Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wait, I totally wanted to revisit the talk about the leader as "designer"

I wanted to comment on the discussion we had a couple of weeks ago about the leader as a designer because I think that this analysis has some implications that are important to review and critique.

The leader as “a designer” (as the name implies) is responsible for the “design” (duh) of the organization- but what I wonder is, what does this look like? We talked in the beginning of the semester about vision and the responsibility / opportunity of the follower to not only step in but alter / personalize this vision and I wonder if the “leader as a designer” allows for this—how does a leader balance follower / employee input while maintaining ownership and responsibility of the design? And furthermore, once a leader shares his design with others, who takes responsibility for the direction of the company?

I think that this last question is where I became particularly intrigued in our discussion in class relating to our current financial crisis… in a system where there are multiple organizations / leaders / factors at play, who takes responsibility?

For Heifitz, responsibility for an organization’s success and failure lies with both the leader and the community. But what if the communities, as Kelly categorizes them, are comprised of sheep (Heifitz, “Values of Leadership)? What if they choose / do not have the opportunity to be anything other than “passive and uncritical, lacking in initiative and sense of responsibility” [due to education and knowledge limitations, sense [or actual] of powerlessness etc.] (Kelly, In Praise of Followers, 195). Do we hold them responsible for being sheep and thus criticize them for not taking responsibility of the success and failures of the community / organization of which they are a part (by choice or circumstance)? Or do we agree with Burns, who says that success is a function of contribution to change, pressured by purpose drawn from collective motives and values (Burns, “Toward a General Theory”)? But again, who is the collective? And does the leader, as designer, also become responsible for adopting systematic, structural and procedural change? If he / she directs this change, how can he / she share the responsibility for the outcome with the collective? The collective, as participants, carry out the tasks / responsibilities necessary to implement the change, but if the leader is the designer, how, if, when, by whom the change is implemented is solely his / her responsibility- or is it? If we assume that the collective is comprised of (again as Kelly calls them) “effective followers” because they think critically, are self-managers, and are not afraid (and do!) challenge the leadership… if they do not simply complete the tasks / assignments they are given without thinking critically about the consequences and previous decisions made to lead to their change in role / responsibility (aka are not “sheep”) then maybe we also hold them responsible—but again, this is contingent upon the fact that these followers are “effective followers”— and that is dependent upon the leader’s ability to pick those types of followers…
But how does he / she do that?

Can we, using the most common recruiting techniques, determine which people to pick?- can we tell from interviews, essays and most basically resumes, who will be “effective followers”—I think we determined in class that no, these methods are inefficient—so what do we do instead?

One tactic that I know we mentioned in class, but did not develop to the fullest potential in my opinion is the idea of ‘trail periods’- why does our evaluation of the quality of an employee end with the last interview stage? An organization hires an employee after a candidate completes the application process and is deemed suitable for the position- but what if we put “hires” in quotations and allow for a trial period to determine, from actual work experience with the organization, if the organization’s initial impression was in fact correct and that the new “hire” is not only suitable but excels in the position. So what difference do the quotations make?- The potential new employee is accepted into the organization and completes tasks that require minimal training (I should have prefaced that this particular idea is adapted to deal with entry level positions but could certainly be altered to accommodate upper-level placements). The organization’s leaders / peer level position occupants etc. can observe and evaluate the new hires work habits, ethic and moral foundation, creativity, potential (aka their ability to be “effective followers”) etc. during the trial period—and while benefiting from the work completed by the new “hire” (and paying them for their services) they can also evaluate whether or not they want to hire the employee (without the quotations). Thus, after a two month period (aka long enough to be able to observe the “hire” but not so long that the organization looses on the opportunity for the “hire” to truly contribute to the organization’s processes as a fulltime employee) the organization / designer decides whether or not to train and integrate the employee and officially hire him / her. I should say that this plan is certainly not flawless (and with this brief description even I have left out some critical components) but the intention is the most important: allowing an opportunity for creative hiring practices gives organizations the potential to hire “effective followers” that will benefit the organization and actively take responsibility / ownership for the organization’s successes and failures.

The point? An attempt to answer my initial question… what does a “designer” look like?
Do they:

Create a vision
With the help of others? Adapted by others? Allow others to take ownership of the vision? Do they respect a diversity of views within the community? Should they?

Design strategy to advance the goals of the organization (as they align with the vision)
Develop norms and a group culture
Orchestrate conflict
Make viable decisions that affect the organization’s vision
Exhibit choice and priority making
Does this include negotiation?
Organize human effort
Especially related to the ability to control and predict behavior and consequences of decisions
(Ideas adopted from Heifitz, Burns and Stogdill)
AND, can there be more than one?
Do we run into the same problems we have when we have “too many cooks in the kitchen?” I say, not if we turn to McGregor’s principle that “leadership is not a property of the individual, but a complex relationship among these variables” [on contingency theory of leadership] (McGregor, “An Analysis of Leadership”) “Designers” = Leaders, must be willing to allow others to influence their original designs and, at times, share their kitchen with “effective followers”.

Wait. I lied. I like this idea better.

Not designers. Contractors.
I am abandoning the designer metaphor. Leaders are contractors. Their vision for an “initial build” or even “remodel” must depend on the ideas, specialties, creativity, needs, of all other stakeholders [vision building]. Once the vision is created, the contractor must rely on other “effective followers” to be successful- the architect, plumber, electrician etc.- leaders who specialize in a particular department- all necessary to accomplishing the vision – the contractor hires, based on a trial period- if the “roofer” isn’t displaying the necessary characteristics up to the contractor’s standards, he / she will be replaced – the contractor designs a strategy to advance the goals / components of the vision, develops norms and a group culture, orchestrates conflict, makes viable decisions that affect the vision, exhibit choice and priority making, and organize human effort… all with the input and contributions of his / her “effective followers”. And if he / she is successful? It was because of the collective. And if he / she fails? It was because of the collective. But in either case, it is his/ her responsibility. He / she caries that gift, or burden, as a leader- in other words, it may not be his / her fault, but as leaders, they are entrusted with the “build” / “remodel” and it’s their responsibility to, to the best of their ability, ensure effective and efficient success.