Mindcor leadership development

Why Engineers Trained 20th Century Managers and Social Scientists Develop 21st Century Leaders (Part 2)

Why Engineers Trained 20th Century Managers and Social Scientists Develop 21st Century Leaders (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this article we explored the shift in thinking and style of leaders from the 20th century to today. Whilst engineers and the ideas of commercialisation and mass production drove the changes in the previous century, today’s fast paced and constantly changing environment requires individual leaders who are able to gain buy-in from the individual knowledge workers in their organisations in order to achieve the company objectives.

It is all about developing Ownership

The first lesson that every psychologist is taught when looking at their role as counsellor is that “you cannot own the problem”. All their training aims to help the fledgling counsellor to unlearn a deeply ingrained pattern of behaviour, and the associated beliefs that we acquire through our traditional schooling. Fundamentally the belief that your contribution and value is measured by being able to provide the “right” answer. Shifting to a belief system that your value is derived by engaging with people in a way that helps them find the right answer, requires enormous conscious effort. It also requires the development of a completely different set of skills, not the least of which is how to listen and elicit the “right” answers from others. This shift has seen emotional Intelligence, action learning and coaching take a front and centre position in the majority of leadership programmes. All of which encourage a culture of constant learning and development of the ability to adapt and create solutions to different situations both for oneself and for those that the leaders “lead”.
The ability to take ownership at all levels of leadership in the 21st century organisation plays a critical role in enabling the organisation to remain relevant and responsive. A world that is global, constantly changing and where people in the same organisation are often faced with completely different realities, cultures and challenges, requires a very different contribution from traditional management and implementation of centrally defined and aligned structures. It requires leaders who are aligned around a shared purpose and who take ownership for shaping the strategy and taking decisions to execute on challenges and opportunities they face in their functional area, or market.

It is about learning to Collaborate and Co-create solutions

Ownership drives a culture and orientation towards customers and the people, at all levels, in the organisation based on the ability to develop solutions to a constantly changing and evolving reality. Strategies need to be continuously evolved and adapted and good strategic capability in 21st century organisations is based on key principles of action learning. A process of developing a continuous feedback loop that drives real time learning as individuals and teams charter an uncertain future.

Co-created solutions are the ultimate expression of truly collaborative cultures, where knowledge workers connect their IP and 1+1 goes from being equal to 2 to a quantum greater than 2. Leaders have had to learn how to elicit the answer from others, particularly because they rely on – the specialists in their teams – to navigate an increasingly complex environment.

It was recognised in the late 20th century that due to the explosion of human knowledge no one person could achieve the required level of mastery in all disciplines. Effective leadership in a 21st century organisation is based on the ability to build a team of specialists and to harness their collective knowledge to create a unique value proposition. Linked to this, leadership teams need to learn to work together to apply their different areas of expertise in order to make quality decisions and effectively implement the emergent solutions.
The process of strategic planning has become more fluid and less structured, to respond to the rapid pace of change and uncertainty. 5-year plans, with detailed roadmaps, have been replaced with 3 to 5 year strategic intent or organisational aspirations often referred to as a shared purpose. Aspirations which reflect the why we need to change and the what we would like to achieve. The planning process has fallen into shorter cycles as the “how” to get there has to be constantly evolved in response to ongoing changes in the ecosystem.

Leaders need to Inspire Shared Purpose

Organisations built around shared purpose are fundamentally different to those build around a strategy. Shared purpose organisations ensure that people at all levels understand and have bought into the Why and What of the strategy and encourage their leaders with their teams to develop the “how” to implement. Strategy-led organisations aim to prescribe the how things should be done to achieve the goals. Purpose-led organisations devolve the decision making on the “how” to those in operating units, those closest to the market and responsible for delivery. They focus on building a strong sense of shared purpose amongst leaders at all levels. They also invest in developing and empowering frontline leaders to be capable of leading decision making ensuring the right level of responsiveness and agility.

A key element of leadership with shared purpose is that it requires a connection of personal purpose with organisational aspiration. This requires a different set of leadership skills – the ability to connect emotionally, not just mechanically with the people they lead. Fundamentally we need leaders to be able to inspire the teams they lead, getting them to “want” to share their knowledge and skills in order to support the achievement of a collective purpose. A key advantage of decision making driven by shared purpose is that changes are localised rather than centralised. Many organisations today strive for global scale but local relevance. This can only be achieved in there is a strongly embedded shared purpose.

A lack of shared purpose means that centralised decision making and the resultant change is incredibly disruptive to the organisation for several reasons. Firstly, they are disempowering because they are most often made without effective consultation or engagement with those who will be required to implement the changes. This typically leads to high levels of employee disengagement and a significant impact on productivity. Secondly, they are not often understood meaning there is a significant lag between the implementation of the change and the adoption of the required change in behaviour, adoption of system etc. Thirdly, they are global and therefore affect the entire system not just the required/isolated component of the system. Global changes often are highly inefficient, and research conducted over the past three decades has shown that this methodology rarely, in fact less than 30% of the time, achieves the desired result.

What we need from Leaders

Having leaders that own the change, are capable of making changes aligned with the shared purpose, and are motivated and able to motivate others to drive the change at all levels, is a fundamental requirement for effective 21st century organisations. It requires a fundamental shift in thinking about how we develop these leaders and how we build strategies. The focus should be on creating shared purpose and devolving decision making to frontline leaders.

There is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater – structures and processes still play a key role however these should become less rigid. This is most apparent when we begin to look at roles and responsibilities, where more and more individuals who are multi-skilled and able to span multiple functions are becoming critical to the implementation and smooth running of businesses.

Many traditional leadership roles in the C-Suite are beginning to change as this evolution takes place. Examples are the CIOs who find themselves having to become marketing experts as organisations adapt to the digital age. CFOs get pulled into becoming experts in IT infrastructure as this now impacts most core business processes. CEOs find themselves increasingly under pressure to change their organisations, resulting in a reduced average tenure of just 4.7 years before they risk becoming irrelevant.

Leadership is increasingly challenging and requires a fitness and a constant investment in learning and evolving. 21st century leaders embrace coaching for themselves and their teams, as a way of building the fitness, orientation to learning, and solution building. Less and less is coaching being viewed as a sign of deficit, but rather as the recognition of the new requirements of the role. Just as seeking therapy may have carried a particular stigma when it was first introduced in the 20th century, so recognising and seeking support to develop the emotional and learning requirements of leaders has carried a stigma. Gladly though, the thinking is changing and coaching is now more consistently recognised as a critical capability and function within organisations, and one that all leaders should invest in and develop.

Author: John Brodie is a Registered Clinical Psychologist, Executive Coach and Organisational Development Consultant. Currently Managing Director of Mindcor

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Article Name
Why Engineers Trained 20th Century Managers and Social Scientists Develop 21st Century Leaders (Part 2)
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John Brodie

Original Source : South Africa – Mindcor (Pty) Ltd.

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Why Engineers Trained 20th Century Managers and Social Scientists Develop 21st Century Leaders (Part 2)

6 min

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