Q: Jim, it’s been a while since we talked. One of the things I’ve noticed in your work with Barry Posner is since you published The Leadership Challenge you’ve been creating some additional material that seems to be both building upon your existing works and a shift in perspective. This has been in two books called Encouraging the Heart and A Leader’s Legacy . Am I picking up on something that is really there, or am I just adding my own spin to it?
A: Russ, we’re always trying to build on the work we’ve done in the past and extend ourselves into exploring new territory. Encouraging the Heart is the fifth of our Five Practices. We had written a book about what followers expected of leaders, entitled Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose it, Why People Demand It, and the second edition of The Leadership Challenge . We asked ourselves “What’s next?” and decided to focus on Encouraging the Heart. It was our observation that most of what was out there on that subject was mainly a collection of tips and techniques—very good one, I might add—but there was not a clear framework into which to place all these methods for recognizing people. We wanted to provide a framework for reward and recognition, the celebration of group and team achievements, and the creation of community. We followed that up with a workbook on Encouraging the Heart to help folks apply that organizing framework to their leadership initiatives. And you are correct. Our 2006 book, A Leader’s Legacy, is an extension of a familiar theme with us. Our research clearly shows that when people are leading with meaning and purpose they are more committed, more satisfied, and, yes, higher performers. The same applies to their team members . We are passionate about getting this message out there.
Q: You published Encouraging the Heart in 1999, so considerable time has passed since then. Are you noticing any shifts as a result of this material, in what you’re seeing out there among your clients and people you talk to?
A: If you look at the last 25 years that we’ve been doing our research, the Five Practices have remained pretty stable. We see some variation in the extent to which people engage in one practice or another, but for the most part, the Five Practices have been quite stable over time. We don’t find anything startlingly new that people are telling us about what they do as leaders to get extraordinary things done that would change that framework significantly. Of course, there are things that people do that are not in the framework, because no one model accounts for 100% of the variance of anything. When we’ve chosen to focus on one of the Five Practices, it’s either because we see a gap in our own work or we notice a need in the workplace. At the time that we wrote Encouraging the Heart , there was a lot of emphasis on emotional intelligence, and on the more intimate, personal part of the relationship between the leader and constituent. We sensed a need in the marketplace and in the community for a focus on how leaders engage more intimately with others. If there has been a shift in our writing and speaking about Encouraging the Heart it is that we are more forceful in conveying the message. Our evidence and that from others, such as the Gallup Organization, is that positive behaviors are much more likely to fully engage people than are controlling and negative behaviors. If positive emotions don’t outweigh negative by a ratio of three to one at work, it’s highly likely that people will leave the leader or the organization. I sign all my letters and emails, “Love ‘em and lead ‘em” for that reason. I want people to continuously get the message from me that the secret to success in life is to “stay in love.”
Q: So this does have a parallel to the relationship aspects of emotional intelligence?
A: Oh, sure. Encouraging the Heart is about two things: celebrating the values of the community and the accomplishments of a group of people, and recognizing individuals and their role in success. It’s about individuals and groups, and it’s about what leaders do to give other people the courage and the heart to continue under very difficult conditions. With all of the challenges that leaders face in the world today—global, economic, political and military, etc.—as well as the challenges that businesses, governments, and our communities are facing, Encouraging the Heart is something we feel needs greater emphasis. As you can imagine, Russ, in the private sector in particular, where extrinsic rewards are such a vital part of the motivational system, they haven’t paid as much attention, historically, to the more intrinsic, relationship-oriented aspects of business.
Q: There’s a term you just used, “courage,” which carries through also into the Legacy book. This concept of courage seems to play a very important role in the way you think about leadership. Can you expand on that?
A: We’ve always been intrigued by something. When we talk to leaders and ask about the qualities they look for and admire in other leaders only 25% of respondents choose “courage” as something that they value in a leader. Of course, their responses are a forced-choice of seven from a list of 20 different qualities, so some things are inevitably going to receive more votes than others. Consistently the admired qualities that rise to the top are “honest” and “forward-looking” and “competent” and “inspiring.” “Courage,” however, didn’t come close to these at 25%. I should note that the last time we published a study on these qualities in 2002 the percentage was only 20%, so it seems people are valuing courage slightly more than they did before. I don’t know if this is a temporary shift or not. It may be because of the kinds of changes that are demanded currently; people see that they require courage. Anyway, the point is courage is so often mentioned by historians, philosophers, and political commentators as an important leadership quality, yet we don’t see the evidence when the average person reports on what they value most.
We became interested in this phenomenon, and then began to ask ourselves, “What is courage? What does it look like?” It’s an attribute that people often use to describe famous leaders like King or Lincoln, or military heroes—and yet, there isn’t a common understanding. We began to look at the work of Aristotle and Socrates and those who wrote about it, and we learned something quite interesting: courage is not what we think it is. If we can truly understand courage more deeply, we come to realize it’s not about the common understanding of bravery or doing something heroic. In fact, everyone has this attribute of courage—it’s in all of us—and the events people most identify as moments of courage in their lives have very little to do with traditionally held courageous scenarios. Even when you ask firefighters, police and enlisted military troops about their moments of courage, they didn’t talk about rescuing someone from a burning building or being in a live firefight; they talk about more personal things. It occurred to us that courage is something that’s not well understood. We decided to write about it, but it ended up morphing into the book that became A Leader’s Legacy. Courage is discussed in three chapters in that book.
Q: When I read A Leader’s Legacy I had this image of you and Barry sitting by a fireplace, talking into a tape recorder, just chatting about what’s been going on for the last 25 years and how you think and feel about it. Is that far from the truth?
A: That’s pretty close. We went down to an old haunt of ours, Pajaro Dunes [California-ed.], where we had held many sessions. In fact, the first public workshop for The Leadership Challenge was at Pajaro Dunes. We went down there, got a house and sat at the ocean side and outlined what we thought were some key themes that kept emerging from our work and that we wanted to speak to in more of an editorial style. Although our work is always informed by research, A Leader’s Legacy is much more assertive than our other books. We feel compelled to stand solidly on data, but this was more where a couple of guys were just reflecting on what they’ve learned over 25 years.
Q: I’m struck with the accuracy of my image. You also raised your research; the focus, as I understand it, has not only been, “What are the qualities a particular individual might bring to a leadership situation,” but it’s as much about the relationship between leader and follower. You also mentioned leaders in groups, and one of the things I find really attractive about the work you guys have done is the fact that when you look at leadership, you don’t think of it as a phenomena that is manifested by an individual, but a phenomenon that is contextualized and dynamic. Is that a fair assessment of your approach?
A: In our terminology, we use the word “constituent” instead of “follower” for a particular reason. In your construct that you’ve written about, I completely agree with your description of a follower and a follower’s behavior. Both Barry and I have a background in public administration and political science—something we share with you. So we looked at leadership in a broader context than many of our colleagues who wrote about leadership in a corporate sense.
We found that in the first edition of our book, we tended to use old, top-down language. When we wrote the second edition, after reviewing the first, we noticed how we, too, were prisoners of the hierarchy. We, too, were part of the same organizations that everyone else was, so we naturally looked at leadership from more of a top-down perspective. Everyday language gives it away—boss and subordinate—that whole notion of being below number one. Barry and I wanted to escape the prison of corporate language and subtly and significantly change our own perspective, looking at ”followers’ as more active participants in the process. I think from our own work in organizational development (something we also share with you), we know that people who feel more involved in the decision-making are more committed to it than those who simply comply with what Number One says we should do. We wanted to give a greater sense of engagement in the process of decision-making and execution than the language we used in the first edition might have indicated. So we made that change, and ever since then, we’ve tended to use “constituent” more than “follower,” but we also use that term because it’s highly appropriate in many situations. In A Leader’s Legacy , we have a chapter that says, “Leaders are followers, too.” That’s meant to indicate that all of us are in the role of follower at some point—very often while simultaneously leading.
Q: Joe Rost used the term “collaborator” which, of course, has its own connotations in different historical contexts. But in any case, at least there’s another example of moving away from the leader/follower dichotomy. You reference the ways that I have begun trying to talk about these things that were published in the last issue of Integral Leadership Review. One of the elements of what I was referring to as both “leader” and “follower” is that they are temporary roles. I think Joe Rost also made a comment at one point that, “No one is a leader 24/7.” If that’s the case, then they are in roles. I’m wondering if the concept of roles is something you see as relevant in the way you think about leadership.
A: Absolutely. “Role” is a highly appropriate term. We may be a parent, but we’re not always in that role; we may be a friend, but we’re not always in that role. We do move in and out of roles, and play multiple roles in our lives. What we tend to see is that the lines between a leader and these other roles have blurred a bit.
I was recently responding to someone who wrote to us, asking, “What’s the difference between mentor and leader?” They asked that question because they had listened to a recent Web seminar, and we asked people to reflect on the following: “If you were to be given a list of categories of roles, which one would you say your most important leader role model came from?” We gave them a list with community leader, business leader, family member, teacher/coach, political leader, entertainer, professional athlete, and we ask them to select one.
If you are 18 to 30 years old, at the top of your list of categories of leader role models is family member with 40%, followed by teacher/coach (26%), followed by community leader (11%), and then followed by business leader (7%). Notice that the top three categories – family member, teacher/coach, and community leader–comprise 77% or about 3/4 of the possible leader role models. If you are older than 30 and have been in the workplace for a while, family member and teacher/coach are still number one and two, but business leader switches places with community leader.
What is obvious to people when they look at this data is that role models for leadership come from places that aren’t initially associated with leadership in business – family members and teachers and coaches. It’s also evident that we find leader role models quite early in our lives. We don’t wait until we get to work to learn about leadership. Leader role models also come from people who are the closest to us. We are much more likely to be influenced early on in our lives by our parents and teachers than we are by a CEO. The line between who’s a leader, and who’s playing these other roles is very blurred. Leaders can come from anywhere. They are not people who are just in a managerial role in a business, or in an elected official role in government. They are people who are in many other roles in our lives. We have to open up and broaden our concept of what leadership is. While in a practical, pragmatic sense the people who use our services are primarily in organized work settings and are the folks we spend much of our professional time with, the fact is that leaders come from anywhere.
Q: One of the implications is you’ve made a distinction between the leader and manager role which is often blurred in the literature, as well as other kinds of roles. It seems to me that one of the sources of images of leadership comes from other arenas like the media. When I was growing up, the images of leaders I had were the Lone Ranger and Tim Holt—a variety of characters that were in the media and the comic books I read. I wonder how much our notions of leadership are really more based on the fictions in our culture than the facts?
A: I would highly agree. We have this almost Hollywood image of leadership that we continually have to wrestle with in the work that we do. The mass media tend to portray leaders as CEOs, military generals, national politicians, Hollywood actors, and famous people. It gives us the impression that those are our leader role models and that if you aren’t in one of those positions you aren’t a leader. I think there is also a subtle undercurrent that creates this whole mythology about leadership, and has people thinking, “Leaders are born, and I’m not one.” In fact, if you look at leadership as a set of skills and abilities, you see that all of us have the potential to lead—particularly when you look at where people find their leadership role models— because we’re doing all these behaviors in other arenas in our lives. We just don’t put them together in a way that gives us the sense that we are leading at this very moment. A lot of that is obviously reinforced daily—leaders are these special class of people that are on the cover of magazines—by the media’s mythology.
Q: I’m assuming you mean leadership in organizational contexts and business roles. A colleague of mine might say that the “anyone can do it” approach is kind of like a blank slate; there are realities in terms of levels and stages of development that we go through. We know this from just observing our children grow up, or observing ourselves as we gain more life experience. The concept of world view is one that I’ve drawn primarily from a developmental model called “Spiral Dynamics,” and there are a number of other developmental models. The idea is that through maturation, we can learn and grown in various stages of development, but not all of us are going to reach the higher levels of development; we will stop at various places for various reasons or life conditions. In all the data gathering and research that you and Barry have done, is there anything that has emerged in your mind—other than just basic traditional intelligence kinds of ideas—about developmental models or stage models that you have discovered and found useful.
A: We certainly shouldn’t mislead people into thinking that they will become the leader of the free world just because they have the ability within them somewhere. Attaining mastery of leadership is something you acquire over time and with much development. The thing that we’re currently most intrigued by, however, is less a model of developmental stages, and more what it takes to become an expert at anything. For our readers who are interested in some of the more rigorous research, there is a text called The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. Not many will want to consult it, but it’s a very highly regarded collection of articles by researchers in the area of expertise. The first editor is K. Anders Ericsson. He and his colleagues have edited a rich volume of research and thought pieces on the development of expertise. It is interesting to note, when you carefully read the research on expertise, that the development of true mastery comes through practice, not through genetics or some other gift or talent that one might have. I have one major beef with the talent movement: it has led us down the wrong path. It has led us to believe that if only we can get our selection system correct, we’ll find the best leaders, which takes us off the focus on hard work. What is actually needed is to spend rigorous hours practicing technique every day for several hours in order to get it correct. If you want a metric, the evidence suggests it takes about 10 years and 5,000 hours of practice to become expert. Sometimes more, sometimes a little less, but the point is you can’t become an exemplary leader by attending a two-day workshop, checking the leadership class box, and then go back to work and pray something will emerge.
Q: In that sense, maybe Ram Charan has it right with the idea of the leadership pipeline.
A: I think we need to start very early in developing people and create a path on which people can move from amateur to expert. Most leaders in most organized settings are amateurs. They behave as an amateur would behave. On Saturday they grab their clubs and hit a few balls on the range, and then go play golf pretty badly. I’m one of them.
A: We don’t treat it as a profession. When you think about it, would Tiger Woods practice once a week for a tournament? What is it that we do day-in and day-out? If we have a title of manager, director, CEO—we’re leading—and yet we fail to practice that every day. By just going down the talent management path—and not to pick on our colleagues—we risk developing the belief that we’re in the process of finding these people, and if we do the right kind of testing, we’ll discover who they are.
Q: One of the reasons why I find the world view or values notions and stage models interesting is because the way we see the world helps us shape the way we make meaning in the world. As a consequence, if we have a set of beliefs or values or a world view that sees the world in terms of right and wrong, that’s going to shape the way we make meaning out of our practice and the experience we have, versus if we see the world as a place where there is an opportunity to make a difference and create something that’s never been done before. I may see that world and understand my experience and practice in different kinds of ways. What is your reaction to that?
A: I think it is all about how we view the world. It’s about our assumptions. It’s about our deepest beliefs. If we’re going to become the best leaders we can be, we have to first challenge our own assumptions. Leadership development is essentially self-development, so the first question we have to ask ourselves is, “Do I truly want to be the best leader I can be? If I really want that, then am I willing to open myself up to feedback about how I’m currently behaving, and to challenge some of the assumptions I make about the world—how I view other people, other organizations, etc. A number of our colleagues in this field, like Ed Schein for instance, have written a lot about our very basic assumptions as the starting place for our interventions in organizations. Chris Argyris is another. We need to begin by reexamining our assumptions about leadership: who can be a leader, what it takes to become one—particularly in a global society and economy, what are our assumptions about other cultures? We need to answer these questions in order for us to become the best we can be.
Q: The growing complexities that we’ve become aware of—I’m never sure if it’s our growing awareness, or the growing complexity or the combination of the two—but that requires different sets of assumptions and ways of making meaning, if you will. I’m curious, though, if through the lenses you’ve been using in your work, whether you’ve seen any patterns emerging around that. I gave the example of seeing people in leadership roles relying on a right vs. wrong model; or others who are very entrepreneurial and want to exercise their own energy and power, whether for the good of the world, or their own profit, or because they have that spirit; or others who want to create community and have everybody work together. You have all these different sets of assumptions around those different kinds of approaches, and I’m curious as to whether you’ve noticed any patterns that have been effective for the most significant kinds of leadership you’ve encountered.
A: In the context of the work that we have done, where we have asked people to select qualities they look for and admire in leaders—and many of these qualities come from a set of experiences and assumptions—let me give you the most interesting and challenging finding to date.
- In all of the more developed countries in which we’ve done our research, there are four qualities that are at the top of the list for what we look for and admire in a leader:
Sometimes they switch order, depending on the country; honest tends to be at the top more in North America than in Asia. But in China, it is not the same pattern. “Honest” is in the 50th percentile there, but there are other attributes at the top of the list and are looked for and admired much more strongly than honesty. By way of contrast, in China, “cooperative” is significantly higher—58% compared to 25% in North America. That’s a pretty big difference. In China, “broad-minded” and “fair-minded” are also at the top of the list, and again higher than in North America. We’re challenged to try and find an explanation for this difference. I’m not yet willing to put a stake in the ground on it, because we have to do a lot more research, but I find it intriguing. It’s an intriguing difference that may point to a more collectivist mentality and set of assumptions in China as compared to North America and other parts of the West. That has some interesting implications for how one conducts one’s self in world business. (By the way, the data from Singapore and Korea, for example, look a lot more like North America than they do like China, so this may not be about East versus West.)
While “courage” and “courageous” is 25% in North America and 9% in China, you can step back and look at this data and ask, “How does world view influence how they are conducting themselves in business today?” and then you look at lead paint in toys, pollution in their environment, the destruction of the Gobi Desert, the emphasis on urban development, you begin to raise some questions about how this set of assumptions influences the way they conduct themselves in economic affairs. Perhaps people are not willing to challenge their leaders as much or not as willing to step outside the box and be different from the rest of the group . They seem to be more concerned about being fair, tolerant, and supportive than we are here—potentially a good thing—but they seem to place less value on “telling it like it is,” which when it comes to ethical and environmental issues may not be a good thing. That’s certainly not to suggest that North American values should be imposed on the rest of the world, but it does raise some interesting questions about the influence of assumptions and beliefs on the way we conduct ourselves in the working world, at least in the way it relates to leaders.
I also have to add that both Barry and I have been blessed to have lectured in China, The Leadership Challenge has been translated in Mandarin, we have written monthly columns for the China Business Journal, and we are currently engaged in a couple joint leadership research projects in China. Our Chinese colleagues are exceedingly eager to learn more about our perspectives on leadership practices. Their openness to learning and to developing leaders is overwhelming at times, and I think we have a great deal to learn from each other. I am certain that our collaborations will produce many new insights about leadership and that we’ll challenge each other to look at things in new ways.
Q: What you’re suggesting is that culture plays a very important role in the way we think about leadership, and the way we manifest it.
A: Culture as a set of shared values and assumptions does play an important role in how we conduct ourselves. I started out my working career as a Peace Corps Volunteer and spent two years in Turkey speaking a different language and living in a different culture. I know first-hand how culture influences our behavior. Barry and I have written a lot about what we globally and locally expect of leaders. We have consistently said that credibility is the foundation of leadership, and there is a certain set of qualities that people look for and admire in leaders. China challenges some of our global views of leadership, and raises some interesting questions as to whether there will be a shift in China or a shift in the rest of the world as it relates to leadership. But yes, culture impacts our point of view, at least in our area of expertise—what we look for and admire in leaders.
Q: One of the difficulties I have in talking about culture in terms of shared values and assumptions is what the implications are for that in societal diversity, so I’m wondering how you would factor diversity into that perspective.
A: Diversity is a value. I would look at diversity as a value in a set of assumptions. If we come to value diversity and differences in people, then we are more likely to bring difference and diversity into our organizations. If we value sameness, then we are less likely to do so.
Q: I was thinking of diversity more in terms of diversity of perspectives, assumptions and values. As you know, you’ll find such things in most organizations, so if we’re going to talk about the culture of an organization, not only are we talking about shared values, we’re also looking at what’s not shared.
A: I completely agree. Diversity is not about demographics. Both you and I are suggesting the same thing: diversity is not just about gender or race. Diversity is about opinion and how you look at things. In a more global world, if we only view things from one perspective, we’re missing a lot of the other opportunities. My point is that you have to value diversity in order to be really inclusive of multiple opinions. What we know from research is that sources of innovation don’t come exclusively, or even primarily, from an R&D lab; they come from front-line workers, the customer, the next bench over, the unexpected— from anywhere. Unless we have permeable membranes around our organizations that allow in these other perspectives, we’ll miss a lot of opportunities to be creative and innovative. You have to value that—value openness and a willingness to listen to other points of view—in order to see all these great opportunities that are out there.
Q: One of your earlier references was to the role of the selection process, and I would assume you’d extend that to the whole leadership development process in attracting, developing and evolving leaders in organizations. The selection process, as well as the way leadership development programs—be they classroom or career oriented—are part of the systems of organizations, and part of the organizational life context in which leadership emerges. I’m wondering if there’s anything in your work where you relate the whole idea of leadership to the systemic context in which it occurs.
A: In the last edition of The Leadership Challenge, one of the things we said about leadership was the content of leadership has not changed that dramatically over the last 10-20 years we’ve been doing our research; it is the context of leadership that has changed. I’m one of those who believes that context is much more significant than content. All of us in this field know that emotional intelligence as content is not all that new. People have been writing about it for many, many years. Something changed in the context that made us more receptive to these ideas.
I think the same is true now of other changes in business. The context is shifting. We’re now talking about generational differences not because we haven’t ever been interested in that content, but because the context has shifted. Baby boomers are retiring; there are not enough leaders in the pipeline to fill important roles in innovation, so people have become much more concerned about generational issues. Consumer groups are shifting, so we’re seeing a dramatic shift in the marketplace. I think context is far more influential than content.
Q: If you were working with an organization, and you were trying to work with them on leadership development, what kinds of factors would you look at? You’ve mentioned the context of the organization in the sense of market, sources of recruiting, etc; but internally, what would be some of the systems, questions and issues that you think would be important for helping them think about the evolution of leadership in their organization?
A: The one that comes to mind is technology—technology is facilitation the creation of distributed leadership, virtual leadership. Something like 450 of the Fortune 500 have operations in China. Maybe by the time this is printed, it’ll be 500 of 500. If you’re in Europe or the U.S. and you have an operation in China, and you’re communicating with them electronically on a daily basis, that’s a different systems issue than when you had to fly there. It creates a whole different set of dynamics. So we get lots of questions about virtual leadership—can you lead virtually, or do you have to be there face-to-face? That’s my immediate response to your question: technological issues have shifted and have had the most influence over organizational design and structure than any other contextual change we’ve been experiencing.
Q: How do you respond to the question about distributive and virtual leadership?
A: One of the things that we say is there is no such thing as “virtual trust.”
While we’re willing to be very self-disclosing on the Internet, oftentimes people use false identities.
Q: We have an example of a well-respected CEO who got caught doing that recently.
A: Exactly. So how can you really know that you can trust this information? That particular person who’s writing that blog? As human beings, we still need to look that person in the eye and believe they are truly trustworthy; and we can even do that and still be fooled. It’s all part of human experiences. Virtual communication enables us to stay in contact and I couldn’t do without it. At the same time, there is no substitute for getting close enough to smell someone.
Barry and I wrote a book on the Internet—he was in Western Australia and I was in Northern California—but I certainly wouldn’t have written a book with a stranger on the Internet. If someone were to send me an email and suggest we write a book together, my reaction would be to say, “We should meet to talk about it.” I’m not inclined to work closely with people that I don’t know very well. To get to a level of intimacy where we can trust someone else with our careers, our lives, we need to have that intimate, face-to-face contact.
The other thing we know about leadership is that even if that person is in the same building as you, if they are not your immediate manager, they have less influence over you than your immediate manager. Even if they are co-located in the same place, they are not influential unless they work closely with you. The implication from our research data is that we find our leader role models from those who are closest to us; those who know us the best. You can’t know someone at that level and find them to be a leader role model if you’re only virtually connected to them electronically. It is possible to have some level of influence electronically, but face-to-face is the only way we can hope to build a level of trust where we’re able to influence day-to-day behavior.
Q: So don’t give up your frequent flier miles?
A: Not at all. Boeing is not going to stop building the new 747-8 or AirBus it’s A380 just because we have the ability to communicate via the Internet. We can probably track a parallel path—people are traveling more than ever, maybe because we have all these connections.
Q: That in turn is creating the spread of viruses. So we have viral leadership…anyway…give me the URL of your site, please.
A: www.leadershipchallenge.com. We have our books, research papers, schedules, bios, other people we are connected with, and there will be more stuff available like blogs and podcasts as we become more fluid in that.
Q: Speaking of evolving technology, what do you see as your next greatest challenge in terms of exploring and communicating your ideas about leadership?
A: There is the means—how we will do that—and then the content. We are currently engaging in podcasts and other uses of new media to communicate and fit within the context of our times, with people having iPods, mobile phones, MP3 players. Barry and I want to participate in that. We have a very democratic view of leadership development—that it truly is a set of skills and abilities that people can develop over time if they really want to. We want to make it more accessible to people, so electronic media is becoming more important.
Then there’s the content piece. There are a couple of directions we are headed. First, we are increasingly interested in youth leadership. The examples will change, but the content may not; and because the context is different some things will have to change. Think about boss/subordinate roles—it’s not relevant in a youth leadership context. It will force us to examine some generational issues, and it should open up some intriguing new explorations for Barry, our colleagues and me.
The second issue is global leadership. Barry was recently in Korea and China. We are doing more outreach globally, which will enrich our understanding of leadership.
Those are the two important directions we are moving in, and if there were a third, it would have to do with values and beliefs. Barry and I wrote a paper with Warren Schmidt called “Shared Values Make a Difference.” It was based on a study done of values—initially of American managers, and then internationally broadened. That study has been repeated, and the results may open up some avenues of exploration.
Q: I’m interested in your thoughts about leader development, and I distinguish that from leadership development, because to me, leadership development includes dealing with culture and systems as well as individuals. In terms of leader development, one of the notions I’ve had for the last few years is the use of scenarios as a way of giving people practice around leadership. I think of the way Shell was using scenarios to help managers think about unanticipated futures: not really to plan to respond in a certain way, but to have the experience of seeing the environmental variables and being able to think about and respond to them. That led to some positive results for the company back in the seventies. Scenario development is a collaborative effort that can be designed in stages to involve various parts of the organization and provide feedback. Have you seen scenario development as a leadership development tool, or anything comparable?
A: I’m sure there are. People tend to bring me in when it’s about individual leader development around behaviors and practices. One of the practices is called “Inspiring a Shared Vision,” and when people engage in the program, scenario development is one of the tools we use to help people improve in that practice.
By the way, it is interesting to note that we have tracked the “Inspiring a Shared Vision” practice for 20 years, and have measured the behavior and evaluated it over time. The most intriguing thing is we still have a major deficit in our ability to inspire a shared vision. Over 20 years, this practice consistently ranks the lowest of our Five Practices. We have done a fairly good job of encouraging people to engage in teamwork and trust and strengthening individuals, and we have done a really good job of encouraging people to treat each other with dignity and respect—what we call Enable Others to Act. However, we have not improved our capacity in inspiring a shared vision, of which scenario development would be a part. Whatever technique is used in leader development, we haven’t had much impact at all in improving our abilities to envision the future and enlist others in a common vision. When you take that behavior apart, the data tell us that it’s not so much the mental and intellectual piece that gives us trouble—and that’d be where scenario planning fits in. It’s our inability to communicate a shared vision that is the most important issue. We pretty much stink at it, and those of us in this field have to wonder why we haven’t improved. Our data indicates continued deficiency in that practice.
Q: Do you know what the dilemma is?
A: First of all, the mythology of leadership looks at vision as part of the top-down model. Leaders climb solo to the top of a mountain, get inspired, come down off the mountain and share their wisdom. That sort of mythical notion of leaders is flat wrong, and yet I think it has a strong influence over our behavior. The other thing is most of us sit around thinking that the leaders in the upper echelon of business are responsible for the visions of the future, so we wait for the leaders to tell us where we’re headed and our roles in getting there.
There is not a system for being inclusive in business. Some companies, like Google, are viewing that differently and opening up future planning to everyone in the organization, because technology allows them to—but that’s not the common practice. We don’t open up the system—we isolate a few people to be responsible, and the rest remain passive—so it’s not highly encouraged, while “working well with others” is encouraged at all levels.
If you look at the top of organizations, 88% of senior executives expect leaders to be forward-looking, but less than 50% of college-age students think that is a leadership attribute. We have to overcome that, and we’ve communicated the importance of being forward-looking to the young people we’ve worked with. We’ve said that’s the one thing you need to focus on: Where are you headed? What kind of future do you want us to have? We need to start at an earlier age to engage people in that thought process.
Q: For centuries, we have practiced a hierarchical masculine model of organization that has a lot to do with obeying authority and looking up the pyramid for guidance and disempowering ourselves. As a consequence of practicing in that system, we have curtailed our ability to foster and communicate that vision. The implication being that Riane Eisler’s approach in The Chalice and the Blade and her other writings is correct: there is a need for a shift to a partnership culture, and that’s what I hear you describing with Google’s approach.
A: When we were young, we got more excited about the future. We recognized the transition from high school to college, and focused on our majors and life paths; we envisioned where we would be after graduation. Then we go to work in organizations, we are in the role of a front-line worker, and we revert back to expecting an older adult to tell us where we’re headed. We have to look back to our adolescence to remember how we were excited about the future, and what our hopes and dreams were. What sucked that excitement out of us, and why do we think that people at the top of an organization have all the wisdom?
Q: That was modeled in our educational system.
A: You’re right, Russ. Our educational system doesn’t do a very good job of encouraging self-determination; that’s one reason we wrote A Leader’s Legacy . We talked about how at Santa Clara University, freshman in the business school have to take some formal coursework in leadership in order to graduate. At the beginning of that class, we ask, “Are you here because you want to do something, or are you just here for something to do?” The students look at the professor cross-eyed. They inevitably say they are there to do something, and the next question is, “What are you here to do?” We don’t expect 18 year-olds to have the answer, but we hope they will begin to think about that, both in school and out. What will your legacy be? When you move on, whether from an organization or from this world, what contribution will you be remembered by? We remind people that they are not remembered for what they do for themselves; they are remembered for what they do for others. We need to start implanting this message much earlier than we have been, and we also need to self-evaluate as we grow: “How can I leave the campsite better than I found it?”
We tend to look at the future as a blank slate, and as if we can start from scratch. Many of us would like to do that, but the future is preceded by a past. Past is prologue, and if we are going to be intelligent about our future, we have to review history.
One intriguing piece of research that survived 25 years of study is the work by Omar El Sawy, who is a professor at USC. He did some research on the Janus Effect, and what he found is if we review history before embarking on our future, we are more likely to have a longer time horizon than if we look to the future first. That suggests that our strategy ought to be preceded by a historical review. If you think about that in an organization…
Q: Fascinating. It reinforces the thought that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
A: We need to have a much deeper understanding of our past if we are to be effective at looking forward.
Q: I recall an episode in Kaiser Permanente’s employee orientation program where they showed a movie called, “The Desert Story.” It’s about the doctor who was one of the founders of the Kaiser medical system, and how he started providing medical services to workers on the Hoover Dam for five cents per week. It showed the spirit of the founding of the work that led to the development of the Kaiser Permanente medical system. By imbuing people with that sense of history and dedication, you help them build those values into their own belief system.
A: Absolutely. I think in some respect we would like all organizations to have the same sense of self. Each organization is unique, or should be. I was chatting with someone recently about vision and values, and he commented that most organizational mission statements assert pretty much the same thing—that they are just like every other same-minded organization. How inviting is it to work at a place that’s like all the others? Apple and Google have developed a fairly unique culture, and they have managed to attract people based on their uniqueness. No one person is fit to work in every organization, and it’s important for organizations to be clear about their distinct culture so that individuals will know if they are a good fit and can be successful in that setting. If you’re going to be a doctor, nurse, or administrator at Kaiser, you have to accept a certain set of assumptions about that organization’s norms, expectations, and policies. They are different from other health care systems.
There are certain fundamental ways in which we’re all alike, and that’s a necessary thing; yet there will be some distinctive qualities about leaders, organizations, and the context in which we do our work that should be there. What we have learned in our research about values is that people are committed first to their own personal values, and then they commit to the organization’s values. A lot of my personal work in organizational development begins with personal values clarification and then the development of an organizational credo—a set of shared values. This is an important and necessary exercise because shared values create the most commitment; however, if people just know those values and not their own, they have the lowest level of commitment. Commitment is driven by personal values. The second highest level of commitment to an organization is knowledge of your own values and little knowledge of the organization’s values. We are working for ourselves every day that we go to work. The more we understand our own values and why we are there, the more likely we are to be satisfied with our jobs and be effective in them. Because Barry and I continue to find that this is the case, I think it’s essential that practitioner place a lot of emphasis on the notion of systems and shared values, cultures and contexts.
Q: This whole question about communicating our vision is really about individuals being able to attract constituents based on the degree to which they are able to express values that resonate with those of the constituents.
A: That’s correct. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech has survived for 44 years as the best English language speech of the 20th century. It is a great example of delivery of a message. The one line most people remember is, “I have a dream,” and yet we often forget that about halfway through the speech, King shifts from “I have a dream” to “This is our hope.” He is really expressing the dreams and aspirations of a large number of people. They are not just his personal values. The best leaders are those who are in touch with their constituents; they understand them.
Q: That’s a great example. Jim, we’ve covered some wonderful territory today. Thank you very much. I appreciate your contribution and look forward to that next book.
A: Delighted to chat with you Russ, and good luck to you and to all your readers.