from Innovative Leader Volume 7, Number 11
Modern Leader’s Role
Weiss is President of Summit Consulting Group (East Greenwich, RI;
phone 401-884-2778; firstname.lastname@example.org;
helping companies improve individual and organizational
are so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying,” observed
Ralph Waldo Emerson. Every time that a leader sends a message, he
or she is providing two
messages: One is the content (what the leader wants done) and
the other is the process or style (how the leader conveys it). The
latter is at least as important as the former, because it
provides the cultural context for the recipients.
No matter what
the nature of your organization, no one in it believes what they
see and hear. They only believe what they see.
There is no more powerful shaper of behavior in the organization
than the behaviors of those in leadership positions. Above all
else, the leader is an exemplar.
I’ve been in
countless organizations that post their “values” on every
available square foot of wall space. Inevitably, near the top of
the list is a statement about respect and equitable treatment
for employees. Yet in many of these organizations, employees can
see colleagues being brutally treated right beneath the laminated
plaques. As one supervisor noted, “You can treat people
ruthlessly here, as long as you make your numbers.” That
cultural reality immediately destroys every plaque, banner and
button in the company.
the behavioral realities of the workplace. Above all else, they
establish and embody the real
values of the organization and, by extension, its relationships
with customers, suppliers and partners. In over two decades of
consulting, I’ve never observed an organization—public or
private—that had unhappy employees and happy customers. If
leaders provide the message that the customer is a necessary
evil and general bother, employees will usually reflect that in
minimum service, lack of courtesy and zero initiative. If
leaders demonstrate in their own actions that customers are the
number one priority (i.e., leaving an internal meeting because a
customer is on the phone), employees will reflect that in
innovative service and proactive contact.
Which of these
sets of behaviors are you exemplifying?
warfare, generals sit in rear command posts and order troops into
battle. During the Civil War, generals mounted their horses,
making them the most obvious targets on the battlefield, and led
their troops into the battle. We need leaders who ride into battle
at the head of their troops.
a Picture of the Future
make or lose money every day, not by decisions made in the
executive suite, but by the thousands of decisions made by
employees throughout the organization. These
decisions—providing discounts, accepting returns, selecting
suppliers, creating inventories, and so on—should be made in
concert with the decisions being made across the hall, down the
stairs and around the country (or world). Ideally, everyone
needs to be looking at the same picture of the future.
Santayana defined a fanatic as “someone who loses sight of the
goal, and consequently redoubles efforts to achieve it.” In
other words, if we don’t know the port-of-call, no wind is
favorable. Leaders provide as clear a picture of the future as
possible, clarifying ambiguity and painting in as much detail as
possible. That picture of the future becomes the template that
employees can use to guide their daily decision making. Is this
supplier consistent with that quality goal? Does this policy with
customers help us to achieve that market penetration? Will this
pricing policy help us to achieve the image we’re seeking?
Are you creating
a picture—a vision—of the future that is communicated and
relevant to employees? Are you painting in colors, or only in
black and white? Is your canvass large enough to support the
details and scope, and provide true perspective?
Without a vision
of the company’s future, people will focus on what the company
is today. Their decisions and actions will perpetuate the current
state of affairs or, worse, yesterday’s state of affairs. We
have consistently observed organizations doing a fine job of
training, educating and developing their people to meet yesterday’s
needs when they should be focused on tomorrow’s realities.
The training function shouldn’t be painting that picture.
organizations pursue a direction that has been established by default.
The lack of a clear vision and strategy means that every wind and
tide will affect the course, and competitors, economic
conditions, governmental regulations and societal trends will all
have their influence. As employees perceive these events in
varying ways, their consequent decisions will vary accordingly,
creating conflicts and confusion in the operation. Instead of a
clear picture, everyone is viewing a changing kaleidoscope,
interpreting the colors and the shapes as best they can.
The attributes of
a clear vision should include:
In other words,
where are we going, how will we get there, how will we know that
we’re making progress, and what is my role during the journey?
Paint with bold strokes and vivid colors. If you make a mistake,
correct it. Even da Vinci was constantly improving what was on his
Individual and Organizational Goals
organizational goals are valueless if they aren’t translated
into tangible, clear and acceptable individual goals. This is
often called “alignment,” meaning that the leader must ensure
that the individual is focused on, evaluated and rewarded for the
production of results which support the overall direction of the
enterprise. Such congruence does not occur automatically. In fact,
it’s fairly common to observe employees performing very ably
in pursuit of individual goals which are actually antithetical
to the organization’s goals. That is not an employee failure,
it’s a leadership failure.
In the graphic,
you can see that the achievement of the organization’s vision
follows concurrent and mutually-supportive paths. On the left is
the operational path, which identifies results and consequent
tasks to reach goals. On the right is the cultural/behavioral
path, which identifies how people must act in order to achieve the
The left might be
termed the “core or strategic belief system,” and the right
the “operating belief system.” No one outside of the executive
suite is especially motivated, for example, by the (quite
legitimate) corporate goal of increasing shareholder value. In
fact, it’s difficult to quickly determine if one’s actions at
any given moment are contributing to that end. It’s up to
leadership to translate
that goal into an operating reality, with the appropriate
support and consequences. A bank branch manager would be enhancing
shareholder value if he or she emphasized the rollover of retirement
funds, for example, and the tellers would understand that their
reminding customers of new savings instruments' rates was
important for the branch.
The steps in
alignment for the leader:
Leaders keep the
overall picture in focus by understanding that people view it
through various filters and lenses. Fine tuning is required if we
are all to see the same future and understand our roles in