3 Questions to Achieve Authoritative Leadership That Mobilizes People by Alan Kay
The old way – give orders
A NY Times article recently noted, ‘Beijing continues to practice the alchemy of authoritarianism.’ Good for the Chinese people who tolerate it and think it works! Trouble is, authoritarian works fine when things are growing – you can paper over the cracks.
Because North American and European businesses are not growing, autocratic leadership no longer works. Sure, high-growth tech businesses like Facebook need impatient authoritarian leaders on the upward trajectory – the CEO thinks, ‘I can’t afford to worry about motivated staff, and VC partners don’t want to hear about it.’ Still, they need to avoid the AOL authoritarian leadership disaster. Apple may be the exception, so far!
The new way – people make the difference, not the just the leader
Most organizations in the West compete globally and are profitable in low to moderate growth mode – they are sustainable largely through productivity gains. Today, the call is, ‘do more with less.’ Technology will continue to support productivity advances, but people support productivity gains. Hence, the advantages of switching to authoritative leadership.
Yes, every organization is different so applying the principles of authoritative leadership will vary. Imagine the difference between leading a nuclear plant where there’s zero tolerance for technical mistakes and leading an organization like Tony Hsieh’s Zappos where there’s almost no tolerance for messing with the customer?
Another perspective is the recent merger of United and Continental airlines where they are integrating complex systems (similar) and people cultures (dissimilar). United’s autocratic leadership model isn’t going to easily merge with Continental’s more enlightened approach to people.
So, how do we move to authoritative leadership and let go?
The principles are less complex than you’d think. You’ll need:
- a view of the future and a clear purpose;
- a conscious planning and change capability;
- ability to define key problems and allow staff to create solutions;
- guiding principles for a borderless and ambiguous world.
It’s not just culture. It’s strategy. (Call it conscious culture)
This is not an HR task; people are a goal-driven corporate strategy. There are strategic tools to help: The employment brand; Learning and development or Human development; Accountability leadership; Cross-functional and cross-stakeholder collaboration. And so on…
The leaders use these tools to: a) delegate the work, b) re-draw the org chart and c) let the staff innovate, manage change, learn from mistakes, and see the effect of their influence. Every organization must create value for customers, shareholders, etc. It’s time to mobilize staff in how that value is created.
Before the leader says, ‘whoa, that’s too much’…
- pick a few tools that are right for your organization
- set measures to evaluate what works and observe the ROI
These tools improve organizational productivity by improving the motivation of staff in ways that increase satisfaction, not just wages.
Therefore, 3 solutions-basedquestions for the authoritative leader are:
- Where are we already making progress this way? (Just look, you’ll be surprised!)
- Suppose things were different in a year or two, what would be happening?
- Suppose we got there, what would have been the micro steps to get us started?
Should every organization adopt this strategy? In an intensely competitive market, if your strategy is clear, working and sustainable, the answer could be ‘not yet.’ Some leaders won’t care enough and they’ll survive, but never know how much it cost them. Conversely, if your strategy looks questionable, start working on it this afternoon.
What other exceptions do you think exist?
Photo courtesy of Kevin Williams