Friday, November 30, 2012

Talk on Leadership Skills at SMILDA

This is the general content of a talk on leadership skills that I gave at SMILDA for their officers. Dr. Srinivasa Rao was kind enough to give me the opportunity which came my way thanks to my friend Achyut Menon who recommended my name to him.

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. – Lao Tzu

Effective leadership: It is all about bringing the best out of everyone in the team to achieve the team’s goal. The keyword being – ‘the best’ i.e. the team’s potential.

3 levels of leadership
  1. Unprepared, Untrained and even Reluctant leadership: Leader is not prepared for leadership role and not secure. He/She expects everyone to know what they are doing, does not give any direction and goes with the flow.
Result – If the team is good he/she may get some positive result, else it may end up with a negative result.
  1. Process driven leadership: Leader has some idea and follows a basic process. This can be taught or learned. In such scenarios team members are more focused and committed and work for a cause.
Result – Leader gets a decent result if he/she planned for it well and executed the process well.

  1. Inspirational leadership: Leader is an evolved leader. Higher level of leadership where team members go beyond their past capabilities and deliver much higher results for team. Here the team members are willing to go that extra length by themselves. Result – Extraordinary results.
One must certainly get out of Level 1 and be at Level 2. The Level 2 is a simple enough process-driven leadership style that one can stick by and get safe results even without conviction, belief and strength of personality or stature. Some training could help young leaders achieve good results at Level 2 as well. And one must also always aspire for Level 3 or Inspirational Leadership which can make a huge difference to the world, to the team and oneself. 

Level 1- Unprepared and untrained leaders – Poor results
In most of such cases the leadership position is thrust on the leader. There is no formal training and lack of leadership experience and that makes the person insecure. Leader closes himself out, is not accessible to his team and becomes unreasonable in his demands. He/she may not have goal clarity and provides no direction. He/she cannot hold the energy of the team together.
There is no real goal orientation, no coordinated team work, no clear plan, no empowerment of the team members, no consistent effort, no feeling of team spirit. Low morale, low performance. Low motivation. Average result.
Leadership has made no difference here and it may end up having a negative impact on everyone including the leader.

Level 2 -Process driven leadership – Positive results
With some leadership experience and/or formal training, leaders who are appointed to leadership positions can follow a process and get most things right. Here I feel most employees who are in some form of leadership positions, must be given some training on the process so they do follow some basic process right. Following the process does not require an extraordinary personality. It only requires preparation and work before assigning goals, roles and targets. In such cases, the leader must look at the process from the leader’s perspective and set the process in motion (as opposed to knowing it and not doing anything about it).

Goal clarity – Why are you here as a leader? What do you want to achieve as a leader? It is important for the leader to have goal clarity - about what he/she wishes to achieve and how. As the leader he/she sets the goals, the framework, for his team and they will follow it. Goal clarity requires a clear understanding of the system, the effort required.
To do: The leader must be clear about the goal and communicate the goal clearly to the team at the earliest – probably in the first meeting itself. It is probably the most important part of the process because all thought and action will be driven towards it. It is also the one thing that can hold the team’s energies together.

Role clarity – Who does what? Who reports to whom? Where does each one’s role end and where does it begin? It is important to specify roles so people don’t step on each other’s roles.
To do: The leader must mention clearly the role of each person, and what is expected of him/her in that role. Assigning roles requires the leader to know team members and their capabilities well and to understand what makes them tick and what does not.

Target setting – What to expect from each one? By themselves team members wait for instructions. Rarely do team members find it in themselves to motivate themselves and do extra work. Hence it is the leader’s job to push them or create an environment where they work by creating targets. Leader should know what members are capable of and degree of difficulty of assignment before assigning targets.
To do: The leader should know what a good target is for each team member. The target should stretch the team gradually but it should be achievable. The targets should challenge and motivate, not discourage and demotivate.

Providing inputs – Training, hardware, sotware and other inputs to be provided if the team is not fully equipped. The leader must know what inputs are required and ensure that they are provided.
To do: Understand the job and degree of difficulty in the job and equip team fully before they get to work.

Communication  - Leader must communicate clearly what is expected from the team and get their assent and buy in.
To do: To communicate clearly what is expected, what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable, what will be tolerated and what will not be tolerated, what is the reward and the punishment. Also to communicate the extent of support one would get and in what areas. Keep all doors of communication open.

Performance appraisal – Appraise the team’s/individual’s performance periodically and take corrective action. Here it is important for the leader to be sympathetic to honest efforts and at the same time set corrective action for dishonest or low performers who are not putting in effort.
To do: Look for those who are compromising the team effort and those who are helping its cause. Understand the reasons why and take action accordingly. It’s either a competence issue or an attitude issue so deal with it. However always be clear about the outcome so it guides the process.

Level 3 – Inspirational leadershipHigh Results All Round
The guiding mantra for leadership of this type is - everyone wants to excel. How does the leader get them to excel is the question? How does the leader create that atmosphere?
In these scenarios we are looking at leaders who believe in their team and its potential irrespective of its past record, who provide a worthy goal, the correct inputs that push the team’s limits, who believe that the team can handle the responsibility themselves. The critical thing about inspirational leadership is the transfer of ownership of the team’s goals to the members themselves so they take it upon themselves to achieve it (instead of being pushed to achieve it).

1)      Transfer of ownership of achieving the goal.
Transfer of ownership needs the leader to be a secure, trusting, supportive, patient, sympathetic person who has no ego. He must be able to trust his team to have the potential to achieve things much bigger than what he can conceive. He must not insist on micro managing, on giving them processes all the time but rather, show them high targets, guide them and support them in achieving them. They will find the way once he shows them the big goal. As they go on the path, he must trust them even when they fail, and help them through their anxieties until they succeed. At times he may have to step in under pressure and set things right. He should feel no loss of ego as they fly higher than he has, as they become independent and free.

Transfer of ownership could include the following activities:
A Worthy Goal– As defined by the team, a goal higher than commonplace results. A goal that gives them glory and reward. Guide them on this as they arrive at a common goal and support them.
The Process of achieving the goal– As defined by the team. Again guide them, and help them prepare for next level. Be hard on their work ethic, and be sympathetic to their individual goals and dreams.
Individual target setting – As defined by team/individual. One can go by potential and then bridge the gap with current performance.
Corrective measures – As defined by the team

Factors that help in this style of leadership:
1)      Being secure as a leader. Accept yourself as you are. Do not feel challenged by their independent thought and act. You are still the boss.
2)      Be supportive of team’s effort even when they fail initially. Give them time. Tell them what to do - not how to do. They will learn to fall and get up on their own.
3)      Guiding and mentoring them when they are going astray. Coach instead of commanding.
4)      Believe and trust the team. Hold your belief. If you believe in them, they will deliver. If you do not believe, they will not deliver.
5)      To raise the performance, raise the bar. By expecting the best, you foster a team that will reach higher. Make them stretch, flow into greater space. Lead by example where necessary.
6)      Empower everyone. No favorites. Empower the weaker players.

The effective leader knows himself. It all boils down to the leader’s clarity about himself.
The clearer you are about yourself, the more secure you are as a leader. The more secure you are as a leader, the more compassion and understanding you can bring to the workplace.
Know and accept yourself. yourself. Your goals, methods. Team. Strengths. Weaknesses.
That’s when all the minor glitches go away and the team starts falling in line.

Leadership tenets
Be aware that 
-          The leader is wholly responsible for the team’s performance.
-          No one starts with best resources. It is what the leader does with the resources that is important.
-          The team reflects the leader. If members are shirking responsibility, are being dishonest, are doubting, not performing – they are reflecting the leader somewhere. The leaders own doubts, fears, lack of clarity, lack of security shows up in these incidents. The core team reflects the leader and his beliefs
-          Leaders bring vision, greater common good, greater individual good, a vibrant future, human empowerment and development, clarity and conviction.
-          They leave the team as a better unit, as better individuals with greater belief in themselves.
-          They use resources efficiently -they don’t do everything themselves.
-          The leader takes the pressure when the heat is on. Can do it himself.

Make a difference – Use this opportunity
As a leader, one can make a difference to the world so use this opportunity to make even a small difference in your area despite the constraint. The small difference you make will slowly grow into something much bigger. Empower your people, your team and achieve higher.

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