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Article No.: 11-10

Article Title: Come to the Edge: For New Ways of Thinking

The following article is an excerpt from the upcoming book, Leadership in Balance, by Dr. John Kucia and Dr. Linda Gravett.

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Come to the edge, Life said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, Life said.
They came.
It pushed Them...
And They flew.
- Guillaume Apollinaire

We have developed a strong belief that a Leader in Balance and a Leader as a Brand are both built from the inside-out, and this belief compelled us to dive deeper in uncharted leadership waters to discover and better understand the ways of thinking of a leader in balance.
In this article we introduce the premise that the leadership required for a living organization in this 21st global society calls for new habits of the mind; a fundamental shift from emphasis on Leadership in Control to Leadership in Balance, and from a Leader’s Ways of Behaving to a Leader’s Ways of Thinking.
So, come to the edge…and read on.
Long living organizations have some shared characteristics:  a culture that fosters innovation; well communicated core values; continuous improvement as a way of life; leaders at all levels that facilitate change through collaborative relationships; and the ability to adapt to customer demands.  Organizations that have survived and sustained their competitive advantage through decades of internal change, turbulence and legislative interference have another factor in common:  balanced leaders with the necessary competencies at the time when the organization needed those specific competencies.
Leaders such as Procter & Gamble’s Bob McDonald exemplify balanced leadership.  Procter & Gamble survives in part because of its excellent branding capabilities.  A. G. Lafley, a former Procter & Gamble leader, branded his leadership approach, as well.  He said in an interview, “Nothing I do will have a more enduring impact on P&G’s long-term success than helping to develop other leaders.” These are not just words for Mr. Lafley:  he spent between one-third and 50% of his time on leadership development.  When consistency between words and actions occurs, a strong brand emerges.
We propose that a pivotal aspect of leadership in the organizations that will survive over the next few decades is the ability to understand the intricacies and interdependent systems of a global society.  These organizations will be led by people who successfully balance external challenges and moment to moment issues of the leadership day.  New habits will be necessary for organizations and their leaders to maneuver successfully in what Friedman in The World is Flat calls “the flat new world.”   Leaders of tomorrow must have a facility with leveraging technology, managing volumes of data, dealing with cultural differences inside and outside the U.S., and fostering innovation and creativity.  We believe that leaders must know themselves first:  their hopes, aspirations, competencies and deficiencies, and their vision for a better world.  Leaders then must learn to balance their own talents with the competencies of a diverse group of employees and stakeholders to leverage people resources to the fullest extent.  If they don’t, their competitors will.
The emerging leader in this global society needs to be more than an intellectual; he or she must possess emotional intelligence.  In this context, emotional intelligence includes the ability to understand one’s own emotions; the ability to identify and understand others’ emotions; and the ability to adapt and respond to situations and environments (Gravett and Caldwell, Using Your Emotional Intelligence to Develop Others, 2009).
In our research, we set out to explore a specific set of competencies possessed by collaborative leaders and their relationship to leadership success in long living, resilient organizations.  These competencies are aligned with new ways of thinking required to navigate the complexities of today’s global marketplace.  These are the new ways of thinking of a Leader in Balance who:

  1. Approaches leadership as a relationship not a position
  2. Understands that the leader embodies the brand promise
  3. Is motivated by a higher purpose; believes that mission drives the numbers
  4. Understands collaboration must have a business purpose
  5. Thinks “outside the pyramid” in order to share power and spread leadership, authority and responsibility
  6. Believes teaching and leadership have a great deal in common
  7. Understands that a personal comfort with and valuing of diversity are at the center of collaboration
  8. Believes that the challenge of leading change is not about “leadership in control”, but “leadership in balance

The competencies that are aligned with these ways of thinking include:

  •  Critical Thinking
  • Intentional Reflection
  • Strategic Perspective
  • Building a High-Trust Workplace
  • Establishing and Articulating Core Values
  • Fostering Collaboration
  • Sharing Power Appropriately
  • Innovation
  • Learning from Life’s Experiences

The nine competencies are behaviors that support the Eight Ways of Thinking.  They are the manifestation of the ways of thinking; that is, how observers know that leaders are Leaders in Balance.
A. G. Lafley once observed that “evolving an organization could benefit from defining a structure for the art and science of collaboration, with some definition of purpose.” 
Resilient organizations we researched such as Federated, Boeing, and Eli Lilly employ this approach.  We encourage leaders to be collaborative – and foster an environment of collaboration – as an intentional approach towards execution of the organization’s business imperatives. 
Peter Senge in the forward of The Living Company summarized Ari deGeus’s  thinking when he pondered the questions:  What difference  would it make for a leader to think of an organization as a community of talented people rather than a machine to make money, and if so, how differently would that person lead his organization?   de Geus answers this by saying, “the amount that people care, trust and engage themselves at work has not only direct effect on the bottom line, but the most direct effect, of any other factor, on your company’s expected life span.”  DeGeus’ question highlights the power and influence of a leader’s way of thinking and understanding.   And, de Geus concludes, “The alternative is to view a company as a machine for making money”.   He then defines as a “living company,” an entity that has survived for 100 years or more because it has developed the ability to learn as an organization and improve, to build community, to construct relationships with other entities within and outside of itself, and to govern its own growth and evolution effectively.
We agree with deGeus’ way of thinking of a company as a living being and control is a very real issue. Perhaps even more important is the image or perceived image of the leader, inside and outside, who embodies the “brand promise”, one who sets the tone and models the values and the behaviors expected of others in the organization.
Based on our research and interviews with top leaders around the country, a composite image of a collaborative leader emerged.
The collaborative leader, first, is a person who approaches leadership as a relationship rather than a position, one who shows respect for people by listening closely to them and by creating bonds of friendship and a sense of camaraderie in the organization. To that end, the collaborative leader engenders a sense of personal humility balanced with enormous organizational ego, thus placing the needs of the organization over those of him- or herself.  This leader models such behavior in order to create loyalty to the institution rather than to the leader, because that builds organizational capability. This leader is very comfortable with the notion of collaboration, is open to learning, and sees value in collaboration as a means to achieving leadership and organizational ends. This leader understands that collaboration is a cultural thing, but it’s more a business necessity than a cultural thing.  The collaborative leader is a pragmatist who believes “you can’t get good business results if you can’t collaborate.  However, there is no inherent benefit for collaborating if it’s not going to produce a desired business result.  Results are the reason to collaborate.”
The collaborative leader understands that there are two purposes and, therefore, two benefits of collaboration, a creation of the idea and the execution of the idea. Collaboration is a means to an end: to reach better decisions and to implement them better, and to get the right answer and to get it executed. Successful execution is a challenging part of collaboration.  A danger of collaboration is that it can become a morass of endless conversation or a homogenizing process that looks like a Quaker-style effort at consensus building, and therefore often doesn't get anything worthwhile accomplished.  The reasons for collaborating are to accomplish something; to solve a problem; to get something done.
This leader espouses and demonstrates a positive regard for collaboration because of productive, successful experiences that have resulted in better strategies, better decisions and execution, complemented by a certain amount of personal maturity and new insights.  The collaborative leader understands that in today’s complex environment of constant change and increasing global competition, the overwhelming job of leadership is more than one person can accomplish alone.  The leader needs help, is able to openly admit mistakes, and realizes that a competitive advantage can be gained through harnessing the power of interdependence and purpose-driven collaboration as a way of proceeding as a leader and as an organization. The operative word is leadership, not collaboration.
This person realizes that the leader sets the tone for the organization by what is said, but more importantly by what is done and what is valued.  This leader models the behavior expected of others, and establishes the moral and ethical values of the organization, by addressing issues with honesty, trust, integrity, respect and affection for the dignity of others.  This leader brings social and emotional intelligence to leadership, and the leader’s transparent manner, way of making decisions and personal behavior, nurtures trust and communicates a set of expectations and preferences for the behavior of other leaders within the organization.
If there is resistance to change, the collaborative leader understands that one must meet resistance; don’t hold back. Go in to get a better bead on what’s happening. The collaboration that is required at this moment is a collaboration of desires, to kind of steel the collective nerve.  To that end, the leader realizes that trust is an essential foundation for collaboration and must be balanced with the normal instincts for competition.
And so collaboration begins at the top, among the senior administrators who must demonstrate their own ability to trust and to collaborate among themselves.  This leader knows that collaboration not only occurs at the top of an organization, but also must happen in the bowels of a truly collaborative organization.  Thus, this leader embodies the “brand promise” for the organization, which is both a noble and humbling role to perform. The many stakeholders both inside and outside the organization derive an important aspect of their relationship with the institution through their real or perceived image of the leader.


If you have questions about this article, don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Gravett at lsg@justthebasics.com.  Or, use our contact form by clicking here

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