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Why are so many countries questioning the quality and effectiveness of their leadership? Is it a lack of preparedness?
This blog examines some issues relating to responsibility, ethics and power in leadership.  I have drawn on some older material to help my reflection, and suggest that we seldom consider how we should prepare for success as a precursor to good performance.  None of this is new, but has it been forgotten?
Leadership has been described as a serious meddling in the lives of others (De Pree, 1991:7).  This implies that leadership embodies a responsibility of leaders for, or toward, those who are led.  
Yet a common scenario in modern business (since the late 1980s) is:
… good, respected and successful leaders, men and women of intelligence, talent, and vision who suddenly self-destruct as they reach the apex of their careers.  (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:266).
An Australian newspaper article from that time (Barker, 1995:14) reported that a concern for ethics in business is:
 a response to what is now called “ the excesses of the eighties” – the economic damage done to the nation and individuals by greedy, irresponsible and often corrupt business people who were feted as national heroes.
Ethics in management is a significant theme in the recent.  But why is it that leaders get caught up in a downward spiral of unethical decisions?
Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:266-267) seek to:
 debunk the notion that ethical failure of our leaders is largely due to lack of principle and/or the tough competitive climate of the 80s and 90s. (Equally, we could say the same for the more recent past)  Rather, we would like to suggest that many of the violations we have witnessed in recent years are the result of success and lack of preparedness in dealing with personal and organisational success.
Other evidence (Barker, 1995; LaBier ,1986) supports this contention that little attention is placed on preparing people to deal with the trials and dilemmas associated with success in modern society.  As success is the goal of every leader (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:270) it is surprising that it does not rate more significance in management and leadership literature.
The biblical story of David and Bathsheba is used to outline four potential by-products of success: 
·      lose of strategic focus;
·      privileged access;
·      control of resources;
·      inflated belief in personal ability to control outcomes.
Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:267-269) write that “… the good and successful King David of Israel, believing he could cover up his impropriety, took Bathsheba to his bed while her husband was off in battle.”  
David is not where he is supposed to be (loss of strategic focus), he “delegated, then ignored what was happening”.  David had time on his hands, and a viewing position atop the palace roof to view Bathsheba at bath (privileged access).  David then manipulates the situations (controls resources, and tries to control outcomes) sleeps with Bathsheba who falls pregnant, brings her husband in from battle in the hope he will sleep with his wife and cover-up David’s impropriety, and eventually causes the husband to be killed.  The manipulation is exposed.  “David, in short, chose to do something he knew was clearly wrong in the firm belief that through his personal power, and control over power, he could cover up”.
When kept within reason, privileged access and control of resources are positive and justified requisites for success.  Privileged access is “essential for comprehensive strategic vision” and control of resources is “necessary for the execution of strategy” (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:269).  Loss of strategic focus and inflated belief in personal ability are essentially negative (see Table 3)
Table 3:  Possible outcome experienced by successful leaders
Positive/Benefit
Negative/Disadvantage
Personal
Level
Privileged Access
Position
Influence
Status
Rewards/Perks
Recognition
Latitude
Associations
Access
Inflated Belief in Personal Ability
Emotionally Expansive
Unbalanced Personal Life
Inflated Ego
Isolation
Stress
Transference
Emptiness
Fear of Failure
Organisational
Level
Control of Resources
No Direct Supervision
Ability to Influence
Ability to set Agenda
Control over Decision Making
Loss of Strategic Focus
Organisation on Autopilot
Delegation without Supervision
Strategic Complacency
Neglect of Strategy
                                                                                (Source: Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993: 270)
The benefits of success to the leader and the organisation are obvious.  Less readily apparent is the personal “dark side” of success which revolves largely around three psychological issues outlined by Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:270-271).  These are:
·      Climbing the success ladder exposes leaders to negative attitudes and behaviours.  There may not be apparent, but nonetheless come with the territory of successful leadership.  Negatives that could be reinforced include unbalanced personal lives, a loss of touch with reality and an inflated sense of personal ability.
·      Leaders may become emotionally expansive – “their appetite for success, thrills, gratification, and control becomes insatiable”.  They can lose the ability to be satisfied.  They can become personally isolated and lack intimacy with family and friends, losing a valuable source of personal balance.  They “literally lose touch with reality”.
·      Other factors include stress, fear of failure and the “emptiness syndrome” (“Is this all there is to success?”)  An inflated sense of ego can lead to abrasiveness, close-mindedness and disrespect. 
Success does not necessarily lead to undesired behaviour as Ludwig and Longenecker (1991:271) are careful to record:
We are not suggesting that all successful leaders fall prey to these negatives that are frequently associated with success, but rather want to make the case that success can bring with it some very negative emotional baggage.
However, it is useful to recognise the seven lessons from David’s experience (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1991:271) provide a useful framework for reflection:
  •  Leaders are in their positions to focus on doing what is right for their organisation’s short-term and long-term success.  This can’t happen if they aren’t where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing.
  • There will always be temptations that come in a variety of shapes and forms that will tempt leaders to make decisions they know they shouldn’t make.  With success will come additional ethical trials.  
  • Perpetrating an unethical act is a personal, conscious choice on the part of the leader that frequently places a greater emphasis on personal gratification rather than on the organisation’s needs.
  • It is difficult if not impossible to partake in unethical behaviour without implicating and/or involving others in the organisation
  • Attempts to cover-up unethical practices can have dire organisational consequences including innocent people getting hurt, power being abused, trust being violated, other individuals being corrupted, and the diversion of needed resources.
  • Not getting caught initially can produce self-delusion and increase the likelihood of future unethical behaviour.
  • Getting caught can destroy the leader, the organisation, innocent people, and everything the leader has spent his/her life working for.”
The important lessons for Ludwig and Longenecker (1992:272) is for leaders to recognise it could happen to them, and to be aware that:
Ethical leadership is simply part of good leadership and requires focus, the appropriate use of resources, trust, effective decision making, and provision of model behaviour that is worth following.  Once it is lost it is difficult if not impossible to regain.
Further Reading
Barker G (1995)  The glove that tempers the iron fist.  The Australian Financial Review Magazine. July. pp.14-21
Burdett  J O (1991)  What is empowerment anyway?  Journal of European Industrial Training. 15(6):23-30
De Pree M O (1989)  Leadership is an Art.   Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia.
De Pree M O (1991)  Leadership Jazz.  Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia.
Eisler R (1995)  From domination to partnership: The hidden subtext for organisation change.  Training & Development 49(2):32-39
LaBier D (1986)  Modern Madness: The Emotional Fallout of Success.  Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley
Ludwig D C and Longenecker C O (1993)  The Bathsheba syndrome: the ethical failure of successful leaders. Journal of Business Ethics 12(4):265-273

Peace W H (1991)  The hard work of being a soft manager.  Harvard Business Review. 69(6):40-42,46-47

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A business plan is a necessity for any business. It is the result of painstaking thought and analysis, translated into a strategy and action.

Many advisers will tell you, quite rightly, that simply having a plan is not the path to success. They will tell you that to execute your strategy you will need to be continually planning, and taking operational or tactical decisions as you are sure your objective.

I’d like to suggest a different way of looking at this.

Everybody in business will tell you that they often encounter barriers, unexpected obstacles and difficulties on the path to their ultimate goal. Having a means to navigate through this environment of uncertainty becomes critical…

Navigation, as commonly understood, requires us to know where we want to go. Often in business however we are more like explorers who have no idea what we will find along the way, or even what it looks like when we get there. We are driven by a vision of the future, and often one we want to create. The most important question on such a journey is often “where are we?”

It’s the navigator’s job to answer that question.

Do you know where you are? Have you defined your purpose adequately, so that at any point on the journey you can determine if you are fit for purpose? Do you have the necessary information to assess the health of your business? Do you have the cash flow to keep going? Have you been filling in the details as you go so that you can test the continued validity of your business plan? Or are you pursuing the journey in the hope that the ship is in shape? Do you know where you are, or are you just assuming that you are where you want to be?

Think of your business journey as a journey of discovery. As a navigator does, you not only chart the course, that you continually scan the horizon and monitor the weather, and make adjustments to sail around the storms or to avoid the rocks and reefs, or to take advantage of favourable winds. Just as the navigator calls for course changes to avoid hazards, and then for re-corrections to come back on track, so too you can manage your businesses.

How good is your information, your understanding, your analysis of experience, and your scanning of the business horizon? Where are you getting your advice?  Who do you turn to for assistance to navigate through the morass?

At any point in the journey that is your business life you must be able to answer the question “where are we?” and then assess whether you are still on track or off course.  And then you can make the informed decisions necessary to keep the business viable.  Execution is strategy.  Navigation enables execution.

And all business is a journey, not a destination.

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Here is a little story from one of my favourite leadership practitioners, Max De Pree, that reminds us that what a leader does is important.

I often found  the CEO job a rather lonely life where every move is under someone’s observation.  But rather than letting this develop into a sense of strain or tension, it is important to remember that if your actions reflect your words (or intentions) then you are being authentic and effective.

Esther, my wife, and I have a grand-daughter named Zoe, the Greek word for “life”.  She was born prematurely and weighed one pound, seven ounces, so small that my wedding ring could slide up her arm to her shoulders.  The neonatologist who first examined her told us that she had a 5 to 10 percent chance of living three days.  When Esther and I scrubbed up for our first visit and saw Zoe in her isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit, she had two IVs in her navel, one in her foot, a monitor on each side of her chest, and a respirator tube and a feeding tube in her mouth.

To complicate matters, Zoe’s biological father had jumped ship the month before Zoe was born.  Realising this, a wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave me my instructions.  “For the next several months, at least, you’re the surrogate father.  I want you to come to the hospital every day to visit Zoe, and when you come, I would like you to rub her body and her legs and arms with the tip of your finger.  While you’re caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her, because she has to be able to connect your voice to your touch.”

Ruth was doing exactly the right thing on Zoe’s behalf (and, of course, on my behalf as well), and without realising it she was giving me one of the best possible descriptions of the work of a leader.  At the core of becoming a leader is the need always to connect one’s voice with one’s touch. (my emphasis)

Reference:  De Pree M O (1991)  Leadership Jazz.  Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia. pp.1-3

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In the organisations I have lead I have steadfastly refused to have any culture change programmes.  I prefer to change what the organisation and its’ people are doing, and as a result the culture changes. Too many efforts aimed at improving organisational performance stumble because they miss this opportunity.

I am sure many readers will have shared the experience of attending a culture change workshop where a “desired culture” is identified and a list of “behaviours” is identified.  Then we all go back to doing the same things in the hope that the culture will change.  Unless new and different activities are introduced the change efforts will be suboptimal.

One aspect of this that is not often spoken about now is the difference between climate and culture in organisations.  Culture tends to be deep and stable (entrenched). Culture is often difficult to access and perceive. Climate, on the other hand, is often easier to perceive and understand – the behaviour, attitudes and feelings that characterise daily life in the organisation. Climate is not only easier to assess, but it also is easier to change.

Climate is the key determinant of performance.  Every action you take, every decision made, will have direct impact on the climate in the organisation.

Neglecting your people, for example, creates a poor climate.

A warm, supportive, co-operative climate where high standards are accepted and expected improves your chances of business success.  Creating a climate where the teams objectives are crystal clear create the grounds on which a healthy culture will develop – one where every employee is totally committed to the company’s goals and works hard to contribute to them.

It goes beyond just asking: Do they work well together as a team?

The important questions for individuals look like this:
·         Is everyone clear about what they’re doing?
·         Do they feel their contribution is recognised?
·         Do they feel they get a hearing?
·         Are they truly valued and honoured by the organisation?
·         Do they have a sense that they belong?

__________
See also : Novel Approach to Developing Leaders

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How do you grab the attention of your organisation and ensure that it does the right thing?
Many will say “by having a compelling vision”.  It would be nice to have such a simple exclamation.

Having a compelling vision alone is insufficient for achievement as a leader. It must be complemented by communication and relationship building skills. Peters and Waterman, in “In Search of Excellence” in 1982, considered that the principal factor which seems to deliver organisational success is the manager’s ability to deal with people.

Dealing with people starts with establishing a shared understanding of purpose. CEOs cannot develop a compelling vision or a strategy on their own. Yes, they need to have an agenda, and be results oriented (results get attention), but these cannot be developed in isolation.

The reality is that the best CEOs are good at articulating the aspirations of their fellow organisational members.

They are good at listening and observing their own people, and turning those aspirations into a compelling statement for the organisation.

Simply put, the best leaders set the direction by energising the aspirations already in the organisation.
 
Articulating and communicating that vision turns it into a statement of shared purpose. The much sought after alignment of staff is more correctly described as a continuing process of orienting people towards the core objective, and to initiate actions that contribute to the achievement of purpose.

And organisations become more effective as this shared understanding translates into another continuing process of always challenging what is being done – does it contribute to the purpose? Is it consistent with values? If so, is it the best way? What are the risks? Is the risk worth taking? And so on.

Rather than being seen as the action of a charismatic or transformational leader, the purpose provides for a fundamental need in people. It is one in which they can find meaning and a sense of personal worth. It is a framework in which their contribution can be appreciated, and not just externally, but in greater levels of self-esteem and confidence.

Two other factors are important, and can be deal breakers no matter how effective a leader has been in developing a sense of purpose. Those factors are trust and respect.

Trust is easy, and whilst it encompasses concepts such as integrity and fairness, in organisations it comes simply from making yourself and your position clear, and then honouring your commitments. That is, doing what you promise. This requires accountability and reliability, and implicitly requires you to think carefully about the commitments you are making, and recognising the impact that you are having on the organisation and its people. Max De Pree rightly talks of leadership as a serious meddling in the lives of others. Consider your commitments carefully, make them public and then honour them. Too often this becomes a stumbling block!

Respect, also, is easy. To gain the respect and confidence of staff, managerial leaders must be able to display competence in the work of the organisation, not just in “management expertise.” This is not an argument either for internal appointments, or for appointments of people who already understand your business. Many leaders entered jobs in which they have little content knowledge, and those who survive invariably go into a deep dive to understand the business and its nature. As they develop expertise, and display empathy with the joys and trials of the business, they win respect. Those who do not work to understand the business falter.

The essence of managerial leadership is to develop and demonstrate the expertise and understanding that allows you to articulate a core purpose for the organisation. Translating that purpose into action is the essence of successful strategy and that requires you to be clear about your intentions and “walk the talk”.

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I invest a lot of time assisting people running businesses to do the right thing and to find the correct decisions for their company or organisation.  Often, to do this effectively, we need to reflect on our own practice.  Here is a thought for you on fear.

Have you been in this situation before? You are facing a dilemma and need to make a hard decision. Racing through your mind are all sorts of scenarios and distractions. A decision seems obvious, but something holds you back.  It could be that you’re racked with fear that people won’t like your decision. You might fear looking stupid. We fear that people may feel hurt, or that you might damage a friendship or a working relationship. Will making a decision be seen as me having got it wrong in the past?

So you compromise and make a decision that you think might keep the peace, or please everyone.  Or, worse still, you avoid making a decision at all.

Now, ask yourself this: what would I do if I had no fears?

Prolonged exposure to boardrooms, and listening to the war stories of respected directors, tells me that the above situation is not unheard of in the governance arena. But there can be no place for fear in decision-making for directors. They are charged with making decisions that are in the best interests of the company.  Importantly this requirement includes making decisions in the best interests of the company even if that is not in their own interest.
 
Directors are expected to make the tough call, and this can often be a daunting and difficult task.   But they cannot avoid their responsibility by ducking the hard decisions.

Perhaps the most valued asset that any director possesses is his or her reputation. Reputation risk is often discussed by directors, and an association with poor decisions and/or practices could damage that reputation. This provides a very strong motive for directors to ensure that they are making sound decisions that are in the best interest of the company. Best interest, of course, now goes beyond narrow interpretations of shareholder value, to ensuring that decisions enable the company to continue to trade in a sustainable manner, and reflect the needs and interests of staff, customers, and the wider community as well as shareholders.

But directors, like all people, are not immune to fear. They, however, may have a heightened responsibility to ensure that fear does not distort good decision-making. If we asked the question, “what would I do if I had no fears?”, then we could remove one major obstacle to the operation of sound judgement.

When you ask “what would I do if I had no fears?” then often the correct decision stares you in the face…your choice becomes clearer.

Want to learn more? I recently completed a program offered by the University of Lausanne through Coursera entitled, Unethical Decision-Making in Organisations.  Delivered by Guido Palazzo and Ulrich Hoffrage from the UL Business School, the course covered many topics, including the Enron story and Lehman Brothers collapse.  I would recommend the course to anyone interested in developing their decision making skills. I would particularly recommend it to anybody serving at Board or C-Suite level.

Amongst other things, the Lausanne course has helped me to re-appreciate the operation of fear, and particularly concerns about making decisions that might isolate you in work or social settings. The course also help be put in context the importance that leaders such as Field Marshal Bill Slim and Gen George Patton both applied to the advice “do not take the counsel of your fears”.  And the words of Max DePree: “Leaders stand alone, take the heat, bear the pain, tell the truth.”

High on the list of screens I will now apply to the difficult task of decision-making, especially at board level, will be to regularly ask myself: what would I do if I had no fears?

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 Has science reached its limits of growth?  

I recently re-read ” Prometheus Bound: Science in a dynamic steady state” written in 1994 by John Ziman, and was intrigued how much the context has changed in 30 years, yet the substance hasn’t.

John Ziman had a distinguished career in the natural sciences. In Prometheus Bound (ISBN 0 521 43430 0), he wrote about the problems scientists have with governments, administrators etc.  His preface starts:

 “Science is reaching its ‘limits to growth’. It is expected to contribute increasingly to national prosperity, yet national budgets can no longer support further expansion to explore tempting new re-search opportunities, by larger research teams, equipped with increasingly sophisticated apparatus. As a result, science is going through a radical structural transition to a much more tightly organized, rationalized and managed social institution. Knowledge-creation, the acme of individual enterprise, is being collectivized.

This transition is pervasive, interlocking, ubiquitous and permanent. It affects the whole research system from the every day details of laboratory life to the politics of national budgets. Changes in one part of the system, such as the abolition of academic tenure, have repercussions elsewhere, for example in the commercial exploitation of scientific discoveries. A new policy language of ‘accountability’, ‘evaluation’, ‘input and output indicators’, ‘priority-set-ting’, ‘selectivity’, ‘critical mass’, etc. has become commonplace throughout the world, from Finland to Brazil, from Poland to New Zealand, from the United States to Papua New Guinea. Indeed, science is becoming a truly international enterprise, organized systematically on a global scale.”

I am sure there are many people who could write this in 2013 – and lament that we may not have made much real progress in understanding and practice of public policy around science and technology.  But we have made enormous inroads into our understanding of the world and our ability to put science to work over the last 30 years.

 In a real sense we have risen to the challenge set by Ziman when he elegantly posed:

“Many scientists and scholars look back regret-fully to a more relaxed and spacious environment for academic research. But nostalgia is a fruitless sentiment. What all scientists know is that science cannot thrive without social space for personal initiative and creativity, time for ideas to grow to maturity, open-ness to debate and criticism, hospitality towards innovation, and respect for specialized expertise. The real question is not whether the structural transition is desirable, or could have been avoided: it is how to reshape the research system to fit a new environment without losing the features that have made it so productive in the past.”

The challenge is still relevant in 2013 and will remain for some time.

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