Leadership and your own leadership model

In recent history dating back about 80 years, a whole range of leadership models and theories have been devised. To name a few: The trait theory by Stogdill or Buchanan & Huczynski, the behavioral styles theory by Blake and Mouton, Situational/contingency theories by Hersey and Blanchard or Tannenbaum and Schmidt, Functional theories developed by Kouzes and Posner or Hackman and Walton respectively and John Adair. And more recently the model Leadership presence has been presented by James Scouller.

Before delving into the various models of leadership the fundamental question remains to be answered. What is leadership? In my research I discovered an article published by author Kevin E Kruse with the following fitting description:

“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. Leadership stems from social influence, not authority or power. Leadership requires others, and that implies they don’t need to be direct reports. No mentioning of personality traits, attributes, or even a title; there are many styles, many paths, to effective leadership. It includes a goal, not influence with no intended outcome”.

(Kruse 2013)

Elaborating on the element of social influence as a leader and its desired effect of producing a result towards reaching a goal, I do recognize a definite correlation to Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK). Dr. Deming’s holistic approach to leadership and management encompasses fundamental theories in four interrelated areas:

  • Appreciation for a system
  • Knowledge of variation
  • Theory of knowledge
  • Psychology (human behavior)

Thus, SoPK provides a view that emphasizes the importance of the interdependence of the above areas within the entire system of management. As leaders of change we must have greatest appreciation for Deming’s theories.

My own leadership rationale

In my own experience as a leader in various roles for 20 years, my rationale of leadership is profoundly influenced by the recognition that:

  • More than 95 percent of an organization’s problems derive from its systems and processes, not from the individual employees. The best efforts of employees cannot compensate for inadequate or a dysfunctional system.
  • Achieving excellent results is an outcome of a well-designed system, run by people with ordinary efforts and not by heroic acts.
  • Influencing the work of my staff as a leader requires altering the system my staff is working in.
  • It is a misconception that I as a leader can solely motivate my people. On the contrary, motivation is a result of engendering positive attitude, recognition, responsibility and the positive state of mind of any individual, shaping intrinsic motivation.
  • Creating an enabling environment for change means changing the system that people are working in.

Reflecting on Deming’s leadership visions, very appropriately the esteemed management consultant and author Peter R. Scholtes summarized the new leadership competencies as (Scholtes 1998):

  • “The ability to think in terms of systems and knowing how to lead systems.”
  • “The ability to understand the variability of work in planning and problem solving.”
  • “Understanding how we learn, develop, and improve, and leading true learning and improvement.”
  • “Understanding people and why they behave as they do.”
  • “Understanding the interdependence and interaction between systems, variation, learning, and human behavior. Knowing how each affects the others.”
  • “Giving vision, meaning, direction, and focus to the organization.”

Peter R. Scholtes further elaborates on another crucial element of leadership by inquiry resp. leading by asking good questions (Scholtes 1998):

“In the old organization we asked ‘who’ questions: Who is accountable? Who screwed this up? In the new organization we ask ‘why’ or ‘how’ questions: Why has this problem occurred? How can we improve the system and eliminate the cause of this problem? The old managers gave orders or advice and exercised control. The new managers ask questions and promote communication, knowledge, and understanding. Asking good questions involves more than simply asking good questions. The questions need to be surrounded by collaborative relationships. And the questions should be based on systems thinking and sound strategies for good work”.

(Scholtes 1998)

These aspects highlighted by Peter R. Scholtes fit very much into my exemplary approach of leadership. It is a leader’s duty to focus on behavior and results by defining purpose, roles and accountability. In parallel, creating an environment that allows for differences to be respected, valued and leveraged to achieve set objectives and allowing for constructive conflict for the purpose of collective learning.

My leadership model

In my introspection into the subject of my personal leadership model I have noted its incredible depth and breadth. A vast amount of philosophies, writings and theories are available on this subject, offering advice, but ultimately leaving me behind with many more queries than I have had before. Nevertheless understanding these fundamentals, I was able to distill the best practices and most apt theories into my armory that have enabled me to be a successful change agent and leader.

Cornerstones of my leadership model

As a leader of change, I have adopted the following characteristics and integrated them into my leadership model:

  • Being flexible and recognizing that it takes experience and deliberate practice to hone my personal style to be effective in leading different types of people and to work in different environments
  • Being a systems thinker and honing techniques to lead a system; gain an intimate knowledge of the work environment
  • Ensure the effective interaction between human behavior and constructive learning
  • Creating a vision for the company, the business unit or an individual department and set achievable goals in order to give meaning, direction and focus
  • Understand learning systems to direct development and improvement of staff, empowering the people I am leading
  • Understand staff and behavioral patterns; acknowledge and respect individual differences
  • Ensuring accountability through mutual arrangements
  • Creating avenues for constructive criticism built on instilling confidence in a team. Only if confidence is established, systems start working and self-motivation is imaginable. This recognition is based on the cycle of confidence
Cycle of confidence (copyright protected by Beyond Lean)

Conclusion

In the continuous journey of molding your personal leadership style self-reflection and awareness are only parts of the challenge. In order to shift your performance to a higher level, you need to better understand the continuing need to ensure good practice, to concede that you have to hold yourself accountable for anything you do or omit to do. Furthermore, I firmly believe that the key to becoming a successful change leader is to be the role model that others will want to follow.

Moreover, central to your leadership style will be to move away from “hard” power techniques to “soft” power management which enables one to achieve the outcomes one desires by co-opting employees rather than coercing them.

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