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Leadership in an Agile World

Concepts of leadership are evolving to keep pace with the disruption, transformation, and agility demands of today’s organizations. I can remember working in the early 70s on executive leadership programs at the Institute for Training and Development at GSPIA at the University of Pittsburgh, where we always began with McGregor’s X&Y theories of leadership and Contingency Theory.

There have been numerous attempts since then to blend the attitudinal and behavioral characteristics of leadership in an inclusive concept. For example, a quick Google toggle gave me: [https://www.google.com/search?q=leadership+theories&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1]

  • Great Man Theory
  • Trait Theory
  • Behavioral Theories, Role Theory
  • Participative Leadership, Lewin’s leadership styles
  • Situational Leadership, Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership
  • Contingency Theories, Fiedler’s Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) Theory
  • Transactional Leadership
  • Transformational Leadership

And these styles:

  • Coercive
  • Authoritative
  • Affiliative
  • Democratic
  • Coaching
  • Pacesetting

So has this made us any wiser in terms of promoting a single leadership concept and style? Jack Welch, former CEO of GE and business savant, has much to say about core issues related to corporate culture, from leadership and strategy, to processes and metrics. Most of his statements can be found at Jack Welch College of Business, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CN [https://www.sacredheart.edu/academics/jackwelchcollegeofbusiness/aboutthecollege/ , and theJack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University [https://jackwelch.strayer.edu/ ].

First off, as some observers have pointed out, GE is no longer the leading conglomerate it once was as that model of aggregating unrelated businesses did not survived the last century. So listening to his take on what makes a leader great needs to be taken in the context of the environment in which that leadership is exercised [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojkOs8Gatsg&t=142s ]. Bottom line, it’s about people, regardless of the impact of AI on the workforce, it’s still about your human capital.

Welch says that a leader must be the chief “meaning” officer, clearly explaining where the organization is heading, why it is going there, and what the benefits are for all the stakeholder/employees. He noted that “people hate change,” and that is why clarifying the vision, mission, and strategy of the company is job #1. He then goes on to say that it’s important not to get rid of all the clutter because these linkages help breakdown silos and it’s more important to “broom away” the stuff that is in the way rather than the stuff that employees see as relevant to their everyday activities.

Finally, he talks about the importance of the “generosity gene” that celebrates when anyone accomplishes something. This includes having fun and celebrating all the little victories, not just the big ones.

Another perspective on leadership comes from an India-based consultancy http://thoughtleadership.in/.

From their experience, leadership is central to managing change. “A key leadership challenge is to initiate and lead systemic changes that will set the organization up for success in future. Indeed, nothing else perhaps sums up why we need a leader in the first place.”

In this regard, they emphasize the complexity and uncertainty in which leaders operate, “There are no guarantees that the chosen direction and pace will lead to a better situation, for the changes are too complex for anyone to understand and discern, let alone predict and assure.” One of the key demands on leaders is their ability to motivate and excite team members to embrace change and make it happen.

They identify 5 Key Behaviors that characterize a winning organization. It has a Growth Mindset, seeking new challenges that stretch their physical or cognitive skills; Staff have T-Shaped Skills reflecting both their expert knowledge and their ability to collaborate across boundaries. This leads to a willingness to help others create value, which builds a sense of reciprocity, which supports the development of winning teams that adapt as needed, with a core value of taking initiative.

How these notions come together in an agile organization is the topic of my next blog.

 

Consensus and capacity-building: Tipping the scales in favor of reform

After a year away, I returned to Morocco for 10 days. I am sure that I will find the visit both challenging and satisfying. My central interest is to better understand the tangible governance issues facing the PJD-led government. It continues to struggle with advancing its agenda through parliament and achieving a consensus among its coalition partners on policies that effectively attack unemployment, the budget deficit, corruption, and social reforms. Most organic laws required to enable reforms promised in the 2011 constitution are still either being drafted or pushed off to a later agenda. And, as Morocco moves towards implementing its regionalization strategy, there is still a long way to go to enable officials and civil society to acquire the skills associated with effective local government.

While the policy debates on issues ranging from the latest version of the media law to subsidy and judicial reforms and strengthening protection for whistleblowers are well reported in the press, many critics are claiming that there are few results after 16 months in office. My assumption is that this is politics as usual in any democracy, especially a hybrid like Morocco. But there is more going on here that I want to explore.

In a country where labor issues can bring thousands of people into the streets, it is remarkable, but not surprising, that a common platform addressing labor mobility, training for work, and an open regulatory environment has not been vetted and moved through parliament yet. As in the US, political leaders seem to have a block against cooperating on issues despite the reality that their constituencies voted for change, not for stalemate.

Morocco badly needs to restructure the labor environment to enable workers to acquire skills and access to jobs while employers will benefit from more flexibility in responding to variable market conditions and a reduction in restraints on employee hiring and firing. This is not to say that important steps have not already been taken. As I’ve written previously, the government is moving incrementally to improve the labor force by broadening and upgrading technical and vocational training and by setting up a system to certify on-the-job skills acquisition. These steps however have not made a significant dent in the unemployment and underemployment rates.

An equally daunting task is focused on reducing and realigning the government’s subsidies to better serve the less well off in a country where a significant portion of the population is in the informal economy. Today, rich and poor equally benefit from fuel and food subsidies and the government is exploring options that not only relieve human needs but also encourage small business expansion. One proposal that I heard last night is to subsidize small farmers rather than the price of imports to the wholesalers. Of course, I asked if this was just another form of welfare that could grow into corporate subsidies, which like in the US distort market prices. But that is not the approach that Morocco is considering. Greater support to local growers would include training and equipment for better crop practices ranging from higher quality seed and watering to the use of fertilizer and more efficient cultivation, storage, and distribution. This would expand their capacity for more production, new employees, and fresh local supplies to market.

Whether it’s better labor practices or rationalizing subsidies, at the heart of the movement to reform is human development. Last week, I met with Mariam, a very capable, multilingual woman IT graduate from the top school in Morocco. She graduated months ago and still doesn’t have a job. Less than 30 percent of her classmates have found employment. One woman friend found an unpaid internship in Turkey through an organization that places capable graduates, for a fee, in positions scattered around the world. Now, Mariam is seriously looking at a position in India…ironic, isn’t it that Morocco is sending its talented young people, at their own expense, to fuel the IT capabilities of other countries.

I can’t help but put these concerns into a larger context – the daunting challenge of building consensus around reform policies that will benefit Moroccans and the simultaneous need to greatly enlarge capacity building training for the grassroots as well as the managers of Morocco. The promised policy of regionalization – devolving power to local governments – requires local communities and their leaders to have skills for administration and governance. The demand for more and better jobs requires policies that enable the transformation of a rigid economic regime into a market-friendly, results-driven, equal-opportunity economy that prioritizes achievement over status. Hopefully, in next week’s posting, there will be some success stories that I can share about where Morocco is heading.