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Leadership, Team Building & Communication
Leadership theories continue to evolve as the complexity, nature and scope of organizations shift from command-and-control structures to more agile frameworks for managing change. The pace of disruptive innovation is accelerating, forcing reliance on the latest theories of leadership to keep organizations competitive in rapidly changing markets. The intent of this analysis is to evaluate the traditional, contemporary and emerging leadership theories and interpersonal forms of power. Unifying these factors by defining the profile of the ideal leader is also completed in this analysis, highlighting the most effective leadership characteristics and patterns in their specific roles. An organization has been selected, Cisco Systems, to evaluate these theories against. In addition, organizational stressors are also discussed in addition to strategies to managing them so an organization can still attain optimal performance. The five conflict management styles are also discussed in addition to potential barriers to communication, with recommendations on how to overcome them.
Analysis of Traditional, Contemporary and Emerging Leadership Theories
Traditional leadership theories stressed the concept of the "great man" or leader who was given the role based on behavioral traits and their ability to create and sustain teams' progress towards goals. These "great man" theories also relied on external observation of traits; there was little advanced screening of personality traits or the innate perceptions of highly effective leaders (Fitzgerald, Schutte, 2010). Traditional leadership theories progressed rapidly beyond only the observable traits of a leader and seeing them as innate to the belief that leadership could be mastered as a skill (Buffinton, Jablokow, Martin, 2002). This shift in leadership theories marked the transition of this field from traditional to contemporary research. With contemporary theories, leadership is seen as a skill that can be taught (Purvanova, Bono, 2009). The research of Dr. Max Weber on the traits of charismatic leaders and the contingency theories of Dr. Fred Fielder (Maslanka, 2004) are the foundation of contemporary theories of leadership. These foundational concepts set the foundation for the rapidly emerging leadership theories that are in use today. The inclusion of Emotional Intelligence (EI) and charismatic leadership into a common framework was first completed by researchers James McGregor Burns and Bernard Bass, who created the transformational leadership theory (Maslanka, 2004). One of the most powerful aspects of this theory is that it includes both the behavioral and cognitive aspects of leadership behavior, while also showing how adoption of the five factor model created can also increase leadership effectiveness (Judge, Joyce, 2000). Of the many emerging leadership theorists adding knowledge to this field, Dr. Bruce Avolio and Fred Luthans continued to expand on these leadership theories and show the potential for EI-based leadership models to positively impact corporate financial performance (Fitzgerald, Schutte, 2010).
Defining the Ideal Leader
The ideal leader at Cisco Systems is one that combines communication and collaboration skills with the ability to create and sustain team progress towards challenging goals. The best leaders at Cisco systems also have the ability to create self-efficacy in their subordinates along with accountability both to each other and to results. In this respect, Cisco's top leaders have strong transformational leadership skills combined with EI-based insights into hwo best to modify their own leadership approaches to meet the directional needs of their group (Purvanova, Bono, 2009). Combining the attributes or qualities of individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and idealized influence, Cisco's top leaders have a strong foundation of transformational leadership skills (Judge, Joyce, 2000). What makes these leaders different than many others in the high technology industry is their ability to also combine interpersonal forms of power as well. These include coercive power, reward power, legitimate power, referent power and expert power (French, Raven, 1959). Of these, Cisco's top leaders are most effective when they use expert power and referent power, two elements often found in high technology companies given the nature of their business models. Both of these types of power are highly effective in moving new product ideas along to fruition and financial profitability. For Cisco, the pace of new product introductions must continually improve if they are to stay up with their global competitors. Cisco's leaders are given the responsibility for making new product launches contribute a large percentage of profits in any given financial quarter. This is how Cisco ties transformational leadership skills, expert and referent power to financial results. All of these activites revolve around innovation adn new product development.
Analysis of Organizational Stressors
The stressors that Cisco contends with are structural, seasonal and also dependent on their distribution channels. The structurally-based stressors include the task demands of qualifying a new circuit board for their latest network device, completing a rapid evaluation of a new suppliers' components, or creating entirely new schematics for a network device. All of these tasks have a cascading number of stressors associated with them. Each also directly affects the performance of the product line once launched; each stressor can potentially impact profitability of the product line. Projects and teams throughout Cisco are designed to mitigate these project-based stressors by using advanced scheduling and planning techniques (Buffinton, Jablokow, Martin, 2002). Cisco's leaders are expected to understand the implications of Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI), cross-shipping of components, and the implications of these decisions on when the new network component will be launched, where and through which channels.
Organizational stressors also include the need for greater levels of communication and collaboration as well. The company today relies on a series of cross-functional meetings that bring together experts from each engineering functional area. The project leader has the authority to define launch date, structure of the project, and timeframes for completion of subtasks. On projects with very little lead time, this creates significant task and role demands, as members of the teams must balance both their primary role job responsibilities in addition to taking on those from the project team as well. Task and role clarity is achieved through the use of a modified matrix-based organization that provides feedback to the primary managers and also the project managers on a specific task. Cisco has learned that the use of a modified matrix reporting structure can reduce task, role and even interpersonal stressors in their development teams. As the pace is very rapid in Cisco's new product development and launch meetings, the real-time use of collaboration technologies including Intranets, real-time messaging and online project discussion forums internally. All of these technological tools and platforms are designed and implemented to alleviate barriers to communication while reducing organizational stressors. The net result is successful new product introductions and greater financial performance.
Analysis of Effective Group and Work Team Performance at Cisco
Cisco is a very engineering-oriented culture, one that thrives on expert power. Those engineers with patents for example are considered for Cisco Fellowships, as Microsoft is doing today with its top technical experts and thought leaders. The competition internally is fierce for advancement, making expert power all the more of a premium. Conflicts most often emerge internally within and between groups due to the organizational stressors that cause confusion and at times arbitration over limited resources. An example of this is the engineering time of the leading circuit board designers, network system designers, and software engineers. These three engineering areas have the greatest role and task demands placed on them by the many cross-functional teams throughout the company.
In analyzing how cross-functional teams mitigate and in many cases eliminate work group and team performance bottlenecks within Cisco, the following observations have been made. There is little if any avoiding-type of behavior or approach to conflict resolution in the company, as the leaders stress clear accountability and visibility into the state of each project. Given the unique structure of the cross-functional teams at Cisco, avoidance is impossible. The unique matrix-based project structure rewards collaboration and also has created mechanisms to support comprising and accommodating. Competition occurs within and between groups often in an informal way; there is no specific structure or framework in place to enable this aspect of the team dynamics. Teams that create a high degree of collaboration and communication are more resilient in the face of uncertainty and also in creating a culture of shared accomplishment (Chadwick, 1996). Collaboration is also rewarded with promotions to project leader once a manager shows transformational leadership skills and a strong intuitive sense of EI insights in how they manage tasks.
Analysis of Barriers to Communication
There are significant barriers to communication across Cisco, most often seen between the engineering teams and quality assurance, the marketing departments and channel management, and between the designers and manufacturing teams. These barriers are more often the result of the project team dynamics and the tendency to perceive all aspects of a project only from a given perspective or vantage point. The impetus or catalyst of the most challenging barriers to communication are based on the perceptual differences between teams and their priorities, incouding how they perceive and value time differently (Buffinton, Jablokow, Martin, 2002). This is the case in Cisco, where the…[continue]
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