There are enough literature and guides available to explain the theory and practice of leadership. However, the biggest teacher of leadership is the nature itself complete with its universal intelligence.
In B Schools and HRD classes, people teach classifications of leadership models because they help students lead organized lives and have a clear picture of where things are. Despite the regular and discernible chaos in organizational leadership paradigms, people somehow feel comfortable with yardsticks they can identify with. That which is in their genetic coding. Some theories are based around the concepts of a transactional or a transformational leader. Often people like to fall into one of the categories based on their code.
They make cardinal natural blunders here.
Ever seen a sapling grow into a tree and yield fruits against all the vagaries of nature? The key word that nature bestows upon them,and us, is adaptability. The trees adapt to storms, the animals adapt, the chameleons change colours and every activity guided by universal intelligence adapts disruptively to live in perfect harmony with its surroundings.
What happens to humans? Why do we have to be tutored in every aspect of a disruptive and adaptive life as against the laws of nature? Why should leaders be only type cast into transactional or transformational?
One comes across organizations which are sticklers for rules. Do you want to play by the rules in business? Or do you see rules as limitations that are important reference points but can be bent or experimented with for the benefit of your organisation?
There is a world out there beyond the stereotypes of transactional,situational and transformational leadership. The nature does take root as per set rules. A tree would not grow if it doesn’t get adequate sunshine or water or bend in the wind to the limit of its elasticity. So largely some rules have to be followed to have a semblance of commonality of purpose but there are others which need to be bent to suit the mandates of organizational efficiency.
This is the theory of evolution.
No one approach can be defined as the best. Time, situation, organizational needs and other expediencies should make a leader adapt his organization in a
disruptive and distributed model so as to produce the sum of the whole as a multiplication factor of the individual strengths of the teams. The leader has to represent and act as the conductor of an orchestra – give adequate latitude to each musician but notice the failing notes promptly,finally producing synergy in the collective effort towards producing the required musical score.
There though is a problem here. This disruptive and directive style of functional leadership puts the onus of delivery largely on the led. If these have not been groomed to adapt to change and lead change. armed with suitable KSAs, the ecosystem gets disturbed and results get marginalized to leadership styles. Organisation suffers.
While it is important to have some stability and equilibrium in the teams, it is equally important to flatten the hierchies to generate better and interactive output based on principles of empowerment. The more Ristakes (Risk plus Mistakes) you permit within the wider scope of experimentation better will be the evolutionary process of the organization as a whole. Leaders may face some tactical setbacks but strategically it is a win-win situation for the organization.
Leaders have to perpetuate change and teach teams to fly, as a bird does to the young ones, with attendant short term risks. It is only in such leadership environments that teams learn to soar.
Leadership training tends to be full of talk about change and moving forward, but in fact it is the simple complexity of disruptive leaders which can bring about a culture of change by leading from the front.
Change is a daily process, as is leadership, for change. To be in harmony and ahead of change, leaders have to be more disruptive than change itself. This proactivity creates the right growth environment based on trust, irrespective of the style used.
There are no mantras to be a leader. One can learn all one wants from the books but in the end you have to be a leader and not become one. It is an inside thing – a call guided by our little voice which the nature has bestowed upon each one. We must use it effectively.
As they say in the military – leadership is spirituality in motion!
The change management cycle is congruent to what Colonel John Boyd articulated in military parlance of decision cycle or the OODA loop. Observe-Orient-Decide and Act. It is the complete range of activities which a business leader has to undertake in today’s competitive business environment to stay ahead of the change.
The OODA Loop
Observe. It implies undertaking all actions including collection processing and synthesizing of business activities to identify the exact parts of the process, people and tools that need a change to ensure optimization of effort. In this step the leader builds the intelligence picture and seeks to fill the gaps by proactive and engaging actions. It also leans partly on the 15% theory.
Orient. This step enables the leader to evaluate the complete information with the environment to generate a range of options with in the premise of its business, people, products and competition. It matches up the capabilities and capacities of each factor to analyze the various options with a view to evolve possible outcomes and courses of action. SWOT analysis is a part of this step.
Decide. Having undeniably oriented himself to the exact issues of various options, the leader then decides on the desired option to be adopted.
Act. This is the systematized and deliberate “slog” phase of the change management cycle where the leader along with team act upon the decided course of action.
Application of OODA Cycle
Now this is a dynamic cycle and needs to be performed repeatedly to outwit and outsmart the competition, innovate and improvise to enthuse the team, refine the processes and apply the right tools to achieve the intent of the leader.
It calls for continuous tempering by the leaders in the “flattened hierchy” of the system to put their shoulders to the wheel in generating and implementing “Blue Ocean Strategies”. The OODA cycle enables the leader and the team to stay one step ahead of the change always. It calls for continuous feedback and regular course corrections to invest in the right strategies by taking suitable risks, accepting mistakes and operating in an information vacuum under conditions of ambiguity and uncertainty. All this, without losing the sense of balance and fun.
Here the first two ‘O’s ie Observe and Orient are the most critical parts of the analysis to evaluate the environment and develop various courses of action. Information will rarely be complete and the quest for solving each piece of the Information Jigsaw puzzle can cause paralysis by analysis. This calls for astute judgment capabilities based on a 360 perspective of the 15% Theory. The more leaders “wide base” this 15% theory, better are the chance for generating coherent options, leading to the next step in the OODA Cycle ie to Decide.
Once a decision is taken based on the double O’ the team must pull out all stops in earnest within the intent of the leader. The “Intent” thus becomes critical at this stage. Once this larger construct is absorbed by cross functional teams, they can operate in a “swarmed” manner to achieve the desired goals effortlessly. This obviates the need to referring matters up or down the chain constantly saving precious resources and time. Should there be a mismatch in comprehending this, the change management cycle would cycle at the same place, generating a lot of activity without any meaningful result.
At the cost of repetition the final takeaway of this discourse of applying continuous OODA cycles to generate possible action the leader and the team must generate clairvoyance to identify what needs to change. That is critical to the success of the change management cycle.
The next essential component during “action” stage is the ability of the leader to function under the dictates of “Directive Style of Leadership”. Having given the objectives, resources and time to the teams, the leader must provide them with adequate space to execute their mission with complete confidence. Each component of the team must have their space to innovate and operate, under an “ownership” principle. This would generate desired momention to the teams efforts and enable swarmed actions to achieve the goals. The term “Deadlines” would then be made redundant by these swarmed cross functional teams which would evaluate, operate and vector under their own OODA cycles within the construct of the leaders “Intent”.
Feedback is the essence of change management and strategy execution. There should be elaborate formal and informal systems to ensure the feedback mechanism is dynamic and responsive. However, the feedback should not become an end in itself. It is just a means to enable leaders and teams to maintain direction. By no stretch of imagination should this become a barometer for “assessing” and “evaluating” leaders and teams. That would work against the principle of making “Ristakes” and lead the organisaiton to a path of mediocrity with a low appetite for risk taking an essential element of progressive change management. This alone can facilitate experimentation without challenging which it is well nigh impossible to create out of the box solutions to complex problems.
During this entire process, a few small things with major ramifications are critical. These are “playing favorites’,“ “no mistake syndrome” and “shooting down dissent”. These three are the biggest enemies of organizational behavior in cross functional teams operating under the intent of the leader. Nothing de motivates and de acceleration a team more than these evils of leadership. Leaders must guard against these conscientiously.
Fun and Balance
The aspect of “fun and balance” narrated earlier may have missed the readers. These are keys to success of adaptive organizations willing to change on a continuous basis. The aspect of OODA cycle and the change management cycle work best in an environment of “healthy mutual respect”, “space to each other” and mature conflict resolution practices. “Fun and Balance” are great enablers which facilitate change management cycle. They grease the various moving parts in an organization and make change management worthwhile. There are no One Minute solutions to keeping teams motivated. “Fun and balance” is a very serious business for the leader. It needs just as much application of OODA cycle by the leader as the entire business process.
Once again this reinforces the role of the leader as the conductor of the organsiational orchestra.
The Maneuverist Leaders
In war fighting philosophies, as in businesses, there is this penultimate philosophy termed “maneuvre warfare” as against “attrition warfare”. The major difference between the two philosophies is the approach to warfare in their application of “force on force” approach as compared to the maneuver or the mental faculties approach. The aim of maneuver warfare is to avoid enemy strength’s and attack his weaknesses by generating faster OODA cycles. This often repeated and continuous application & generation of OODA cycles facilitate, leaders to outsmart and finally paralyse the minds of opposite numbers and forces – leading them to despair and ultimate defeat.
As against this the attrition or the force on force approach is bloody, intense slog and results in victory at great costs in men and resources.
In business strategies too we often find direct “attritionist” approach being played out too often at the detriment of the larger aim of the organization. This translates into huge costs to achieve business objectives.
On the other hand smart leaders follow the maneuverist approach to outsmart the competition by playing on their
weaknesses and steering clear of their strengths. In this approach the leaders carry out intelligence preparation of the business environment and produce ‘Blue Ocean Strategies’ by a systematic approach through generation of unambiguous and faster OODA cycles. A dynamic SWOT analysis and adoption of six sigma principles to refine the processes, people and tools remains an integral part of this philosophy.
Systems Approach to Life
Thereafter, the leaders and the teams take to “systems approach” to handling their organisational aims and objectives. It entails indentifying the terminal objectives for each organsiational need and systematically approaching the problem at hand be it production, marketing or training to evolve suitable “enabling” and “learning” objectives to derive the correct course of action or approach to evolving business strategies, training plans or almost any conceivable business or life activity.
Today’s business leaders have to be armed with necessary tools of business leadership to survive and excel. The maneuver theories developed and refined overtime apply equally to leaders in any environment. Developing clairvoyance and the art of leading businesses successively by remaining one step or moving ahead of the change are critical to success in businesses as they are to any situation in wars.
In both the one quick on his feet wins.
Here’s for the Why, what and how of leading change
- The OODA Loop (fogus.tumblr.com)
- What the F-86 can teach us about software development (managingmetrics.com)
Leadership means exciting, enabling, educating and empowering the team to deliver across the full range of activities in a swarmed manner, happily & willingly.
The acme of leadership’s deliverance is in producing results by each member of a team in such an egoless manner that every activity generates multiple options for the leadership to exploit to active the organizational goals. Creating this win win situation for the organization, leader and the led remains the basic art of leadership.
Articulation of Intent
When each member of the team pushes the envelope to the best of his capabilities, the combined synergy that is produced far outstrips the imagination. A leader has perforce got to be the visionary who articulates his intent unambiguously and leads from the front in each endeavuor of the team. He has to have the third eye to “see” situations and conflicts arising well in advance and take corrective measures in time to propel the team. Proactively pays!
Calling the Calling
An essential component of leadership function is to convert each member of the team to be a self
starter. Initiative, innovation and experimentation are the key to exciting and empowering the team. However, the leadership has to be acutely conscious of putting the “right peg in the right hole”. Each person finds his mean in certain specific activities. If positively energized, that becomes the person’s calling. A progressive and enabling leadership works towards discovering this calling in each member of the team and assigning him requisite missions. An empowered team member working in sync with his calling will always produce the best results-no matter what!
Lateral thinking is an attribute most often misunderstood with warped thinking. It is not. It is the ability of self energized team members to generate out of the box blue ocean strategies to perform an assigned mission. Debono articulates this well.
Application of OODA Cycles.
As the OODA cycle enunciates by its name – the “Os” are times to observe & orient so as to deliberate and debate on all aspects of a problem at hand and generate multiple options. This is the phase that demands utmost sincerity in discussing debating and evolving options. Once the decision is taken, the team needs no more discussion but acts in a synergized manner to generate the desired momentum towards the next OODA cycle. The faster a team completes an OODA cycle, greater are the chances of success.
When such pro activity permeates the environment you stop managing but leading change.
Do that and watch miracles happen!