In today’s successful twenty first century business organisation the operational leader is to be regarded less as the “dinosaur”, to be culled in the interests of efficiency, but rather as the pivotal leadership role in re-defining and effectively implementing an alternative organisational logic. This new leadership logic takes into account, in an integral manner, the dynamic and radical changes within the wider socio-economic context and culture of which the business organisation is but a part and upon which it is dependant for sustained performance and long term survival.
Given increasing acceptance that the prevalent rational, transactional, impersonal, process and profit driven leadership logic is redundant as a means of operational effectiveness and sustained performance in the twenty first century organisational context, we propose a re-focus of attention in respect of organisational leadership to those who are more willing, capable of and pivotally located within the organisation to leverage the key “assets” of the organisation. This will be achieved through the application of a more integral, “big picture” and relationally intelligent leadership logic.
In “synch” with the substantial changes in the social, economic, business and organisational environment over recent decades, occasioned in particular by technological and scientific advances, it is appropriate that leadership logic adapts in more than a piecemeal and reticent manner in order to hold any prospect of optimal and sustained organisational performance. We therefore encourage operational leaders to adjust their cognitive process from one of a narrow, “hands-on”, head down to a more “brain-on”, integral cognitive process.
Effective Leadership and People Really Don’t Mix
There is a glib statement, often made during periods of down time, that running a business would be great if it wasn’t for the customers. Equally, within the same context, one of the major “problems” of leadership today is people. Compared with the mass production era, when people “knew their place”, individuals are better educated, more confident, have greater access to information, are therefore more questioning and less willing to automatically defer to and commit their energy to just any “leader”. This makes the process of leadership more onerous and complex for those who have been inculcated in a hierarchical, transactional and relationally distant culture of leadership.
This has serious implications for the “High Command” approach to leadership, where policy and strategy decisions are taken by those on the 50th floor and communicated by memorandum or email to those on lower floors, with an emphasis on implementation rather than explanation, collaborative development, consultation and explanation. The result is a dissonance between the dominant characteristics, perspectives, priorities, attributes and capabilities of leadership which are consistently applied today and those which are today required for operational effectiveness and sustained performance. In turn, this leadership “charade” has serious implications for the ability of those who, in reality, have the primary responsibility for effective leadership within the organisation, specifically operational leaders. Regrettably, today leadership is regarded less as an important operational role and more as a badge or baton of office and status. In the twenty first century business context we must increasingly and clearly distinguish between those who spend their time developing and monitoring policy and strategy and liaising with the wider stakeholder community and those who lead within the organisation if there is to be any prospect of sustained performance.
Today, in reality, the key organisational “asset”, which ultimately delivers sustained performance and organisational survival, is the knowledge, experience and insight of “people”. The technology, the systems, the products/services, delivery channels and sophisticated financial instruments utilized are but the table stakes to be in the “game” of business. It would take someone with super human powers to lead this “asset” effectively from the 50th floor. Leading people today requires a logical, affective, authentic and behavioural cognitive process, rather than a rational, impersonal and process driven one. This change in leadership perspective and priority is clearly reflected in the following quote:
“The “mechanical” perspective is replaced by strong relationships, easy communication, trust, obligation, cooperation, excitement and challenge, resulting in collective action” (Nahapiet and Ghoshal 1998, 257).
The operational leader, those responsible for the unit, department, the division for operationally achieving the targets and objectives, are in the ideal position to apply the appropriate cognitive process in decision making to develop optimal levels of common purpose, cohesion, commitment and engagement to ensure sustained productivity and performance. This, as long as they have the appropriate knowledge, insight, perspectives, priorities, attributes and capabilities. Compared with those in “authority”, operational leaders are best able to leverage the knowledge, capabilities, energy, engagement and enthusiasm of their peers and subordinates towards achieving sustained performance.
People and Integral Leadership Do Mix
The move to a leadership logic focused more on behavioural and relational priorities and less on process and profit makes an integral approach to leadership all the more important. By introducing the term integral in the leadership narrative we propose a re-evaluation and re-interpretation of all those factors, be they insights, knowledge, perspectives, priorities, attributes and capabilities which are required for effective leadership in the twenty first century business organisation.
The operational leadership role has, in practice, become pivotal in leveraging the key “assets” of the organisation for sustained organisational performance. Far from being integral and “big picture” the prevailing and dominant logic of the operational leader is, in practice, “hands-on”, head down and “brain-off”. This is not meant to insult the operational leader since the expectations of the role have for long resulted in an emphasis on the spade rather than the stethoscope and scalpel, this in order to “manage” the daily deluge of tasks and issues to achieve an ever increasing range of targets and objectives.
However, the days when you could leave the “big picture” issues to those “upstairs” are over. This is primarily because increasingly those “downstairs” are aware of such issues, considering and pro-actively responding to their perceived implications vis a vis personal aspirations, with the concomitant impact in terms of commitment, loyalty and engagement. Staff therefore consider that they have the knowledge, experience and insight to make a more dynamic contribution to the management of the organisation and therefore not only expect to be appropriately considered and consulted but also psychologically as well as materially rewarded for this enhanced contribution.
“People are energised by interaction in which a compelling vision is created —— people are energised by interactions in which they contribute meaningfully ——– people are energised in interactions marked by progress —– people are energised in interactions when hope becomes part of the equation” (Cross et al 2003, 54-55).
Employees therefore now expect their operational leaders to be aware of these changing employee cognitive processes and resultant changes to the relational dynamic and that they are clearly seen to be reflected in and integrated into the nature and manner of their decision making and issue resolution. To be a leader rather than a manager in marketing, finance, sales, production, HR, as examples, it is not sufficient to take decisions primarily on the basis of a “narrow” perspective of the primacy of technical, process and functional expertise but rather cognisant of the perceptions and attitudes of those affected by those decisions from an integral and “big picture” perspective. It is fundamentally the difference between the mechanic and the engineer. The former follow a series of time proven procedures and processes, keeping their heads “under the hood”. The engineer, in contrast, is considering the implications of developments in the wider context in an holistic manner and integrating them into their cognitive process in order to optimally resolve issues and achieve responsibilities and optimise the capabilities, functionality and performance of the vehicle over the long term. At present, operational leaders tend to be mechanics rather than engineers, with their heads under the hood, with a focus on keeping the vehicle running, this in the belief that someone else has the engineering capabilities and responsibilities.
However, in practice, those in “authority” lack the insight, motivation, experience, perspectives and priorities of the engineer, to acknowledge the implications of the change in the value of various organisational “assets”, or the appropriate leadership attributes and capabilities to re-structure the internal organisational framework of stakeholder relationships, this in order to optimally adapt to the twenty first century business context. Dominic Barton, global managing director of McKinsey & Company and Mark Wiseman, head of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, in an HBR article, reiterate this view, contending that the prevailing dominant business priorities, perspectives and values severely stunt the ability of the organisation and economy to sustain optimal performance over the long term,
“Short-termism is undermining the ability of companies to invest and grow and those missed investments, in turn, have far reaching consequences including slower GDP, higher unemployment and lower return on investment for savers” (Barton and Wiseman 2014, 47)
Effective integral operational leadership then is the ability to focus and act beyond the “narrow” technical aspects of any function or role. It is an approach frowned upon by the prevailing dominant logic, which emphasizes excellence in relation to the process and the technical for those below the “top table”, who consider themselves as the gatekeepers between developments in the wider context and the response of the organisation. The new integral operational leadership logic requires an ability to envisage, comprehend, consider and focus on the “big picture” during the process of addressing each operational issue with which you are engaged and for which you are responsible on a day to day basis, no matter your role or position within the leadership cadre.
Addressing the issue of effective integral operational leadership therefore has a number of dimensions:
Integral Operational Leadership: Key Issues for Consideration
We seek to address these issues in order to facilitate the consideration, acknowledgement and, in particular, the effective application of an integral, relationally intelligent logic by operational leadership, this as a viable alternative to the prevailing leadership logic.
For What, Why and for Whom are you Leading?
As someone who has been directly involved in operational leadership for some decades I have always been fascinated by the fact that few if any directly involved in the role appear to understand or indeed care about the purpose of the organisation for which they are taking decisions on a day to day, week to week basis. In general, they are content to assume that it is simply to maximise profit this year, and the next, within the confines of pertinent laws and regulations.
This appears a rather brutal statement and in truth many would question policy and priorities as individuals, but rarely as leaders of the operational process. This is primarily because they are not encouraged to do so. Presumably, there are perceived, by those who seek to control organisational culture and stakeholder relationships, to be benefits accruing from this limited, narrow, head down perspective. A gatekeeping perspective; not confusing and distracting those who are responsible for operational rather than strategic and policy issues. Hardly conducive to an integral leadership perspective. Also unlikely to maintain commitment, dedication and engagement and thereby optimal operational effectiveness and sustained performance in the twenty first century business context, the core responsibilities of the operational leader.
This is further complicated by the fact that the changing business context suggests that the optimal means of consistently achieving these responsibilities demands a change in the traditional answers to the questions regarding the purpose and nature of the leadership dynamic. Today the “assets” which deliver performance and organisational survival are no longer those “owned” by shareholders, the “capital”, but are rather those contained within the cognitive capabilities of employees, patently not owned by shareholders. This is an important point. Yet more important for the propositions contained within this paper is that the return on such assets is ultimately highly dependent upon the perspectives, attributes and capabilities of operational leadership to consistently manage, “extract” and engage such cognitive capabilities for the benefit of the organisation on a daily basis. This in turn demands a more people and behavioural rather than process and profit operational leadership emphasis, in the interests of operational effectiveness and sustained performance.
The implications for effective operational leadership are daunting insofar as they require a much more holistic and integral scope, perspective and decision making cognitive process. The alternative mindset is dependant upon taking into account many social, economic, political, behavioural, relational and psychological factors which have not previously been regarded as a “must have”, indeed had been positively discouraged for inclusion in the cognitive process of operational leadership. The key point is that effective operational leadership decision making within the context of the integral leadership logic is primarily concerned with an excellent comprehension of the perspectives, priorities, behaviour, attitudes and cognitive process of subordinates and peers, even of superiors, in response to the impact of the wider context, rather than excellence in process management. Within this context complications and difficulties arise for operational leaders in the twenty first century business context as they stand between an increasing number of stakeholder groups who have divergent views on the answers to the questions posed in the title of this section to those which have been dominant and pervasive during the twentieth century and indeed continue to be assumed to apply by those who direct policy and organisational culture.
The difficulty arises because due to their increasingly pivotal position in the effective management of the critical “assets” of the organisation where, unlike previously, operational leadership must clearly address these questions for themselves and which must be clearly seen to be reflected in operational decision making and issue resolution, this as a means of optimally engaging and motivating the key “assets” of the organisation. This is a clear example of the need for “joined up”, holistic, integral thinking as a means of effective operational leadership. Its absence will result in a deficit in credibility, resulting in sub-optimal engagement and contribution with a negative impact on sustained performance and therefore organisational survival.
It is difficult to know precisely when it occurred but we have reached a tipping point in organisational leadership which must better reflect the realities of the social, economic, technological, attitudinal and behavioural “revolution” in terms of the context in which we are all involved and indeed engulfed,
“Every few hundred years in western history, there occurs a sharp transformation —– within a few short decades, society rearranges itself —– its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions —– We are currently living through just such a transformation” (Drucker 1993, 181)
To date, this transition in dominant logic has been managed in a “mechanical” manner rather than led in an “engineering” manner. However, the time when organisational “repair” was appropriate is long gone. A re-engineering of leadership logic, particularly operational leadership logic, is now the only option for sustained performance and organisational survival.
Effective Decision Making with an “Open Mind”
An acknowledgement of the implications for effective operational leadership of the knowledge economy is as close to an epiphany as most individual leaders are likely to experience. Such an acknowledgement demands the primacy of a better comprehension of and a hard headed but soft hearted response to the perspectives, priorities, aspirations and behaviour of people, be they subordinates, peers or indeed superiors. It makes an integral, “big picture” operational leadership logic of critical importance to operational effectiveness and sustained performance. Today, as already discussed, it is fair to say that the majority of operational leaders take decisions and resolve issues with their brains ajar. They are encouraged and inculcated to apply a narrow “operational” parameter and process driven approach to leadership; a logical, pragmatic, transactional “head down” perspective, highly restricted in contextual scope. It is the antithesis of integral perspectives and priorities, redolent of the mass production “this is your spot, here is your spade, make a technically expert hole” era and a leadership resistant to radical change in logic, largely for reasons of status and also fear of the unknown, reflected in the following quote,
“However hard it is to change the organization, it is even harder to change the orientation of its senior management. Hence, today’s management are trying to implement third generation strategies (continuous self renewal) through second generation organisations (sustainable competitive advantage) with first generation management (defensible product-market positions)” (Bartlett and Ghoshal 2002, 35)
Operational leaders are therefore compelled to operate within the context and restrictions of an ossified logic which is reflected in the following figure, representing the prevailing leadership logic: –
It is increasingly acknowledged, both within scholarly and practitioner circles, that this logic is redundant, kaput, more appropriate to the mass-production age of the twentieth century than the technological and knowledge dependant age of the twenty first. This is not to say that some of the attributes of this logic continue to be important as “table stakes” for effective leadership. It is merely that they are no longer the drivers to optimally and consistently attain “top-line” leadership responsibilities.
Particularly within the context of the prevailing social, economic, financial and political crises which blight global stability and confidence employees must inevitably question whether the decisions of operational leaders are based upon the narrow, blinkered cognitive process of the mass production era or there is a recognition of the need to apply an integral perspective more relationally attuned to the requirements of a twenty first rather than twentieth century internal organisational dynamic.
In this respect the “big picture”, open-minded, integral leadership logic must not only reflect an appreciation of those changes in the social, economic, political, technological and business context which must influence the decision making cognitive process of operational leaders. Equally, if not more important, there must also be an acknowledgement of their implications for the required operational leadership perspectives and priorities, particularly in respect of the new relational dynamics required within the organisation. This interaction between the perspectives and priorities of the prevailing dominant leadership logic and the alternative, relationally intelligent which shows signs of development in some business organisations is reflected in the figure below: –
The key point about and importance of an integral, “big picture” approach for operational leadership is that you not only need to include them in your cognitive process as matters of general interest, as an individual, but also to appreciate their relevance for the manner in which you take decisions and resolve issues within the context of undertaking your leadership responsibilities, particularly within the relational, people management dynamic. Everybody reads and watches the news, absorbs what is happening on the wider global front and has their own opinions. Few consider and appreciate, much less take into account, the direct implications for the operational context. As previously discussed, traditionally, interpretation of the way in which the external context should impact upon organisational policy and strategic and operational decision making was/is still left to those “upstairs”, who are assumed to have greater intelligence, knowledge, experience, insight, judgement and indeed wisdom. The changing business and organisational context of the twenty first century, allied to a global socio-economic crisis inevitably raises questions regarding the validity and relevance of established, dominant and prevalent logics, ideologies and hierarchies which direct the leadership cognitive process, demanding a fresh, “out of the box” consideration of alternative leadership logics.
The problem is that in the majority of business organisations today no one is, in practice, in a position or has both the perspectives and capabilities to take the integral approach which is required for effective organisational leadership and sustained performance. The size and complexity of business organisations means that, as we discussed, those in ultimate authority can, at best, strategise, direct and monitor, rather than lead, resistant to the implications of applying an alternative logic, despite subconsciously acknowledging the potentially positive implications for organisational performance and survival. Meanwhile, operational leaders are expected and encouraged to focus on the operational issues involved in achieving a plethora of targets and objectives related to a narrow business and organisational perspective. The result is that no one is in a position to take the “joined up” and integral view which is required to optimally achieve organisational objectives. The ideal would be that every member of an organisation’s leadership cadre should be able to take an integral view. It is however the contention of this article that, in practice, due to the changing relational stakeholder dynamic and the need to optimise employee commitment and engagement to optimise knowledge utilisation, that it is the operational leadership cadre who are in the best position to undertake core leadership responsibilities by taking up the integral baton.
The role of those in ultimate authority is no less important but it is not one of leadership. Ultimately, leading is about influencing the behaviour of individuals through active but subtle, “quiet” leadership (Badarocco 2002) and interaction. Effective leadership operates in the absence of ego, arrogance and self-importance. As Michael Shinagel (2014) says, “the art conceals the art”. Effective leaders of the twenty first century are “nudgers”, persuading others to take appropriate decisions of their own volition, as reflected in the following ancient quotation,
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say; we did it ourselves” (Lao Tzu, Taoche Ching)
The reality is that, controversially, leaders do not actually do anything in terms of operational action or objective achievement. Stanley McChrystal (United States Army general best known for his command of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the mid-2000s) has equated leaders with gardeners (Heffernan 2016); they do not make the flowers grow but rather create the conditions and environment within which plants are encouraged to and find it most conducive to optimise growth and achieve sustained output and productivity. The parallels with leading people effectively are obvious. This is not to say that the role of leadership is not important. Rather that leaders are part of a team whose individual contributions are far more equal in the attainment of organisational objectives than is reflected in the dominant, hierarchical organisational structure and logic which prevails in the majority of business organisations.
Leadership, particularly today, is not about actively managing ideas, strategies, policies, processes and systems. It is not about communicating infrequently through remote channels as in films which portray a future world which portrays leadership through the giant screen on every street corner. In order to lead you have to have willing and enthusiastic “followers”, people who trust you and respect your judgement and with whom you regularly interact in a meaningful manner with a view to co-ordinating the attainment of organisational objectives. Today, given societal changes, this cannot be achieved merely through rank, size and location of your desk; more through a comprehension of a more holistic, integral, “big picture”, heterarchical and therefore people focused leadership logic.
“Leadership is a combination of personal behaviours which focus on the soft stuff which enables the leader to gain the allegiance and dedication of others. Leaders demonstrate integrity, generate trust and communicate vision and values. By this means they create energy and motivation” (Bennis and O’Toole 2000, 172)
If leaders were honest they would accept that such a perspective, process and stakeholder relationship as illustrated in Figure 3 below is little in evidence in the majority of business organisations.
Controversial statements, all, yet ones which should be considered and recognised as increasingly critical as a fundamental prerequisite for achieving sustained performance and organisational survival. The absence of such clarity will ensure that the benefits of an integral leadership perspective will always be an aspiration rather than a reality.
Whilst the primary focus of this article is related to an integral, holistic approach to the relationally intelligent cognitive process of operational leadership it is appropriate to provide examples of those “big picture” issues and factors within the macro organisational context, whose comprehension, acknowledgement and operational consideration will have an increasing impact on the nature of the relationship dynamic within the organisation and are therefore fundamental to an integral operational leadership logic. The list below is less than exhaustive, yet it is easy to understand that whilst some might largely, but not exclusively, remain relevant only at the societal and strategic business impact level (e.g. 1, 3, 6, 9, 12), the remainder might be perceived to have a significant and direct impact upon the operational working context. Peers and subordinates would wish to see how they will impact on the cognitive process of decision making and day to day management and issue resolution by the operational leader. The perceived acknowledgement, consideration of and response to such issues by the operational leader will inevitably have a significant impact on the behaviour of peers and subordinates, particularly in terms of commitment to, enthusiasm for and engagement with their leader and the objectives of the organisation.
“Big Picture” Issues which Influence the Relational Dynamic within the Organisation
Impact on Operational Day to Day Leadership Decision Making
The focus of this article would regard the above broader appreciation of the dynamic organisational and business context as but the tip of the iceberg, the aperitif, in effectively applying a broader, more in-depth and comprehensive, integral operational leadership approach at the “front line”, where policy is turned into product, where tangible output is created and performance achieved. The more important question is how a better appreciation of the direct relevance of the twenty first century contextual dynamic must impact upon operational leadership logic and the decision making process through significant changes in values, perspectives and priorities, leadership characteristics, attributes and capabilities. Figure 4 below represents this change in dominant logic from the one represented in Figure 2 which emphasises the rational, practical and pragmatic, with a primary focus upon maximum profit as the ultimate leadership priority, but with an appreciation of the “big picture” as a “condiment” or refining influence on the dominant logic.
In contrast, Figure 4 reflects the creation of “integral”, holistic and relationally intelligent operational leadership perspectives, attributes and capabilities more attuned to a dynamic leadership of people, with an ultimate leadership objective of optimising energy, commitment and engagement, as a direct influence on achieving “top line” responsibilities whilst acting as an ameliorating influence on the rational and transactional leadership mindset. We blend, in an integral manner, the hard-headed, logical and pragmatic with the soft-hearted and affective, with a primary leadership focus on creating the optimal energy, commitment and engagement amongst stakeholders as a means towards achieving sustained performance and “profit”.
The values, objectives, perspectives and priorities of this alternative logic are reflected in the following quote:-
“Profit is not the legitimate purpose of business. Its purpose is to provide a service needed by society. If this is done efficiently companies will be profitable” (Tarantino 1998, 560)
It is important to emphasise that we are not advocating the benefits of a focus on people leadership per se. Rather, we are advocating a “big picture”, integral operational leadership logic as a means of optimal and sustained performance. However, the focus on people leadership is a natural corollary of the acknowledgement of an integral or “joined up” operational leadership logic and therefore a fundamental component in the attainment of sustained performance in the twenty first century business context.
My take on integral operational leadership is the development of an alternative cognitive process comprising of a broader, deeper knowledge and comprehension of the wider business context and thereby the application of those values, principles, perspectives and priorities which must direct the decision making process in a manner which allows the operational leader to optimally and consistently deliver on their primary responsibilities. In contrast to the prevailing dominant leadership logic this will ultimately be achieved through dynamically managing the attitudes, perspectives, priorities and behaviour of peers, subordinates and also superiors within the organisation. This, rather than clinging to a rational, transactional, clinical and mechanical leadership logic in which we have become inculcated, feel familiar and comfortable but which has increasingly lost its relevance and, most importantly, the ability to deliver at the societal, organisational and individual level.
This, it might be argued, is a much more complex and complicated role than that expected of and carried out by the majority of operational leaders today. This alternative logic would not, as it might be presumed, add to the already unbearable weight of the operational leadership workload. On the contrary, it would effectively result in a casting off of the necrotic weight, work and obstacles created by the regulation, oversight, monitoring, procedures, processes and systems required of a leadership logic which only continues to appear credible and effective on the basis of an increasing number of plasters and short term “fixes” but is, in practice, no longer effective in delivering optimal and sustained importance. The natural end result of a “brain on” integral operational leadership logic is what has been termed as a relationally intelligent leadership perspective (Pless and Maak 2005); an understanding and acknowledgement that the logical, rational, transactional and pragmatic logic of the prevailing dominant leadership logic are but the table stakes of effective leadership and are no longer adequate to ensure sustained performance and operational effectiveness. They must be adapted, supplemented and increasingly over-ridden by responsible, authentic, affective, collegiate and people focused leadership perspectives and characteristics in order to engender a participative, heterarchical and collaborative approach to achieving optimal and sustained performance. This requires the acknowledgement, interpretation and application of the integral leadership logic as it must be applied in the twenty first century business organisation.
The Effective Implementation of an Integral Leadership Logic
The first point to make is that whilst this is not a “stop and reverse the bus” organisational moment, we are, in practice, talking about a re-interpretation and re-alignment of the values, perspectives and priorities of the organisation. Perhaps, most importantly, a re-definition of decision making relationships within the organisation, primarily,
- The consideration and inclusion of “big picture” issues in an integral manner in operational decision making. Particularly and equally important, a new understanding, perspective and approach to the effective management of the operational business unit.
- The enhanced, indeed pivotal, role of operational leaders in the development and implementation of organisational, vision, culture, policy, objectives, priorities and strategy.
- The requirement for a more people focused, relationally intelligent approach to leadership in order to optimally leverage those behavioural “assets” which will ensure optimal and sustained performance in the twenty first century business context.
- The involvement and contribution of a greater number of employees in organisational vision, priorities, objectives and strategy development, this in addition to operational implementation.
This is not, as has so frequently occurred over recent decades, an effort by leaders inculcated in the prevailing logic dominant logic to introduce innovations in organisational leadership to “modernise” this logic. It is rather to acknowledge that the prevailing logic is broken, redundant and an effort to facilitate the introduction of a more appropriate and effective organisational and leadership logic and culture. We must increasingly recognise management and leadership frameworks as we have recognised agricultural, industrial and technological eras or “revolutions”. In the same manner as we have, in some cases reluctantly, embraced the inevitability, benefits and logic of advances in technology, so we must accept that the prevailing leadership logic is inconsistent with and a drag on social, economic and business progress, growth and optimal performance.
The reality is that any leadership logic is impermanent, like the Divine Right of Kings, appropriate at a point in time but highly damaging to progress and growth if maintained when no longer contextually relevant or appropriate. It is, in business leadership terms, what we might term a “Tesla” moment. It is over for the internal combustion engine, be it petrol or diesel. One must question the willingness and ability of existing car manufacturers to get with the programme with the required enthusiasm to cast off a century of inculcated mental and institutional baggage. Similarly, what is required is a new group of minds unencumbered by the inculcation of dated values, principles, perspectives, priorities and practices to build the business organisation logic and culture of the twenty first century afresh; this with an unblinkered, enthusiastic and holistic eye to the future, rather than half an eye to the past. Patently this is not as easy as setting up a new car assembly plant; you cannot close all of the existing business organisations and start again. Nor can you erase the perspectives, priorities and values which have been inculcated in leaders, managers and staff by the wave of a magic wand. However, leaders do require a “Tesla” mindset if they are to achieve their responsibilities of operational effectiveness, organisational stability, resilience and sustained performance to ensure organisational survival in the twenty first century.
In practical, “down and dirty”, operational terms the successful implementation of the alternative, integral leadership logic will initially require close consideration and, more importantly, committed, consistent and pro-active implementation of the following steps: –
Step One: Assess Your Conviction and Capabilities in Respect of the Integral, Relationally Intelligent Leadership Logic
- Acknowledge that you are undertaking a marathon rather than a sprint in relation to changing leadership principles, perspectives and priorities. Therefore, consider whether you are, as an individual, really concerned about and committed to sustained performance for and the survival of the organisation over the long term, given the likely difficulties, complications, obstruction and antagonism which you will encounter.
- Whether you, as an operational leader, possess the required courage, belief and conviction in, determination and commitment to integral, holistic, inclusive perspectives and priorities, which have rarely, if ever, been in evidence during the process of business leadership during the twentieth century.
- Whether you understand and acknowledge the pivotal role of operational leadership in the development and management of the values, priorities, policy and culture of the organisation in the twenty first century business context. Also whether you are willing and able to come forward into the open to justify this case in the interests of operational effectiveness and sustained performance in the face of likely sustained obstruction.
- Whether you possess a willingness to assess your professional people and integral leadership capabilities and take pro-active steps to enhance required capabilities and adapt perspectives and priorities. To be seen to openly encourage those who exhibit an integral perspective and people leadership skills as a means of reflecting and emphasising the new leadership logic.
- Whether you possess a willingness to consider the means and methods by which you will achieve the requisite change in cognitive processes within the organisation’s leadership cadre. In addition to persuading peers and superiors of the alternative integral logic and the new pivotal role of operational leadership in defining policy and organisational culture there is also the critical issue of the broader employee base who must be persuaded of the requirement to provide a greater contribution and accept a greater responsibility for decision making and performance achievement.
- Whether you possess a willingness to consider the pro-active and consistent application of a more complex operational leadership cognitive process which requires greater knowledge, insight and consideration of the broader business context in the day to day process of operational leadership and takes greater cognisance of the direct impact on the operational environment of the dynamics of stakeholder relationships, stakeholder attitudes, behaviour and the impact of the wider business context on engagement and participation.
It is likely that many leaders will have lost any initial enthusiasm for such an alternative logic at this stage and accepted that, in practice, this is not for them. However, taking a more positive perspective, once you have considered and are convinced of
- The benefits of an integral leadership logic for the organisation
- Your own attributes and capabilities to deliver on those benefits
and also acknowledged the implications for the complexity of the cognitive process and practise of operational leadership. It is then necessary to become pro-active in the development and management of an integral organisational culture. This is likely to be a difficult, frustrating, stressful, delicate, if not potentially career threatening process, one which will only succeed if stakeholders become convinced that there is no significant threat but rather more likely to be a significant upside for them as both individuals and as stakeholders in the performance and survival of the organisation.
Step Two: Engender Credibility
- The first step is to gain credibility amongst peers and superiors as an integral, relationally intelligent leader. This is most likely to be achieved by delivering success on operational effectiveness and performance within your own unit of responsibility through the application of the integral logic. Business leaders are practical and pragmatic, if suspicious. Those in authority will give you space and a listening ear if you do the business without too much disruption and complaint from within the in-group. This success is likely to breed advocates, perhaps/hopefully your immediate superior, who will facilitate the opportunity and forum to explain the logic behind the functional performance to a wider circle of the leadership cadre. If this is not forthcoming, then you are advised to find a peer group leader within the senior management hierarchy who is more open-minded to “outside the box” ideas and solutions to organisational and business issues and who takes a more holistic view of leadership and objective achievement.
- During such discussions you will emphasise the focus on a relationally intelligent leadership approach which takes into account the fact that staff are aware of and considering the implications of issues within the wider business context and the requirement to acknowledge the need for a more behaviourally focused leadership mindset. You will provide examples of the issues which, in your view influence behaviour and impact energy, engagement and commitment (those which are perceived to directly and significantly impact status, respect, expectations and aspirations), briefly providing your views on these issues and how they might be better addressed by applying an integral, relationally intelligent mindset.
- Perhaps more difficult will be persuading the organisational “gatekeepers” of the value of taking into consideration the views of operational leaders in respect of such matters as organisational vision, objectives, policy and culture. Operational leaders must emphasise and clearly show that decision making, issue resolution and the enhanced performance of their unit have been significantly impacted by a comprehension and cognisance of “big picture” issues and an integral, relationally intelligent approach. Given the importance of the integral and holistic perspective for operational performance you should make the case that in the interests of sustained performance there is justification in the operational leadership cadre being regarded as a substantive contributor in the development of organisational objectives, policy and culture (the desired influence on organisational vision and logic can be left to another day).
Naturally, this change in organisational dominant leadership logic is not a case of a magic wand and it happens. Rather, it is a process of persuasion, inculcation and evolution over time, achieved through a perception and broadly held appreciation of having delivered on business tasks, targets and objectives, but in a more integral, cohesive, collaborative, less tense and obstructive working environment.
Step Three: Do Not Lose Sight of the Ball
- When rowing against the tide there is a natural tendency to focus on staying afloat minute by minute and take your eye off the horizon and the desired direction and destination. Periodically reflect on your operational, day to day decisions and actions within the context of the overall direction of creating an integral and relationally intelligent leadership and management culture.
Step Four: Communicate the Implications of the New Management Logic at the Individual Level
- In order to make the new leadership logic “real” ASAP within your own area of leadership responsibility, it is important to emphasise its impact at the level of the individual rather than in impersonal, grandiose, aspirational terms, in respect of organisational effectiveness, productivity and performance. This will focus upon the required changes in perspectives and priorities and the resultant reward(s). Examples of communicating the new emphasis, perspectives and priorities might include the following: –
- In exchange for the opportunity to make a greater contribution to the definition, development and the manner of implementation of organisational priorities individuals will be expected to take a greater personal responsibility for their attainment. In consideration for this enhanced responsibility they can expect to receive a more equitable distribution of the “profits” of output. However, at least initially, this additional contribution is to be encouraged but not expected. Nevertheless, it should be emphasised from the outset that those who are able/willing to make such an additional contribution will be rewarded appropriately. However, those who are not will continue to be compensated and recognised for their contribution to organisational performance.
- In order to facilitate a more integral approach to collaborative decision making all (or a nominated group of) employees will be provided with more information at the “big picture” and organisation levels pertinent to policy and strategy formulation and implementation, this in order to facilitate a valued contribution from the wider organisational “community” towards optimal, sustained performance.
- Once the above two priorities are embedded within the organisation make clear that advancement to and within the leadership cadre will become increasingly dependent upon evidence of a “big picture”, integral mindset and a relationally intelligent, responsible and authentic cognitive process in respect of operational decision making and issue resolution. This is in addition to the technical and management capabilities required for individual leadership roles (this includes all leadership roles e.g. supervisors, junior unit leaders, department and divisional heads).
In synch with the above advancement parameters it should be communicated that individual appraisal and remuneration will be based upon the more integral and holistic contribution made to organisational performance by the individual during the process of operational decision making, issue resolution and task attainment.
Step Five: Walk the Talk
- Perhaps most importantly, in order that it becomes embedded in the cognitive process of your team, discussions and the resolution of business issues should be seen to revolve around “big picture”, integral, relationally intelligent and people focussed parameters. This is not as easy as it sounds. If, for instance, sales, productivity and/or service quality are below target/expectations then we should first look less at products, processes and prices but rather integrally, with the nature of leadership perspectives, priorities, their capabilities and also with a comprehensive comprehension of the impact of the “macro” environment on the dynamics of the operational context and objectives. Equally, at the energy, commitment, engagement, interest, motivation of staff. Such factors should be emphasised to be of primacy in finding solutions to operational business issues, with other factors providing a supporting role, rather than vice versa.
- Ultimately, the deciding factor in an understanding, acknowledgement and acceptance of the new leadership logic will be that it is reflected in “walking the talk”, in respect of the nature of decisions taken by those in authority, particularly in respect of their impact on the expectations and aspirations of individuals. Organisational objectives, policy, strategy, operational management and leadership priorities and practices must be seen to reflect and reinforce the new leadership logic. Supervisory, management and leadership courses must also be founded upon such a logic, rather than an analytical, rational and pragmatic mindset alone.
- Ultimately, all stakeholders must feel that they are “better off”, both tangibly and intangibly through the application of an integral, relationally intelligent leadership logic. Those in authority must not feel that their authority has been diminished whilst having to justify a “wobble” in performance to their internal and external peer group leaders. At least in the short/medium term they must be seen to be continuing to make the greater contribution to the setting of organisational objectives and policy. This will continue until there is a comprehensive re-evaluation of the optimal relationship dynamic within the organisation and the organisational and personal benefits of the alternative leadership logic have become widely accepted and inculcated in the psyche of the organisation. Similarly, those who accept greater personal responsibility for the attainment of organisational and definition of policy and strategy should not feel exploited but rather feel a greater sense of “ownership” in terms of valued contribution, respect and tangible reward. This is a delicate balance and requires a fundamental change in perspectives and priorities by those in ultimate authority today and a relationally intelligent approach by those pushing the alternative, integral leadership logic.
Step Six: Create a Structured and Relationally Intelligent Consultative Process
- In order to tangibilise the new collaborative management process, to optimally leverage available knowledge and insight within the employee base, it is important to create a structured consultative process. The nature of this structured process will vary according to organisational and unit context. However, my approach has not been to create a special forum for this purpose but rather to include time for you to invite contributions to current business, management and leadership issues and offer the opportunity for others to raise and make a contribution towards the resolution of pressing business issues at normal, structured, business update meetings.
In this respect I might have weekly group and individual business meetings with my direct reports, monthly meeting with their direct reports (with direct reports in attendance) and a quarterly meetings with a wider, if not all unit staff. In many respects the communication structure is less important than the accessible and open-minded culture created and the fact that operational business issues are discussed and resolved from an integral and relationally intelligent perspective. Often, optimal solutions come from individuals not directly involved in an issue. It should be emphasised that this is now the primary and central, rather than peripheral, means of resolving business issues, that is collaborative, collegiate decision making, leveraging the knowledge, experience and insight of everyone within the unit, whilst taking an holistic contextual view in issue resolution.
- Often, the first objective of such a structured and open consultative process is to discuss the new logic from every angle in order that individuals can become comfortable with its details and implications for both the organisation and the individual. Do not assume and proceed as if everyone is “onside” until such time as this is clearly reflected in the nature of decision making, the nature and content of discussions, responses and practices on a day to day basis. Anticipate confusion, reticence and obstruction and allocate more than adequate time and personal energy to overcome individual responses. Set progress milestones at monthly, quarterly, half yearly and annual intervals in terms of responses to decisions which you and others have taken which have/have not been applied on the basis of a relationally intelligent, integral logic . If there remains broad confusion, reticence and obstruction then you must first question your own commitment, your capabilities, your explanation of the logic, the structures and culture of communication and/or whether there are peer group leaders who are the source of the limited acceptance of the new integral, relationally intelligent logic.
Step Seven: “Re-Pot” to Reinforce Permanence of Integral, Relationally Intelligent Logic
- In the absence of strident, sustained and widespread opposition, after allowing ample time for staff to understand and assimilate to the new logic of perspectives, priorities, contributions, relationships and practices, begin to “re-pot” individuals whom you consider are unlikely to adapt to the new logic. Begin with individuals who are in key positions upon which success is dependant, this in order to allow others the opportunity for further reflection. Such re-potting should be applied within the context of the integral, relationally intelligent approach, on the basis of the optimal utilisation of their key skills, knowledge, experience and capabilities in respect of sustained organisational performance and also their continuing value as an “asset” within the organisational community. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the most ardent opponents of an idea, once convinced of the benefits by seeing them unfold in practice, can become the most ardent of advocates. Similarly, consider re-potting advocates in order to achieve more effective inculcation and also to enhance the prospects for sustained performance.
Step Eight: Reflect Integral, Relationally Intelligent Logic in Recruitment and Promotion
- In my own experience many organisational disasters and collapses occur as a direct result of the selection and recruitment of individuals who have been inculcated in an organisational and leadership logic and culture which is unsympathetic/inconsistent with the one which prevails. Ideally, you “grow your own”, inculcating through the leadership life stages, from trainees ultimately to executive director. In practise this is not feasible, as individuals move out, up or across. Greater priority must be given to an appreciation by recruits and candidates of the “big picture” in the cognitive process of decision making and also characteristics, perspectives, priorities and capabilities which reflect an integral, authentic, responsible and relationally intelligent approach to the attainment of operational effectiveness and sustained performance. Rather than a focus on technical credentials, for example, the setting up of a new business unit, excellent productivity, history of consistent promotion as criteria in recruitment and selection for promotion, it should be the means, method and priorities underlying such achievements which will become the defining selection criteria.
Step Nine: Keep Hitting the “Sweet Spot” of Effective Operational Leadership
- Whether you have merely effected the integral leadership logic within your own area of responsibility or achieved an organisation-wide inculcation you must recognise that optimal effectiveness and sustained performance will only be achieved through the joint application of this alternative logic allied to the realities of a pragmatic business management process. Operational leadership will always be a non-stop, never-ending, hard headed, practical, pragmatic, “satisficing”, feet firmly rooted in the ground role. The integral, relationally intelligent logic adds the critical attributes of a broad, open-minded, holistic and what might be termed “soft-hearted” perspective. The absence of an appropriate and relevant leadership logic has ensured consistently sub-optimal performance over recent decades, this despite the application of the required practical and pragmatic business management approach.
Figure 4 below provides a synopsis of the key issues in the implementation of the alternative, integral and relationally intelligent leadership logic.
This paper makes the overall point that just as we have come to accept the changes to our work and lives wrought by radical technological, social, economic and medical advances so we must acknowledge and accept the rationale for a radical re-alignment in leadership logic in terms of values, perspectives, priorities and relational dynamics in response to the realities of the twenty first century context. For many decades we have sought to address the fact that the prevailing leadership logic is no longer fit for purpose in the rapidly changing business context by utilising analgesics when, in practice, minor surgical intervention was required. Today, we are at the stage where brain surgery is required to remove a tumour which is adversely affecting the judgement of the brain and ultimately the optimal and sustained performance and survival of the corporate body.
Rather than the narrow, compartmentalised approach which was appropriate in the days of mass production, effective operational leadership requires an integral, synergistic and holistic mindset which includes and considers the implications of the wider context on operational leadership logic in terms of both “brain on” and “hands on”. The direct implications of such an alternative logic are an inclusive, heterarchical, relationally intelligent approach to decision making and issue resolution. In practice, the realities of managing a business organisation continue to dictate that any new logic must continue to be applied in a practical, pragmatic and “hard headed” manner. However, the key point is that sustained performance will only be achieved through applying a leadership logic which is based upon the primacy of an integral, open-minded and relationally intelligent response to the attitudes, views and behaviours of individuals, not for altruistic motivations, but rather to leverage those key “assets” (knowledge, experience, insight, enthusiasm, commitment, loyalty, engagement) which will ultimately consistently deliver on sustained performance and organisational survival. In driving terms, we are changing the driving experience and vehicle capabilities through a re-engineering of the engine, gearbox, chassis and braking system, leaving the driver to continue to drive the vehicle in a practical, pragmatic, insightful and experienced manner.
About the Author
Dr Greg Park has spent over twenty five years in executive roles within the financial services sector, initially with National Westminster Bank and Lloyds TSB in the UK. He is now Managing Director of PCM Consulting, specializing in leading within cross-border and global contexts. Greg is a guest speaker in International Strategic Leadership and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management, where he advises on a number of expert panels. He is the author of “Collaborative Wisdom: from Pervasive Logic to Effective Operational Leadership”, Gower 2013 and the forthcoming “Integral Operational Leadership: A Relationally Intelligent Approach to Sustained Performance in the Twenty First Century”, Gower/Taylor Francis.