The new language of leadership

Oct 31 2006 by Neil Cassie Print This Article

A profound shift is taking place from predictive to non-predictive demand – from push to pull economics. And if organisations are to adapt to this, their leaders need to radically reassess their behaviour.

In today's challenging global economic marketplace, the investment community is demanding more differentiated and sustainable solutions to growth creation. Underlying this demand, a profound shift is taking place within the commercial environment that also requires a radical reassessment of leadership behaviour.

The shift in question is from predictive to non-predictive demand – from push to pull economics and methodologies.

Push organisations tend to have a top-down design. They have centralised controls and clear procedures. They are resource-centric and efficiency-focussed and they restrict participation and involvement in decision-making

Pull businesses - where the leadership recognise that demand is highly uncertain – are demonstrably different.

They have an emergent design model, they are highly decentralised, they promote independent initiatives are loosely coupled, modular, people-centric and innovation-focussed and encourage open decision-making.

But not only do they have a different design, they also have a different language, one that replaces 'military' with 'human'.

Organisations become organisms

Workforce becomes talent marketplace

Divisions become creative nets

Hierarchy becomes community

Instructions become tacit interactions

Procedures become ideas

Bullet points become stories

Metrics becomes dialogue

Winners and losers become interdependents

But just at the point that companies have to move from resource-centric to people-centric, their people have a bad dose of initiative fatigue and even worse, a deep-rooted cynicism.

So the 'new' language detailed above must not just be spoken, but experienced.

Leaders must replace their faith in the latest guru with faith in their own instincts and in their people
Fundamentally, to overcome the cynicism and fatigue, leaders must replace their faith in the latest guru with faith in their own instincts and in their people.

In this 'quiet revolution', actions speak louder than words. And the leader's first action should be to ask two fundamental questions: who are we and where are we going? What are our Values and what is our Vision?

Within that Vision and Values framework, a leader can engage their core team in defining the company's commercial purpose and key strategic platforms that will lead to sustainable growth.

But these actions, fundamental as they are, are not the 'turnkey' to converting the company from a 'push' to a 'pull' capability.

Instead, he answer to how we succeed in a non predictive environment lies in the most non-predictive component of every business – its people.

And the turnkey lies in a third question being asked – not by the leader this time, but by every single individual in the organisation of themselves.

The third question is what is my value?

The question of individual value relates not to the generic, commodity commercial experience but to the inherent, intrinsic, personal quality that defines each of us uniquely.

By the act of this question being asked, the leader begins a process that unleashes the human potential of the organisation.

And by the fact that it matters to the business that each individual defines their value, it demonstrates that this is not another initiative; that this is not borrowed or ersatz.

This allows each individual to find out where they 'fit' - independent of their role, title, function, department and division – and provides the third and critical, 'holding pin'.

Ultimately, it creates alignment between Values, Value and Vision and therefore between the growth of the individual and the growth of the company.

In so doing, the leader liberates the human capital of the business and answers the question the investment community has been asking persistently. How do you create differentiated and sustainable growth in an environment where demand is non predictive and where you have already made all the cuts and efficiencies it is possible (or wise) to make?

Behavioural change of this significance does not come easily. It is profound and once begun is a long term commitment.

There are three distinctive phases leaders have to take their people through in order to achieve their collective goals.

The first 'Alignment' phase can be ugly, but the company must be big enough to sponsor criticism and give vent to emotions – otherwise there is no legitimate progress possible. People have to get past the myriad of frustrations or politics before being able to look forward. They must be treated as adults with something of value to say right from the start.

The second 'Value' phase invites individuals to define their personal Value in the terms described previously, and then to share it with their peers in the form of a story.

This again helps to communicate complex issues; allows others to identify with and give feedback to each individual; embraces emotion as a resource to be valued within business; and brings 'the whole person' into the work environment, not just the title.

It also allows the individual to 'hear' their own story and how others interpret it. The complete process is powerful and motivating and helps each individual 'lock –in' their Value with the company's Vision and Values.

Finally, the 'Implications' phase moves beyond 'speech' to 'action'.

It is where 'individual accountability' is generated to a degree and with an integrity that no annual goals and assessment programme ever could achieve.

This breeds the interdependency from which a new sense of collaboration, unity of purpose and community are created. These are the foundations of a 'pull' organism.

This in turn begins a process of 'influencing up'.

By taking responsibility for that which they can (rather than moaning about it as they did in the past) individuals and teams then effectively isolate those issues beyond their reach that are the responsibility of their management to 'fix' - and so on up.

The issues that go 'up' the chain tend to be significant. The senior managers cannot dodge the bullet as they have their own Value to deliver and for once the 'political' conspiracy is a positive force.

The issues may be structural, procedural, hierarchical, resource, skills and development, investment, competitive ideas etc, etc.

In fact all the issues that in the old and failing 'push' system, sowed the seeds of discontent with employees and the investment community alike.

Which brings us back to leaders – to you, the person, the human being reading this article.

You, if things have gone well, will have some of the toughest questions to deal with from your own people, but from the analysts and the investment community only the sound of applause as they wonder at how you turned your company to one that thrives in these uncertain, non predictive times.

And all in such a short time frame, in the face of unprecedented competitive and society challenges and without a drop of blood being spilled.

What a story.

About The Author

Neil Cassie
Neil Cassie

Neil Cassie has 20 years of advertising agency experience and is founder of The Cassie Partnership, a consultancy that assists CEOs of large organisations to close the gap between their company's vision and their peoples' behaviour.