Monday, November 9, 2009

We found the leaders!

It seems that humans have been trying for quite some time to determine who is a leader, or at least what is indicative of a leader. Everything from personality and achievement tests, as well as behavioral interviews and in-depth observation has been tried. Still the root of leader, presuming one exists, remains elusive. However, let’s imagine that we have found the indicator of leadership ability- and it’s a tangible thing. For the purpose of this blog entry, all left handed people have leadership ability (my mom is a leftie-she would be so proud!). Now that we have found these people, we can develop them, right?

During class I had been wondering what would happen if we answered the question about how to identify those with leadership ability so that it would then be possible to cultivate such ability. So now that we’ve hypothetically identified people with leadership talent, now comes the question of it can be developed into something that the person can utilize in a productive way. We now know that all of the lefties are potential leaders and that the ability is present. How do we go about developing their ability? Do we treat it like innate musical ability, providing lessons and space for creativity, unfettered by other activities? Or is like athletic ability, where we encourage and require practice of the discipline and competition among others? Or is it more like the capacity for language and literacy, where learning the basics is the beginning to an almost limitless set of words and cultures? Can it be taught like a college major that is skills driven, such as accountancy, where upon showing your leftie-ness, you engage in theory based courses and practical internships?

From our readings for this week, Robert Fulmer in “The Evolving Paradigm of Leadership Development” discusses that leadership development is an on-going process, suggesting that the above ways of cultivating ability would not work for leadership. Also he delves into the concepts of creating leaders who can create a future and nurture other leaders, a concept that we have also discussed in class. Perhaps then these leftie leaders should engage in peer teaching and learning, because of the flexible nature of leadership. Using Fulmer’s ideas, one could say that we would need to devote a lifetime to the leadership development of our lefties, much like we do now, despite not actually knowing if anyone has innate leadership ability. Maybe it doesn’t truly matter if we know that someone has leadership ability…

To conclude I ask, is the true question how to identify those with leadership skills, or what to do with them once we find them?

Collective Intelligence or Colossal Distraction?

In another class I have with Dr. Robbins, we discussed collective intelligence and crowd sourcing. In short:

Collective Intelligence: pooling existing social knowledge through networking, enabled by communications technology, where users generate their own content. Think Wikipedia.

Crowd Sourcing: employers or organizations assign tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor to a “crowd.” The public may be invited to develop a new technology (remember when LG offered a reward for the best design for its new phone?); is a thriving open marketplace for solutions to problems of all kinds and at all prices.

We concluded that these phenomena are not only permanent, but are making permanent changes in the infrastructure of organizations. MIT even hosts its Center for Collective Intelligence to conduct research on how communications technologies are changing they way people work together. How do the leadership theories we have studied fare in today’s organization where CI and CS are on the uptake? For one thing, it provides a healthy check on groupthink. (Irving 1971). It’s hard to avoid an outsider’s perspective when idea development is open to the public.

But how does the exponential change in access to information that almost any “follower” has today look in the frameworks of, say, McGregor’s work?

McGregor would whole-heartedly support CI/CS. He says development within an organization should involve many rather than a few and that it should focus on unique capacities rather than common objectives (1966). While players in a CS network are working toward a common objective, CS hinges on the unique capabilities of crowd members. CI/CS opportunities count on Theory Y (1960) being in action – those who participate are doing so for self-fulfillment (even if that fulfillment comes in the form of money or glory). People are, as McGregor states, self-directing their own achievement of objectives that they are committed to.

But what abut CI/CS opportunities outside of one’s organization: Do these create a leadership dilemma? If leaders are motivating followers in their organizations toward a common goal or mission (Burns 1978; Heifitz 1994; Selznick 1957; Sashkin 1989) then do countless and easily accessible opportunities for collaboration and innovation pose dangerous competition for follower attention?

I think these trends that are altering the workplace, the university, and society present a whole new set of challenges for leaders in harnessing a focus in their followers while also fostering cognitive development. This opportunity would, I think, come back to the organization as a value in the form of an effective, critically thinking, active follower (Kelly 1988), but one who spends time and energy on goals unrelated to the organization.

For Burns (1978), as another example, it seems the leader should be open to his/her followers’ pursuit of such opportunities as an enabler of self-actualization. But where does that leave the follower’s devotion to the organization’s goals?

This dilemma has no doubt been around for as long as the theories in the form of any kind of distraction. But CI/CS presents a developmentally valuable, monetarily rewarding, structured framework for distraction. How might other theorists respond to this challenge?

So What Does Google Think??

So we are getting to the end of the wire... and as we are all trying to come up with our own models of leadership and opinions of whether or not it can be taught, I thought why not look into what Google thinks about this. We ask Google everything else, right?

I was fortunate enough to come across an interview conducted on August 18, 2009 with Evan Wittenberg, head of Global Leadership Development at Google. He makes some very interesting and intriguing comments about Google's opinion of leadership and asks many of the same questions we have asked throughout this course. Overall, Wittenberg describes Google's opinion of leadership with the following: "It's not authority based leadership. It's credibility, it's innovation, it's influence. It's the kinds of things anybody at any level could use to be more effective and help Google." Their view of leadership aligns with the values of their organization (Burns, Selznick, Heifitz). He goes on to say this is possible because everyone is dedicated and passionate about the vision. (Sashkin, 1989). This idea reminds me of Choi's model of leadership (Choi, 2006). It comes down to envisioning, empowerment, and empathy. Google focuses on all three and they put that responsibility in the hands of every employee. Their focus on the importance of teamwork and trust in each other models elements of servant leadership. All employees are servant leaders by serving first. (Greenleaf, 1991). They are serving each other and ultimately all serving Google's mission first above all else.

So with this model of leadership, what do they provide for development? Well interestingly enough, nothing is mandatory. They do not make anyone go to any of the programs they offer. They want their employees to be motivated to attend on their own so they really believe in the value of the program. McGregor would agree with their opinion to not pick out a select few of employees (McGregor, 1966). So what do they teach? Wittenberg claims they create "lab environments" where employees can come and build on their own personal leadership capabilities by teaching each other and sharing cases and problems from their day-to-day work. At the end of the day, Wittenberg says that the self-awareness piece is one of the most critical to personal leadership growth. It is even the foundational core to their view of leadership development. He says, "You cannot lead anyone until you know yourself..." What does everyone think about Google's decision to not make it mandatory?

I think what is important to notice is everything seems to be aligned at Google; the leadership, the culture, the vision, the values, and the work.

I will leave you with this quote from Wittenberg that says a lot of what they believe in regards to leadership. " Every Googler, every one of our 20,000 people, can act as a leader." In organizations, do you believe this is really true? Can everyone be a leader? Well, Google sure does seem to think so, and I do believe I agree.

Here is the link to the interview: