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Friday, October 09, 2009

Finding leadership potential of your job - Part I ( continued)

First, instead of moving to part II of the blog, i wish to rectify two of my mistakes today which my friend pointed out in the last blog. ( Thanks Bill for pointing the errors)

One, I was using a wrong word, the word 'paradox'. The right word is 'dilemma'. Let me redefine Leadership with this new word.

Leadership is a 'practice' of resolving the dilemma of leading versus managing a system ( which is comprised of organisation plus business) almost always in favour of leading.

My second mistake was about making leadership synonymous to leader-development. Leadership is a practice; while 'leading' and 'managing' are processes. Developing leadership practice in individuals is about leader-development; the typical promise of trainers. Organisations, on the other hand, can also nurture leadership practice in an organisation by using organisational levers, besides developing leaders.

Trainers are both fortunate and unlucky in developing leaders. They are fortunate because their training is focused on individuals, and it is an individual who resolves this dilemma. They are however unlucky because they cannot help an individual resolve this dilemma without understanding the organisational factors that help and hinder this leadership practice in a specific position. When trainers ignore organisational factors while training, individuals are unable to practice leadership in organisational situation. The leadership concepts become empty and do not generate intended result.

Organisations are also fortunate and unlucky in developing leadership ( not leaders). They are fortunate because they can nurture leadership practice by developing 'organisational models' that nurture leadership. Toyota way of manufacturing is an excellent example of nurturing leadership practice even at the lowest rung of employees. One can also call this distributed leadership model. In this model, fairly large number of employees can practice leadership to a sufficient degree. In Toyota, for instance, 'anyone in the assembly line can stop the conveyor of car if something is wrong'.

However such organisational models are in rarity. Most of the organisational models require select few number of individual employees to practice leadership to sustain them. In other words, they need centralised leadership model, a model where select individual positions practicing leadership are critical for organisational sustenance. However, as organisation's primary alignment is not towards individual, organisations do not pursue individual-development as their agenda. They concoct a mixture of management development programs and hope that their senior managers use them appropriately and practice leadership. Unknowingly, organisations therefore fail in producing the intended results.

In the next blog, we shall return to our main proposition - how can individuals learn to engage in leadership practice with or without the active help from organisational levers. If they get assistance from organisational levers, their learning is faster. If they do not get the necessary help, they can still learn the leadership practice at a slower rate and be hopefully ready to deploy it when the right moment comes.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Find Leadership potential of your job -Part I

I believe that every job has a potential for practicing leadership. Leadership, as you would recall, is resolving the paradox in favour of leading vis-a-vis managing.( for more clarity read my blog on

Because every job has a mix of managing and leading, every executive has to resolve this paradox, if not every day, at least every month. And you must resolve this paradox and develop the skills of leadership in your current job, because you need to be ready when the 'moment' comes. Any skill takes a long time to build and today is the time to practice it.

Let us remember five distinctions of managing versus leading that can be applied to your current job

- Managing is maintaining the present, while leading is protecting the future
- Managing is acting for immediate & medium-term benefits, while leading is acting for long term benefits
- Managing is doing 'what can be done', leading is done 'what should be done'(Peter Drucker deals with this very beautifully)
- Managing is doing the appropriate things, while leading is doing the right things
- Managing is behaving legally, while leading is behaving ethically

Even a junior programmer, working in a sofware company, has a potential to practice leading. When he writes a code for his customer, either he can 'hard-code' everything and get the work out in a jiffy. Or he can think ahead and 'soft-code' so that the person who is maintaining the code finds it easier to do his work.How does he resolve this paradox?

If he resolves it in favour of 'leading', he has to learn the skills of doing the new task. How does he convince his boss and colleagues of his way? How does he deal with their objections? If he does not managing to convince, how does he still go his way without making them feel guilty? How much of additional effort/time can he afford to spend if his team does not agree with him?

If he resolves it in favour of 'managing', he still needs to answer many questions for himself. Is he getting worried about ruffling the feathers of his folks ? Or is it due to lack of time at that particular moment which he does not have? Or is he avoiding this resolution because it never occurred to him that a paradox existed?

A simple act of resolving the paradox of leading versus managing actively raises lots of questions with which he has to engage. And this engagement with real situations helps him build the the skill of leadership. As you would notice, this skill involves both the skills: the skill of noticing and resolving the paradox as well as the skill of carrying out the decision, be it the decision of managing or leading. Both the decisions carry an emotional impact, which if dealt appropriately, causes lot of learning.

In this part, we have dealt with the first step of finding leadership potential in your job: the step of why to take the effort of resolving the paradox in your job. In the second part, we shall take an example of a job position and write down the different 'places/events/situations' where the person in that job position can practice leadership. See you next week.