What are the qualities that go into a strong, effective leader in today's business world? This paper explores and critiques those qualities through the available literature.
How Centered Leaders Archive Extraordinary Results
An "extraordinary" amount of stress is being placed on leaders in the business community due to today's "complex, volatile, and fast-paced business environment," according to an article in the peer-reviewed journal McKinsey Quarterly (Barsh, et al., 2010). And in that fast-paced business world there are many leaders who simply lack the skills needed to handle the issues that come before them, Barsh explains. The answer to that problem is to locate those capabilities that are available in the literature and cultivate them, Barsh goes on (1). By "cultivating" capabilities Barsh is actually talking about taking constructive steps to "frame" certain challenges and hence to "unlock" the full potential of the organization (1).
Moreover, by tapping into the "constituents" -- those inside and outside the organization that can help the company succeed -- the leader can then "…engage proactively" with any challenges that come before him or her (Barsh, 1). And one of the keys to being proactive as a leader is to "sustain your energy while creating the conditions for others to restore theirs" (Barsh, 1).
Barsh and colleagues conducted interviews with over 140 leaders in the business world over a six-year period; they were learning from leaders what qualities it takes to be successful in today's very competitive and stressful business environment. The authors point out that not only is the globalized business world become highly demanding as an ongoing reality, given the worldwide economic "downtown" a few years ago the pressure on leadership has been "ratcheted" up (2). The world is in a transformational period as far as business and markets, Barsh continues. Hence, in those interviews the authors were seeking to learn what leaders do to "find the best in themselves" and with those found qualities how do leaders "…inspire, engage, and mobilize others -- even in the most demanding circumstances? (Barsh, 2).
What those 140 interviews with leaders showed them is that a concept called "centered leadership" is the right model leaders need in order to function effectively. At the very "heart" of entered leadership are five capabilities that male and female leaders need to develop in order to develop a "centered leadership" approach to leadership (Barsh, 2). Those five are: a) "finding meaning in work"; b) taking stress and fear and converting that negative energy into "opportunity"; c) "leveraging connections and community"; d) "acting in the face of risk"; and e) sustaining the energy "…that is the life force of change" (Barsh, 2).
The 140 interviews with executives around the world also brought into focus the fact that leaders who have mastered "…even one of these skills" were "twice as likely" as leaders failing to master even one to believe they can indeed "…lead through change" (Barsh, 2). But for leaders that have mastered all five of the centered leadership capabilities, they are "more than four times as likely" to express that they are "satisfied with their performance" as leaders and in their personal lives as well (Barsh, 2).
Again and again in their interviews and subsequent research Barsh and colleagues determined that the quality most significant to a centered leader is "meaning"; that is, there is meaning in doing a good job at work and having meaning in life and being satisfied with one's life is "…five times more powerful" than any of the other four dimensions (2).
The authors point to the CEO of Avon Products, Andrea Jung, as an example of how a leader used "meaning" and the ability to tell a story to pull her company out of a slump. Knowing that she needed to "streamline" her company, that is, make the changes that were necessary in order to kick start Avon without losing the respect and the support of the employees. The CEO needed to be able to create what Barsh calls "a bold vision for growth" (through motivating and inspiring others to "dream big") but at the same time Jung needed to stay loyal to her own "personal values" (3).
In her approach to the kind of leadership that Avon needed Jung did not go the route of giving her managers the job of telling employees about restructuring; she took that upon herself, Barsh continues (3). Jung in fact traveled all over the world to Avon company factories and labs to give her teams "…a vision for restoring growth" -- and in so doing, the employees of Avon saw that there was meaning in everything Jung had to say and they appreciated her "honesty and humanity" (Barsh, 3). It was obvious that not only did her work have deep meaning for her, Jung actually loved her company and that fact motivated her employees to go along with the drastic changes that Avon needed to go through in order to survive and be competitive.
Hence, by framing her world with optimism, Jung put aside the expected stress of the moment and saw the restructuring as an opportunity for new and sustained growth. Today Avon is again among the top cosmetic companies and Jung can take credit for the fact that her centered leadership helped push Avon to success in the market.
Some leaders are so busy keeping up with the daily deadlines they don't reach out to the creative people they have on board. The CEO of Clairol, Steve Sadove, who took over a company that had been "shell-shocked" by a huge falloff in sales and profits, explained in his interview with Barsh (4) that he visited with one of the more creative employees in the company to get some input on how Clairol should adjust its approach.
That person, who was the designer for packaging of Clairol products, opened some drawers on his desk and began showing Sadove some of the "wonderful work that he'd done"; but nobody had asked him for his most creative ideas because Clairol had become a company culture where people "kept their head down" (Barsh, 4). It was obvious to Sadove that he needed to help change the culture at Clairol from one where people waited to be told what to do and were afraid to speak up lest they be put down, to one where "innovation and creativity" were front and center. In other words, Sadove told his employees it was "OK to fail" but no one should be afraid to approach leadership at Clairol with new and creative ideas (Barsh, 4).
"Risk aversion and fear run rampant during times of change," Barsh explains (5). But leaders that are centered and are good at inspiring people can counter the emotions of fear by summoning "…the courage to act and thus unleash tremendous potential" (Barsh, 5).
Strategic Intelligence: A Conceptual System of Leadership for Change
An article in the peer-reviewed journal Performance Improvement points to the "only one irrefutable definition of a leader," and that is "…someone people follow" (Maccoby, et al., 2011). That of course is just a generalization and there is much more to the rubric of true leadership than just that people will follow. In fact today's leaders who are effective understand the need to be "collaborative" (Maccoby, 33). Putting together collaborative teams allows leaders to: a) "create innovative offerings"; b) work within and across different organizational "silos"; c) be able to seamlessly interact well with "suppliers, customers, and clients" in order to find solutions to problems"; and d) be able to work with other cultures (Maccoby, 33).
Interactive Leadership vs. Bureaucratic Leadership
It is clear from Maccoby's narrative that one of the important aspects of effective leadership is to follow an "interactive approach" rather than a traditional bureaucratic approach. An interactive approach means using "continuous improvement" and creative strategies, rather than relying on "top-down hierarchies"; that is because using the bureaucratic approach means hanging on to old ideas about products, services, and employees. Bureaucratic structures tend to promote people based on "experience" and time served but interactive leadership tends to match "talents to their work" (Maccoby, 34). In other words, if a new employee is eager and competent to launch creative strategies that mesh well with a company's need to change, an employee who has worked for the company for 10 years is passed by because he is stuck in the old familiar routine and doesn't like to change (Maccoby, 34).
Interactive employees are often "knowledge workers" who view themselves as "free agents" and they want to be employed by people who can train them "for their next job" in need be; interactive employees have a strong desire to lead change, to adopt to emerging global markets, and to seize opportunities to innovate and create new models for success (Maccoby, 34). What this reference is presenting is a model that effective leaders should follow: that is, leaders with vision want to hire and promote interactive employees because those kinds of employees motivate and…