The Invisible Work of Highly Effective LeadersGebonden Engels 2020 9783030361709
Most of us would recognize a star leader by their charisma, emotional intelligence and public communication prowess. What is truly impressive but often overlooked is the silent work of leadership that garners real results. Exercising influence in a complex and global organization – whilst also shaping and executing strategies across borders in a disruptive age – is the true mark of success as a leader. Backstage Leadership takes a comprehensive look at the background processes that leaders must master in order to shape the culture, direction and capability of a successful company. With an emphasis on strategy, the author provides an integrated toolkit for developing your knowledge and skills as a 'backstage leader.' You will learn how to:
- Mobilize people towards new strategic directions
- Scan your business environment for threats and disruptive forces
- Diagnose and help to shape the culture of your organization
- Develop talent and capabilities towards a specific goal.
Focusing on the key and consistent underlying processes of leadership, this book is essential reading for managers who wish to bring focus and coherence to their leadership role and integrate themselves within the engine of the organization.
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(Chapter 2) Tracking Storms: The Sense-making Work of Leadership
o Companies operate in ecosystems, but these ecosystems are less like quiet meadowsthan fast moving rivers. New technologies, new tastes, new competitors, and so on,emerge frequently. Companies need systems to track these changes, to see thestorms before they become hurricanes. The tension that must be managed is betweena broad, general scanning of the environment (which must be linked-up to seniordecision makers) and narrowly selecting a small set of issues that matter to companycompetitive advantage.
o Takeaways: Readers will understand better why tracking storms can be so difficult for manyleaders and organizations (e.g., misguided notions of the level at which this occurs, plus thetime-horizon of incentives and issues of “absorptive capacity”). Readers will gain ideas forbuilding processes that overcome these filters (e.g., lowering the fear of failure must comeearly, in the “hunches” employees are encouraged to follow) and, vitally, linking-up thescanning with the strategic decision making.
(Chapter 3) Building Commitment to Strategy: The Political Work of Leadershipo Leaders must be able to mobilize people towards new strategic directions, and thiswork cannot be reduced to edicts or impassioned pleas. They need to think about theprocess of herding clever and concerned individuals to some new future. They needto manage the tensions between a model that is relatively democratic and open andone that is relatively closed and requires sweeping political action.
o Takeaways: Two processes must be examined here- one that is relatively more democraticand open, and so more likely to secure authentic commitment from people (e.g., one basedon Procedural Justice and fair process leadership ideas) but also one that is “realpolitik”and pragmatic, that aims to secure “enough votes” to mobilize action. Here the backstagework of leadership is clearly political, but in such a way that it does not turn toMachiavellian games and their harmful consequences. This work of leadership will beinformed by the substantial literature on power and change agency in organizations andprovide leaders some integrated ideas on managing with “soft” power.
(Chapter 4) Balancing Autonomy and Integration: The Structural Work of Leadershipo Leaders understand the value of autonomy—as a powerful motivator and as a way toensure focus through transparency and accountability, and so the popularity of suchmodels today as Agile Teams and Lean Start-up. But at the same time they need toconsider the trade-offs of too much autonomy (redundancies, lost economies ofscale) and therefore build bridging structures. The main tension is betweenautonomy and integration.
o Takeaways: Readers will understand a fundamental and pervasive undercurrent or force inbusiness development: moments of divergence and moments of convergence. Theseundercurrents signal two ways in which leaders need to think about architecting theorganization: one involves relatively more autonomy and space for exploring (and we canlook at this in the digitization efforts of companies today) and the other involves combiningefforts and focusing on efficiencies, as industries converge on dominant designs. We willexamine what this means for organization structures and processes (e.g., the ambidextrousorganization). For example, this will include a close look at matrix organizations and therole of the leader, a way of working that I describe as “the good referee.”
(Chapter 5) Building Community: The Cultural Work of Leadershipo Perhaps no work is more important, and no type of work is more “back-stage” andarchitectural, than the work of shaping the organizational culture. This is a sort of“climax” for the book. This is a very difficult topic for leaders to cope with, and wewill need the foundations of the previous chapters to show the levers for this work.Culture is also inherently prone to tensions. This is because there are likely to betrade-offs and inconsistencies between some of the values that companies target—asanybody who has been told to seek “profitable growth” or “creativity but withefficiency” or “speed and safety” will understand. Part of what it means to shapeculture is to ensure that people understand priorities and the “real” drivers ofbehaviour.
o Takeaways: Cultural work is made possible only once leaders have grasped a seeminglystraightforward but crucial insight: shaping culture is done indirectly. That is, culturecannot really be changed directly, at least not practically and within a modern organization,as opposed to a kleptocractic state (direct culture change amounts to either “preaching,”and usually heavy coercion, or firing and replacing everyone in the company). I will sharewith them a practical model for thinking about culture (especially how to “diagnosis”culture) and then ideas on how to shape culture. Repetition, consistency, and a powerfulnarrative will be important features of that work.
(Chapter 6) Developing Talent and Capabilities: The Coaching Work of Leadershipo Leaders need to spend time on the talent pipeline of the company, and always inconjunction with the critical capabilities and knowledge bases that the firm requires(present and future). By “coaching work” we mean the background work of findingand developing the “best” players for the company (rather than the direct work of“coaching” in the sense of pep-talks and immediate player psychology). A keytension here is the time horizon for capability development- near-term versus longterm.
o Takeaways: A key issue in this type of work is to take seriously the conjunction “and”between “talent” and “capability.” Encouraging leaders to just develop their talent is aboutas obvious (and dull) as encouraging an Olympic athlete to eat well. It is also potentiallymisunderstood. Leaders may believe it is just about asking HR to find clever people andtreat them well. Instead, I want readers to think about capabilities and talent in conjunction.Capabilities in strategy are the skills and routines that set your company apart (now or inthe future). The talent development I emphasize in this chapter is in relation to thosecapabilities (short term and long term). Take for example the remarkable success ofBarcelona football club. That success is not rooted in just “great talent” (amazing athleteswho are paid well and adored) but the development of that talent towards a specific playingstyle (capability, or in this case the “tiki-taka” style that they developed and which isembedded in their youth academy). It is this conjunction of talent and capability that isimportant. This chapter is about keeping these two things aligned, and the leaders work inguiding these processes (not just HR).
(Chapter 7) Back to the Front: The Direct Work of Leadership
o Once we have gained some safe distance from the familiar harbours of more popularleadership models, it is time to come clean, or at least to emphasize again that“direct” front-stage leadership is not wrong, only that it needs to be balanced withback-stage work. In this chapter the idea is to summarize some of the powerful ideason direct leadership behaviour and its development (e.g., the coaching craze). Thenatural place to start is of course with the leader herself. The tension to be balancedat this junction of the book is between the front-stage work of leadership and all ofthe back-stage work that has been presented. If you spend too much time “frontstage,”you may become intoxicated with that presence. Similarly, if you spend toomuch time “back-stage,” you may become camera shy.
o Takeaways: The starting point I envision for this chapter involves looking back at theresponses I have had from my executive students and classes over the years to a simple (andwide-open) question: “Think about some of the most impactful leaders in your life. What arethe traits and characteristics of these, most effective leaders?” I have seen many responses,but a good deal of consistency over the years, and especially in the front-stage work leaders.The idea is to thoughtfully go through some of the most common answers, unpack them, andsee what they imply for the front-stage work of leadership.
(Chapter 8) The Leaders New Worko This is the concluding chapter and would, first of all, take a more philosophical viewon the topic, pulling together the implications for management development,training, research, and business schools (if not also primary and secondary schooleducation). Most importantly, this chapter will summarize the essence of “backstage”leadership, and the mindset and discipline it requires.
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