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Leadership: Commandment or Commitment
This new global economy is requiring business leaders to change their organizations and their leadership style to stay competitive and keep their companies profitable.
The recession is showing signs of recovery and it is imperative business leaders and managers adopt a new mind set to prevent a reoccurrence of the problems that started the recession of 2008-2009. The adage “what got us here, won’t get us there” is not only true but good strategic advice. Business leaders and managers need to be willing to shift their ideas, their beliefs, and their processes from a mindset of commanding to committing in order to shift their organizational structures to stay competitive and thrive.
As the business world evolved through the industrial revolution and manufacturing processes dominated the development and production of products and services, it was easy to create very specific, measureable, and accountable leadership styles to fit the respective business model of supply and demand. As the world demands newer, faster and better, having an economy based on predictable and measurable manufacturing was yesterday; today technology is changing how we operate our companies, and driving the pace of change to a record breaking speed. This century is being defined by technology with advancements so rapidly created and implemented that some technologies will be considered outdated in less than a year. With this dizzying pace of change, company leaders are going to have to shift everything they have thought about business and their organization into a new operating model and they are going to have to shift fast or risk falling to far behind to ever catch up.
If you look up commandment in the dictionary it is defined as: an order, to dominate by position or order, to mandate. There are organization’s who function best and most efficiently in the command style including the military and most government agencies (like the post office), where strict order and discipline is required to coordinate the hundreds of thousands of people and products they are responsible for. The greater the number of people involved, the more complicated the processes and the more compliant the required outcomes, the better match for a commandment style of leadership. In today’s world, if your organization is not mobilizing millions of people (in and out of combat zones where people are risking their lives daily), you are not required to manage millions of pieces of mail accurately and ethically, then your organization should be shifting to a commitment style of leadership to complement the new technology-based economy.
The “old” way of operating most businesses was with the typical hierarchal structure where employees chose (or were chosen) to join one specific career path usually either the management ladder of the technical ladder. Each ladder had a defined process or career path of moving up to the next level, but rarely were you given the opportunity to “cross over” from one ladder to the next. This type of organizational structure created a commandment style of leadership where plans and strategies, were all created at the top and implemented down the rungs of employees. Companies were organized into vertical silos, each with its own profit goals and products/services. This type of rigid organization has often created competition with the same organization and forced employees to develop very specific skills within their defined career ladder. Typically organizations that are structured in a silo format offer little communication or teamwork between groups and some groups’ even end up competing against each other.
I think of the traditional hierarchical (commandment) style of leadership like the analogy of a ladder. The ladder gives you two options- climb up (usually one rung at a time) - or go back down (either one rung at a time or slide down to the bottom). If you need to move to a different work area, you must move the ladder each time, thus greatly reducing productivity. The commandment style is the same concept – it is about the basics of prioritizing the “must haves” with the available personnel within a specified time frame to accomplish specific goals. There is very little room for flexibility and few things are negotiable. People are expected to “fit” with a specified structure and play by the rules. There is very little information sharing, there are few options for creativity and everything is measured and improvement goals determined. Companies hire based on demand and when the need declines, the workforce is reduced. This hire/fire cycle creates a peak and valley syndrome with strong, fast growth followed by immediate and drastic reductions. This cycle wreaks havoc with productivity and dramatically reduces profits.
Depending on the type of organization, the commandment style of leadership has its benefits and its usefulness. It can be an efficient way of managing an extremely large workforce, where you need well-defined set of skills for each position and promotions need to be carefully planned out based on need and qualifications. It is a good method to minimize discrimination and keep everyone informed of their expectations and work requirements. If your organization operates in a very controlled and predictable environment, the command style of leadership may be the best choice. But the rigidity of the old hierarchical structures for most businesses today must bend to stay competitive and be flexible enough to operate in this new technology oriented environment.
Technology combined with different skills and talents for employees are requiring business leaders to shift their company structures to a matrix managed format, under the commitment style of leadership. I think of a matrix managed organization like building scaffolding. Scaffolding is designed to be configured in different arrangements that provide the user (like the window washer) to move up/down, side to side, and even diagonally. While it can be more time consuming to configure scaffolding, than just putting up a ladder, it can greatly increase productivity and reduce costs in the long run by allowing continuous movement without having to “constantly move the ladder.”
What is commitment style of leadership? Commitment is defined in the dictionary as: a pledge or promise, engagement or involvement or depending on your organization some people might say a “confinement to a mental institution” is more correct. But regardless of your company’s current organizational structure, changes in leadership style are going to be required to effectively and competitively keep your company “in the race.” Employees who have been raised in this technological environment, want flexibility, fast access, and immediate information and they have a high need to be involved and included. The average Generation X or Y employee is prepared to change jobs for the slightest new opportunity. As an employer it is imperative that you keep your employee turnover to a minimum both to control costs and to develop the skills and talents for future management and leadership within your organization.
Commitment style leadership then involves focusing on and encouraging the development of the softer skills. It is about teamwork, attitude, relationships, striving for excellence, and the freedom to change and adapt as necessary. It is about the possibility of change and the speed of adaptability, when the economy shifts direction. It is about encouraging (and rewarding) your employees for “going the extra mile,” thinking outside of the box, committing to delivering a higher degree of quality, being proactive not reactive, it is about encouraging communications and building relationships both within your organization and external to your company. It is about setting the expectations and giving people the freedom to achieve their best through encouragement not demands. It is about retaining your employees during economic slowdowns to make your organization more productive and efficient.
As we are starting to see signs of economic recovery, it is an ideal time for leaders to embrace a new attitude, a new awareness of possibility for their organizations and their employees. Where appropriate- relax the boundaries, think outside of the box (or throw away the box all together), dare to set your goals and aspirations high, expand your communications program internally and externally, commit to achieving a new level of quality throughout your organization.
Business leaders: take my challenge and start to shift your leadership style from the old commandment style with your commitment to change: encourage passion, instill trust, dare to empower your employees and prepare for unlimited possibilities. Commit to creating an organization that is responsive, focused, and profitable.
Learn more about the author, Janet Boulter.
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