“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them” … Albert Einstein.
“If for nothing at all, you have to respect my office (position). I am the boss here! I am the manager over this place and you have to follow my instructions…” The words roared as this obviously high-positioned person talked about the compliance and targets he wanted his subordinates to achieve. They wondered the focus of drawing attention repeatedly to his position. There is a point in time for such assertions but when it becomes a regular feature in your managerial vocabulary, then you better watch it because you are becoming a corporate megalomaniac tip-toeing down a slippery slope whose ultimate tumbling would be of humpty dumpty proportions!
I have felt the frustration of some people in management positions in corporate Ghana quite a number of times, in the boardroom and on the field. This is always the case especially when there is a considerable gap between knowing and doing, between targets and results. It can be frustrating in such instances in any organisation. When you face such realities as a manager, instead of demonstrating innovative leadership you may be tempted to assert your position title or in a worst case lay the blame at the doorsteps of your subordinates.
“A fish rots from the head” is a Ghanaian proverb that is a classic diagnostic philosophy for leadership failures in every setting. It is common knowledge that during mergers, acquisitions and corporate takeovers, one major HR change which is introduced is the change in leadership, and rightly so. When you go to an organisation or a society and there are problems, fix the leadership issues and the problems are more than half-solved! Leadership is not in big names and titles, but it is the formulae that fixes the problem when you get it right. In a more recent happening, when Manchester United football club was doing poorly in the 2018/19 English premier league under the acclaimed coach Jose Mourinho, they made a strategic change in the leadership. They brought in another caretaker leader Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The rest they say is history.
Leadership is literally “the head” of the “organism” called “organisation”. Whoever bridges the gap between knowing and doing is on the leadership train! Classical leadership traits may be more pronounced in an individual and to that extent we may conclude that “leaders are potentially born”. However, having seen many young professionals rise to the occasion within the mining industry from very obscure and humble backgrounds without the natural advantage of textbook leadership traits, I can’t agree more with Clinical Professor Harry Kraemer that “Although potential leaders are born, effective leaders are made” (paraphrased, emphasis is mine).
In finding the connection between targets and deliverables, between information and transformation, the deployment of effective leadership competencies is sine quo non! Every strong or weak employer brand is a product of its leadership – that kind of leadership mindset which runs through from the top executive down to the lowest graded job! To be truly happy and positively engaged in your job, don’t just choose a company but choose its leadership – choose your CEO! choose your manager! choose your supervisor!
In August 2010 it was reported around the world of a collapse at the San Jose copper-gold mine in northern Chili which had trapped 33 men 700 metres underground. Shift Foreman Luis Urzúa immediately recognised the clear and present danger of the accident and took charge. He organised the men for a long-term survival situation and helping them cope mentally with the situation. Luis made detailed maps of the area to help with the rescue effort and co-ordinated closely with the expert engineers on the surface. For 70 days, Luis and the men were in the “valley of the shadows of death,” but in the spirit of true leadership he remained focused in resolving the problem and merely commented “It’s been a bit of a long shift’. The rest they say is history. In leadership you must stand for something upfront and provide support for a turnaround. Leadership without a human-centred approach in the workplace is a heartless leadership! It kills happiness, breeds fear and breeds toxically engaged employees.
Throw back again in 1992, the story of the “Malice in Dallas” addressed an issue of work and happiness in a subtle manner as well as how leadership can be deployed in solving disputes in a non-conventional way! It was Kurt Herwald, the stocky much-younger CEO of Stevens Aviation and Herb Kelleher, the 61-year-old CEO of Southwest Airlines. They had gathered in Dallas to settle a copyright claim over the slogan “Just Plane Smart.” Instead of deciding the matter with litigation, Herwald had challenged Kelleher to a good old-fashioned arm-wrestling duel; it had been decided that the winner would claim ownership of the slogan. At the end of the fixture, Stevens Aviation’s CEO won the match and with it earned the exclusive right to use the “Just Plane Smart” slogan. Both Stevens and Southwest got a nice public relation bump out of the creative way to avoid litigation (and associated legal fees), and for Stevens in particular, it likely led to rewards. It was noted by Priceonomics that: “Stevens Aviation, previously a peon in its industry, rose to prominence: It experienced a 25% growth over the next four years, during which its revenues rocketed from $28 million to over $100 million.” The “Malice in Dallas” was perhaps the most unconventional way a major corporation has ever used to settle a legal dispute – but it taught us something more: sometimes it pays to conduct business with a sense of humour.
It goes without saying that the resultant effects in the exercise of innovative and effective leadership include: improvement in financial performance and position and share price; a strong employer brand, an employer of choice, the making of a WOW workplace which invariably reduces acts of indiscipline amongst other benefits.
So when you want to promote employees into any level or recruit into your organisation at any level, think of leadership competencies on top of the technical requirements – for it will multiply an individual’s success in the role. True inspirational and transformational leadership is required in every shop floor, section, unit, department and division because leadership comes not just from the boardroom but it comes from risk taking, going against the grain, often when you’re driven by a higher cause, a deep care for others or a complete conviction that you’re acting for the greater good (to paraphrase Roffey Park-UK).
John Maxwell summed this up in his 1st irrefutable law of leadership – “The Law of the Lid”, which states: “Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness”. So technical ability plus leadership ability multiplies effectiveness and achievement in the workplace. Plain and simple.
To this end, true effective and innovative leadership: must not be egotistical subsumed in flattery titles; must lead in solving the problems that deluded the organisation; must deliberately develop employees in leadership competencies; must be a priority consideration in talent acquisition and talent management practices in any organisation; must abhor tyranny; must encourage a culture of accountability; and must liberate the energies in employees to fulfil a goal larger than themselves whilst bringing some fun into the workplace… for work and happiness is still the goal!
I am therefore in alignment with Prof. Stephen Adei when he re-echoes that: “Leadership is cause, everything else is effect.”
I would revisit this piece again but, in the meantime, I would love to hear any successful leadership stories or quote you have from your personal or organisational experiences!
Have a productive week!