Leadership, Part 12: Shall I Serve or Shall I Rule?

In the discussion of the 7Cs, five of the seven Cs of the progression dealt with either how a leader ascends to the position of leadership or how they intend to retain their leader role. Only two of them–Consensus Building and Cooperation–really deal with how the leader intends to behave in the role. You could also say that these are the only two whose execution depends entirely on honesty and transparency (two attributes every U.S. President in my adult lifetime have given lip service to providing).

Let’s go back to the first two Cs:

A potential leader or current leader can seize on a Crisis to come into leadership or consolidate leadership. The crisis need not be real, or be honestly evaluated, if the end game is to get followers in line. The leader does have to project a confidence that they can get the followers through. In a democratically-elected structure, it can also help that the leader is the leader and is not in danger of being replaced.

Is such a leader ruling or serving? Much depends on what happens when the crisis recedes. The leader who declares martial law, and never lifts martial law when the crisis is over, has either become enamored of the thought of ruling or intended to become a ruler all along.

This progression is evident in the histories of many countries, but does it play out in business organizations as well? Consider the corporate leader who is thrust into the sort of crisis that threatens the organization’s survival. The leader must make quick, and in many cases, unpopular decisions. And, should the organization survive, regain its footing and grow, the leader may conclude his/her leadership is what saved the organization, and since that type of rule got us through, it’s appropriate to continue with that form of leadership. Such a leader may feel a sense of entitlement to transition into a ruling mode, and may even justify it by saying things such as, “if I hadn’t led us through the crisis, you wouldn’t have a job!”

The Compelling Vision can be more insidious than a Crisis, in particular because the would-be leader can claim ownership of the Vision when they would be loath to own the crisis. Most people would love to be in on the ground floor with the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, and for them someone with a unique vision can be hypnotic. The danger of course is that many of these visionaries are driven by the singular vision of them being in absolute control of others.

In the business world, this Vision may lead to a breakthrough product. The ruling visionary, buoyed by this success, may be deluded by the notion they have some Midas touch, that every idea will be similarly golden, and they will not tolerate dissent or any opinion that their next Vision will be anything less than revolution 2.o.

For such leaders, political or corporate, leading by serving was either abandoned in the heat of the struggle or was never a consideration to begin with. Either of these can make a quick leap to ruling with an iron fist, exercising complete control over everything, even being so brash and self-absorbed as to fire subordinates in the middle of a global conference call (one can only hope the situation was quickly Patched up–sorry).

What was missed in the progressions described above? Leading by serving, which not so coincidentally is embodied by Consensus-Building and Cooperation. There was no stop on the path from Crisis and Vision straight to Coercion and Control. More often than not, the reason is the leader never intended anything less than Rule by Self.

Tomorrow: embodying leadership by service.



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Leadership, Part 11: The Motivation to Lead, Part 2

My experience stepping into leadership took place in 1989. Funny, because I had actually been the “lead person” in the analytical chemistry lab for three years prior. I never really embraced it as a leadership position, ironically, which likely limited my effectiveness in any area other than getting testing completed and results reported.

But in March of 1989, the organization I was working for had posted a position for a Mixing Supervisor. I had spoken to several colleagues who expressed an interest in the position, only to be told they would not be considered because they did not have a college degree. Well, I had a college degree, so I thought, “let me put my name in and see what excuse they give me.” Long story short, I was given the position and started my new life in the ranks of the exempt on April 3, 1989.

The mixing group consisted of seven people, one of whom was a lead person. I had dealt with this lead person in my prior role and knew he was an excellent performer in his role. I did not need to take over his role and demonstrate I was the boss. Whether out of sheer luck, my reticent personality, my falling back on my skill set (writing), or a combination of the three, I stumbled into what would become my fundamental belief about a leader’s real role.

In this new position, I had several administrative-type tasks (time card review, keeping the supply cage stocked, among other things), but really did not have a road map or specific guidance about how to be a supervisor. So I looked around and discovered that one critical need the group had was improved documentation. The mixing instructions and operating procedures for the equipment was somewhere between lacking and non-existent. So I plunged into rewriting all of the mixing instructions, developed a new form for them to follow in documenting their mixes (so the same information would be recorded each time), and developed more complete procedures to describe how to use equipment.

The result was that the scrap rate of mixes fell sharply, and others in the organization released the perception that “the Mix Room people don’t know what they’re doing.” I did not change the lead person’s function one iota. I did not have a bunch of meetings with the crew, other than to explain on occasion the new way mixes were to be documented.

What I discovered in that role, very much by accident, was that my value to the organization as “the leader” increased in proportion to how much easier I made it for the workers to accomplish their work successfully.

Now, what does that have to do with motivation? In an inverted sense, my discovery came out of the manner in which I did not lead. I did not go in and lay down the law, demand compliance, make sure everyone knew I was in charge, etc. This was not a path I carefully planned out, nor was I really coached in my approach. But it seemed a good plan to assume that the group was doing a good job, and they did not need me beating them into performing well. They needed someone who could facilitate them becoming better.

As a leader, is your desire to serve, or to rule? This cuts to the core of who we are as leaders and how we approach leadership. We’ll look at that tomorrow.

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Leadership, Part 10: The Motivation to Lead

In the previous seven posts, I laid out a progression of leadership, with the understanding that the fundamental need for any leader is a group of people willing to follow. At one end, an individual through a crisis or through a compelling vision can develop a group of followers. At the other end, the leader can attain or sustain a leadership position through mere comparison to the opposition, by rewarding loyalty (compensation or consideration in kind), and finally, simply by exercising absolute control, where the comparison is between remaining alive or being killed, and the compensation is not being killed.

I was not making the assertion that any particular leader or regime would sequentially pass through the seven steps, that the ultimate end of any leader’s tenure is one of absolute control.

In the coming week, we are going to unpack this progression in terms of several key questions, such as: what motivates someone to leadership? what attributes allow leaders to continue in leadership without progressing to a tighter leadership mode? are leaders made or are they born? So let’s look at the first issue.

What motivates an individual to leadership?

When I developed the lead person training course that led to the development of the 7C model, I was coming from the perspective that the lead person position was the individual’s first leadership position in the work setting. I was also operating from the belief that in the vast majority of cases, the person’s ascension into the lead role had nothing at all to do with anyone’s perception of the person’s leadership capability.

From the organization’s perspective, the newly-appointed lead was “deserving” because of their tenure in the company, their performance in the position that they would become lead over, their education, the fact that they were more likely “lead material” than anyone else up for consideration, that they were the most compliant in former roles, etc. Nothing in that list suggests “leader,” and plenty in that list suggests serious obstacles that will need to be faced. (And that was why the lead person course was developed.)

While the organization’s criteria for promoting someone to lead person  may be suspect, they probably rarely if ever consider what it is about the lead position that’s attractive to the promote. What motivates the new lead person to say “yes” (assuming that they have the option to say no without penalty)?

Some answers: a bump in pay, it was the only promotional opportunity available, the positive feelings about being a leader, feeling they will have less work than they did in their former role, opening the possibility for future advancement, wanting to order people around, believing after years of being bossed around it would be fun to do the bossing, wanting to prove they can lead better than the person they are replacing. Again, none of these motivations correlate in any way to performing well as a lead person.

While I have focused on the lead person position, the question of motivation and its implications apply to any leadership position, regardless of how high up or how large the organization.

A lot about a person’s motivation can be summed up in how they see the leadership position: is it an opportunity to serve, or an opportunity to rule? Tomorrow, we will discuss the difference.

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Leadership, Part 9: The Last of the 7 Cs: Coercion and Control

The quote is attributed to the English historian and writer, Lord Acton, in a letter he wrote in 1887:

The tendency is for power to corrupt, and for absolute power to corrupt absolutely. 

The final step in the progression occurs when a leader’s consuming obsession becomes maintaining power. The original means the leader used to acquire a position of power (how he/she built their followership) is no longer relevant.  They have the power, and to them any means of keeping it/expressing it/using it is fair game.

Coercion and Control takes Compensation one step further. Where the leader by Compensation is essentially buying loyalty, the Coercive/Controlling leader maintains loyalty by eliminating the disloyal. He/she finds that those formerly being compensated for cooperation need less and less compensation. Staying alive another day is compensation enough.

History is littered with the stories of such leaders. One would for the most part have to credit them with being exceptionally strong leaders, in that they maintained power despite plunging the vast majority of their subjects into extreme suffering.  (Again, strong leadership does not necessarily correlate to good leadership or a good human being.)

What does Coercion and Control look like in an organization? In my Culture Change series of posts, I contrasted process-centered and personality-centered organizations. The Coercive/Controlling leader is the extreme case of personality-centric operations, in that the leader’s personality alone is what drives decisions and actions.

The small organization, especially the “closely held” organization that one person built from scratch into a successful entity, is particularly vulnerable to such leadership. If one person built it, and they own 100% of it, to some degree they have earned the right to lead as they see fit (as long as no laws are violated).

The end of such a leader can be especially brutal, in politics or in business, because too often the end of their reign coincides with the complete collapse of country or the organization. There is no step past complete Control.

So What’s Next?

Starting next week, we will consider the motivations to leadership, striking a balance between personality and process focus in leadership, and tackle the oft-debated question, are leaders made or born? Your feedback and ideas, especially on this question, are welcome and will be thoughtfully considered as I attempt to put a neat wrapping and bow around our leadership discussion. (And I will give full credit to contributors, so if you want to get a free plug for your blog, book, etc., let me know.)

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Leadership, Part 8: The Sixth of the 7 Cs: Compensation

The sixth level in the progression, Compensation (or Consideration in Kind), involves the leader promising and delivering rewards to his supporters in exchange for their loyalty. This method of establishing followers is rampant across both the political spectrum and in organizations of all types.

In theory, a democracy should not end up in the hands of a leader who compensates his/her followers, since that would entail having to compensate over half the populace. But by all appearances in the U.S. at least, Compensation is very effective (especially in raising funds). Which of course, when considering the politics of “special interests,” who is actually doing the leading? The candidate or those who bankrolled the campaign?

We can leave that debate for another day, because Compensation as a tool to establish followers is practiced frequently in business and in all types of organizations. What does the leader-by-Compensation look like in the workplace? For one, this kind of leader typically has a small number of close associates and/or a group of long-standing employees (who may be at any level) who express fierce loyalty to the leader. They will do what the leader says to do and either convince the rest of employees to fall in line or mark the not-so-compliant employees for “surveillance.” Clearly, the loyal employees are performing in such a way because they are being paid to perform in such a way, receive special treatment not afforded other employees, or want to steer clear of the inevitable wrath that such leaders pour out at frequent intervals.

Can such a leader effectively achieve goals? It depends on what goals and what the leader stands to gain by meeting those goals. In nearly every case, this leader has placed self-interest above organizational performance or process success. I can confidently say that because if it weren’t the case, the leader would not be purchasing the loyalty of a select few and would be seeking consensus or cooperation.

In larger organizations, you can often spot this leader type by the nature of his/her staff. For example, the “rock star” new executive comes in, and before long the whole floor is populated by his long-standing colleagues (cronies?), sporting titles that did not previously exist in the organization. When the executive departs (which usually occurs within a few years), the whole staff trickles out as well, to follow the rock star to his/her next gig.

The limit to leading-by-Compensation is tied to the leader’s ability to compensate. When that limit is reached, when there are no more goodies to hand out to followers, the leader must resort to other means to establish enough followers to maintain their position. What happens next in the progression depends much on the goodness of the leader as a person.

Next: the last C, Coercion and Control

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Leadership, Part 7: The Fifth of the 7 Cs: Comparison

(Note: according to WordPress, this is the 100th post at mrprocedure.com. I guess my reward for reaching 100 posts is to begin work on the next 100. It was pure coincidence that my 100th post would occur during a presentation on the 7 Cs, seeing that C is the Roman numeral for 100.)

I hinted in the last post that the progression past the fourth C (Cooperation) would represent a deterioration, and I’m sorry to say that is true. But remember the premise that the essential ingredient in becoming a leader is creating what I call a “followership,” creating a case (of sorts) that people should follow you.

The fifth stop in this progression is Comparison. In short, I really do not have to present an argument for my candidacy, I only need to present an argument against another’s candidacy.

American politics today fully embraces this concept. Candidates in the recent past in the U.S., for President as well as other offices, have frequently accused opponents of engaging in “the politics of personal destruction,” while (apparently) failing to realize that politics is nothing but personal destruction.

This is in essence the inverse of the Compelling Vision. If I as Candidate A can convince you that the vision of Candidate B will lead to disaster, I don’t have to present a vision since my vision can’t be any worse than Candidate B’s. And come election time, the masses will go to the polls with 99% of what they know about one candidate coming from the campaign of the other candidate.

The workplace is not immune from the lead-by-comparison disease. The most common manifestation occurs when the leader suggests that the alternative to accepting their leadership is to align themselves with another leader: “if you don’t like it here, you can just quit!”

One aspect that Comparison shares with Crisis and Compelling Vision is that the strategy can be leveraged by emotional appeals that Consensus Building and Cooperation won’t tolerate. And like Crisis and Compelling Vision, Comparison can be built on half-truths and out-and-out lies.

Just remember: the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Next: the 6th C, Compensation.

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Leadership, Part 6: The Fourth of the 7 Cs: Cooperation

When most people talk about someone being an “excellent leader,” they are speaking of a Cooperative leader. Not that they necessarily put it in those terms, but the most effective leader is the one who, while being “one of us” does not compromise his/her role as leader, nor does he/she attempt to shrink from the responsibility or accountability the title and increased paycheck entail.

Cooperation is two parts Compelling Vision, three parts Consensus Building and 95 parts focused on taking the actions necessary to effectively lead the team to the performance level that is necessary for success.

Cooperation, in fact, is a short jump from Consensus Building. If you consider Consensus Building convincing the followers to board the train, Cooperation is the collection of activities that get the train rolling and keeping it on track.

Borrowing from the Harvard Business Review blog post that inspired this series, Cooperative Leaders create value rather than count it. The Cooperative leader obtains excellence from his/her employees as a direct result of instilling excellence into those employees. I am convinced by observation, experience and reading that there is no higher calling for a leader in any organization than to aid and abet the growth of the people working under him or her. This is true regardless of the level at which the leader sits.

I will come back to discuss the comparative merits of Cooperative leadership and try to paint a more complete picture of what it is later in this series. But suffice to say for now, Cooperative leadership is what achieves the highest collective benefits for both the leader and the led. (Which in a backhanded way must mean it’s downhill from here as we discuss the last three Cs. You can be the judge of that.)

Next: The fifth C, Comparison

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