building, the organizational structure, change management process generally takes much longer time than in those, where innovation and creativity are promoted through authority delegation and employee empowerment.
The above mentioned core areas became the focus of my learning curve and personal development plan. Drucker (2004) notes that many companies make the same mistake, bringing management forward and leaving the leadership capabilities on the back of the organizational development process. The reality is that these companies focus on the short-term and forget about the role, which long-term planning plays in the organizational sustainability and effectiveness of the business model. As such, management can effectively solve the immediate issues and find temporary fixtures for the problem. It will not, however, solve the problem in the long-term and offer a structural approach to the challenge. With this narrow focus companies end up being over managed and under led (Kotter, 2001). I strongly believe, when looking back at my experience, that I found myself in the same situation, where I prioritized the management, rather than leadership responsibilities. This focus allowed me implement the solution on the surface, but did not offer a structural solution to the issues and resulted in the project on the paper, but not in practice. I lost the track of the challenges and rather than address them at the beginning of the process, I allowed small problem turn into a structural, organizational issue. One of the major learnings, which I will take with me is the need for reflection and openness for the feedback.
Once I look at the areas of focus, which I can outline now for the company, I understand that learned a lot about how the change could be implemented in the organization, when approached from structural perspective. First of all, leaders should be always ambassadors of open and transparent communication process and the change should start with the elaboration and of the plans and the outline of the benefits, which individuals and departments can get from this transformation. With that in mind, when it comes to the implementation process in the future, I will always start my projects with the development of the communication plan and elaboration of the open information flow channel for all levels of employees in the organizational hierarchy. Secondly, I realize today that management of the project and organizational transformation should be done with the buy-in from the same level management. With that in mind, the reputation of the manager and leader is built upon the opinion of not only direct reports, but also of the colleagues, which you work with in horizontal cooperation. Third learning, which is critical for my future development is the complexity of interpersonal relationships, and I would like to focus more on this element.
Working with people is a multifaceted process of building on business as well as social interaction. During my experience, described above, I had an opportunity to face with various types of individuals and situations, which allowed me better understanding of internal and external factors, influencing behavioral patterns of individuals and their emotional responses. Such elements as conflict and emotional management, therefore, come to play and become extremely important for the success of the change management process. In my role as a middle-level manager, I lacked both, experience in conflict and emotional management. And these two areas will become one of my focus for personal development in the near future. On the conflict management side, a good leader should recognize the diversity. Moreover, it is only possible to bring change and gain buy-in from individuals, once you offer very culturally competent solutions and demonstrate diversity awareness in terms of culture, personality and profession. There is a difference, at the same time, between competence and awareness. I strongly believe that I can improve my practical skills with regards to diversity and cross-cultural management and this improvement comes from both, theoretical and practical knowledge.
Every experience in our lives leaves certain mark on our professional and personal life. It is not a secret that on all the stages of personal and professional development we can see the elements of leadership. Starting from leading self and learning about own personality traits to leading others and even organizations in complex international environments. My experience in leading others in that particular situation taught me a lot about both, dealing with people, their cultural diversity and varied personalities as much as leading self. The leader that I am today focused on self-discovery and understanding diversity is what I took with me from the experienced that I shared in this essay. I am confident that my leadership path in the near future will continue being affected by learning about conflict and emotional management as well as developing my authentic leadership style even further.
Goleman D. (2004) What Makes a Leader. Harvard Business School. Retrieved 3 October 2014, http://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader/ar/1
Drucker P.F. (2004). What Makes an Effective Executive. Harvard Business School. Retrieved 3 October 2014, http://harconllc.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/HCLLC_Harvard_Business_Review_Effective_Executive.pdf
Kotter J (2001). What Leaders Really Do. Harvard Business School. Retrieved 3 October 2014, http://hbr.org/2001/12/what-leaders-really-do/ar/1
Nohria N, Groysberg B., and Linda-Eling L. (2008). Employee Motivation. The Powerful New Model. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 2 October 2014. http://www.stanford.edu/group/designx_lab/wikiupload/b/bb/HBR_Employee_Motivation.pdf